________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008

cover This Is My Body: A Film By High School Girls.

Lisa Negro and others (Directors). Leanne Levy (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
34 min., 49 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C0107 223.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Frank Loreto.

**** /4

When an adult says to a teenager, "These are the best years of your life," that person must have forgotten what a difficult time their teen years were. Teens these days seem to have many more challenges that lurked around corners than we did when we were their age.

      This is My Body is a collage of films put together under one title. The film is the result of 14 different film projects taken on by students in a girls' high school. This is a difficult film to watch. While the girls featured are bright and articulate and seem to have gone through some troubling times, there is a feeling that they have not totally escaped the varied problems that have impacted their lives. And, if they have, the problems are waiting for other young girls to come along.

      The film begins with a diary entry: "this is a story about a girl who is hurt." From here, we meet a young girl who talks about body image. She states that everyone is aware of how they look and how others see them. The media has created a body image that is impossible to achieve, and she wishes that the writers of The O.C. would have a character who "weighed more than 100 pounds and that person was liked and normal. That could change a lot. She implies that will never happen. Even the "good looking girls who are innocent" get "picked on by others. They'll examine you and find one little spot to make you feel bad and try to bring you down, just like that."

      Other girls talk about their eating disorders-past and some still present or possible. Here a girl says that she has "chunky legs." It is a family thing, but she wishes she could have "a space between them." However, she is a soccer player and feels that she has "chunky man legs." She loves to eat and does not want to feel guilty about that. She stopped throwing up because all the girls at school were doing that and making a big deal of it. She wants to look like the people on television but knows that it not possible. She states that she should be able to be happy with herself, but then comments that summer is coming and that she already anticipates the problem of being near girls at the pool who have confidence in themselves.

      The next group of girls featured has had issues with cutting. One speaker here explains that the cutting calmed her. Because things around her were bad and out of her control, the cutting was a way of dealing with this lack of power. She did not know that this was a "bad thing." Another girl thought that the problems in her family could be solved if she cut herself. She hoped that the family, with all its problems, would rally around her and become one. That did not turn out as she had planned. Cutting is not the same as being suicidal. She wanted control. She would visualize hurt and sadness and then cut. "As the wounds would heal, I would heal." No longer a cutter, she admits that the desire is still there: "It's really hard-you have to stay strong."

      The girls then talk about sexuality. A number of the girls are virgins, but the ones who are not are quite open with their stories. One admits that having an older boyfriend (17) who does drugs and has had sex with others and drinks makes it difficult to not be influenced. "If you want to stay with him, then you just have to." Three days after she turned 14, she had sex and afterwards just cried. She is not sure why. "Sex on television looks perfect and wonderful." It was not like that for her. Now older, she seems more mature, but she makes reference to the time the "condiment" [sic] broke. That is a story in itself, but her malapropism inadvertently reveals her youth.

      The last topic in the film deals with parents. A number of the girls admit that their parents are easy to fool or are not as aware as they could be. One wishes she could share more with her parents, "but I don't." Another states that, when her mother gave her money to buy lunches, she used it to buy clothes. Her mother was "probably not aware."

      The end of the film stresses the fact that, if you need help, it is available. The strong message is that there is value in talking and reaching out. Anyone engaging in self-injury should get help. The film ends with the statement, "You are not alone."

      Technically, This is My Body is an uncomplicated film. There are no fancy camera tricks, no powerful soundtrack — just interviews and conversations. However, the girls are so open about all the topics that such devices are not needed. This is a film that could be used in any Parenting class, but it should also be shown to parents and teachers. The nine-year-old girl who is concerned if she is sexy, along with the cutters and those with eating disorders and those who are picked on because they are pretty and those who do not like their own bodies and those pressured to have sex — all show that girls in adolescence are in a war zone and some parents have no idea.

Highly Recommended.

Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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