Among the frequently eye-opening statistics presented by the amiable America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments, perhaps the most troubling revelation is how medical facts are commonly distorted and trends misrepresented by obscured language, and that’s regardless of whether or not we attribute intent and malice to the miscommunication that tends to emanate from our institutions and leaders. Case in point: Judith Stern, co-founder of the American Obesity Association and an advisor for Weight Watchers (she declares her conflict of interest, but my BS detector wasn’t fully convinced), argues that dieting does in fact work, even if that means that 95% of those who attempt it are back to their original weight (probably having gained even more back) a year later. Similarly disturbing is the manner in which the Health Department relies on the calculation of one’s Body Mass Index to determine health, regardless of how this archaic formula, developed in the 1830s, dictates that figures such as Tom Cruise, the Rock, and LeBron James are actually “obese,” and the proven fact that many people with larger bodies are perfectly healthy and happy.
There appears to be an institutionalized refusal to acknowledge that things are more complicated on a person-to-person basis than being merely thin or fat, a trend that’s sadly reinforced when a woman fighting anorexia is denied further insurance coverage for her dietary therapy on the basis of her improved sodium levels, in reality only the first of her many battles on her road to recovery. Without going into full-on conspiracy mode (something that’s certainly justified here), director/producer/star Darryl Roberts draws some insidious lines between the culture that propagandizes thin as the ultimate lifestyle solution and an industry that profits from the efforts of millions to fit into said culture. Says a doctor point blank, “there’s no money in prevention,” speaking to an institutional tendency to sweep the problem of under-eating under the rug. Beyond the specifics of the growing obesity problem in America, the film highlights a more widespread issue ailing the general population: people in positions of authority making questionable, if not outright dishonest, decisions that affect the rest of us.
Despite wanting to grab the attention of an impatient, fast food-addicted populace, America the Beautiful 2 quickly manifests its big, patient, humanitarian bleeding heart. A roundtable interview with several young boys who’ve overcome eating disorders is touching for both its intimacy and respect for privacy; only after they’ve detailed their experiences does the film expose their faces to the camera. One longs for some of the film’s talking heads—such as an active, cheerful dancer classified as obese and a doctor seemingly indoctrinated to the cause of weight loss above all else—to be placed in the same room together. Most tragic of those interviewed is a woman who, having had her stomach stapled, now spends 90% of her waking hours nauseated by the presence and smell of food. Hey, at least she’s thin.
The look of the film reflects a miniscule budget, but it gets points for modesty and a keen sense of humor. Most guffawing is the one-two zinger of an embarrassing interview with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health, who, in responding to a question about the correlation between a national emphasis on childhood obesity and increased eating disorders, nervously mutters “that’s data I don’t know how to answer,” immediately followed by a rapid-fire text scroll of devastating health statistics (if you can keep up with it, your WPM rate is about 450) set to an ominous track from the Dust Brothers’ Fight Club score. With a budget and crew, this guy could give Michael Moore a run for his money.