Washington University St. Louis

Washington University St. Louis

Assembly series focuses on eating disorders
Josh Hantz
March 7, 2007

Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield is presenting her work about problems in American youth culture today at the Assembly Series. She has specifically chronicled the rise in eating disorders, now affecting an estimated 20 percent of the population.

American Photo named her one of the 25 most influential photographers currently working, and one of the top three female photographers. Her first feature length film, "Thin," aired on HBO last November after debuting at the Sundance Film Festival. The film profiles women at the Renfrew Center in Coconut Creek, Fla., a treatment center for eating disorders. In the documentary, she uses photos and live footage to narrate the stories of four women with eating disorders.

She has three other publications as well. One chronicles "Thin," one is an exhibition called "Girl Culture" and the third is her book, "Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood." Some of Greenfield's most famous collections are on display in places like the Art Institute of Chicago and the French Ministry of Culture. She has also won several awards for photos run in The New York Times, TIME, The New Yorker and ELLE.

Assistant Professor of Psychology Thomas Rodebaugh discussed why eating disorders have become so prevalent in Western culture.

"Research suggests that it's something with the environment - cultural factors and things like advertising and images people are presented with. It's something more than just genetics."

He added why they can be hard to treat.

"It doesn't help to have a lot of unrealistic images in the media," he said. "Everyone is exposed to these things but not everyone develops the disorder. It would be helpful if we were more realistic about what is expected from people, but it's hard to enforce that kind of thing."

Washington University photojournalism professor Wendi Fitzgerald uses Greenfield's work in her class and has noticed its impact on her students.

"When I show her work, students really respond to it, especially women students," said Fitzgerald. "They seem to really like it and go back to it. She is one that really sticks with them."

Fitzgerald also admires Greenfield's research and preparation, describing it as very planned out and thorough.

"She presents a broad spectrum," she said. "It isn't one-sided. She gets her point across but also is very thorough and deep. She's a real trendsetter."

Her work inspired one student to do similar work at a mall outlet that dresses up girls for fun.

Greenfield is speaking at 11 a.m. in Graham Chapel. Sponsored by the student group Reflections, which promotes awareness and prevention of eating disorders, the talk is free and open to the public.