When Nina fails to meet her goal in the final week of weight loss camp, she makes a deal with the devil that takes her on an unexpected adventure, through which she learns to see her body anew.
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“One of the hardest feelings to navigate as a teenager is how to deal with the new sensation of being self-conscious, especially with our bodies. Those feelings are even more amplified for girls and learning to accept and love who you are can be so challenging. On the one hand, our society has a habit of making you feel like you are not worthy and on the other hand, we have pop culture telling us that we should be able to find the inner strength to practice self-love. In her coming-of-age short film Bye Bye Body, writer/director Charlotte Benbeniste tackles some of these issues through the experiences of her youthful protagonist Nina, as she shines a light on the damaging effect weight loss camps can have on young women.
For once, it sure is refreshing to see the experience of a female character struggling with her weight explored with so much sensitivity and nuance, instead of the usual comedy tropes. Benbeniste, who used her personal experience to pen the screenplay, conveys the story of this young woman seeking some sort of validation (like any teenager) with a tender authenticity that works to magnify the impact of her story.
Focused on Nina’s confusion between having to build herself up, whilst also being forced to lose weight, the emotional depth of Bye Bye Body’s narrative exposes how counterproductive these kinds of camps can be when their purpose is supposedly to help. “I’m interested in institutions like weight loss camps, which on their face present as vehicles of “health” and empowerment through weight loss”, Benbeniste reveals while discussing the inspiration behind her film. “In reality though, they drive young women deeper into a myopic, disempowering obsession with their own bodies”.
We usually associate the word “camp” with fun and community, but from the opening scenes of Bye Bye Body Benbeniste makes it abundantly clear that for Nina, this camp experience is an isolating one. Following an opening shot, where we’re introduced to the film’s protagonist smiling through a rigorous exercise class, we’re quickly exposed to the reality of weight loss camp as we witness the girls having to strip and be weighed in front of each other. With my rage boiling at the types of institutions that really put these girls through such a demeaning experience, seeing Nina’s disappointment, and the desperation that followed was nothing short of heartbreaking.
As we follow Nina navigating these trying times, Kat Christiansen’s portrayal of her is so raw that it’s impossible not to empathize with the character. Through very little dialogue, she brings her Nina to life by making her both complex and endearing, strong and fragile. Revealing the different layers of her inner struggle, all the way up to the emotional climax, while Bye Bye Body’s conclusion may seem insignificant to some, to her it is the validation she needs and Christiansen’s performance surely grants that moment the importance it deserves. Benbeniste ends her film with a moving scene marked by the optimism that radiates from Christiansen’s Nina.
“It’s so important to love and care about oneself”, explains Benbeniste as we discuss the motivations behind her film, “but we’re shaming so many young women for their very human need to be loved by other people, and instead charging them with the burden of somehow supplanting all of that love from within. What the fuck? Bigger women are also entitled to wanting to be loved and lusted over. Hug yourself, sure, but it’s also completely OK to want to be touched and loved and validated by another person”.
[continue reading on shortoftheweek.com] – S/W Curator Céline Roustan
Director: Charlotte Benbeniste
Producers: Barbara Twist, Amanda Freedman
Associate Producer: Talya Stern
Director of Photography: Ben Mullen
Production Designer: Toni-Marie Gallardo
Costumer: Sophie Kay
NINA: Kat Christiansen
PALOMA: Clara Nieblas
RICKY: Phillip Prince
NURSE: Erin Robinson
COUNSELOR: Gayla Johnson
Reproduced on this channel with the permission of the filmmakers.