I recently met with Vanessa Coffey to discuss her piece Mirror Mirror at Glasgow’s iconic Tramway Theatre, which is being shown as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Like many people, my exposure to the topic of eating disorders has been shaped by countless case studies in the media. Forensic images of skeletal frames, shocking headlines (‘Dying to be thin!) and sensationalised depictions of a person’s relationship with food, which is made to seem extremely different – and invariably, worse – than our own.
However, when speaking to Vanessa about Mirror, Mirror, I was intrigued to hear about her reluctance to dwell on these crude and often reductive representations and how she instead wished to focus on the ‘lived experience’ of people with eating disorders. Her aim was to explore the mentality that lies behind illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia, showing audiences the thoughts, emotions and everyday experiences of the people behind these “extreme” bodies.
Formed from conversations with a wide variety and number of people, the piece investigates how eating disorders depict an internal struggle for control. Or, as Vanessa puts it: “What leads somebody into a state where they try to control their lives by controlling their food intake?” Struggling to maintain control in the face of insecurity, instability or uncertainty is something everyone can relate to. By exploring this, Mirror, Mirror sets itself apart from depictions of eating disorders that thrive on the differences and the uncomfortable notion that people with anorexia or bulimia are ‘not like us’, and instead tries to understand a condition that is as much mental as it is physical, based in fears and anxieties we can all relate to.
This sensitivity and respect for the person behind the condition is what captivated me and ultimately made me excited to see Mirror, Mirror. When the tendency is to revel in extreme, Vanessa’s nuanced insight and honesty comes as liberating alternative – not only for audiences but, more importantly, for those who live with these conditions everyday. Mirror, Mirror has undoubtedly changed many misconceptions of an often misrepresented disorder.
Written by Bicola Barratt-Crane
Video by Lucy Holmes-Elliott