Filmmaker and YouTube star Jessie Kahnweiler has made a living out of documenting uncomfortable experiences — like rape and white privilege — but she struggled with an eating disorder for over a decade before opening up.
“I didn’t say the word ‘bulimia’ the entire time I was bulimic. I did not look like the girls that I saw on TV that had eating disorders. I’m this loud, Jewy, hairy feminist with a booty. So I convinced myself that I wasn’t,” says Kahnweiler.
Frustrated by the lack of diversity she saw in eating disorder narratives, Kahnweiler began writing the pilot for “The Skinny” after getting into recovery at 27 years old. She now writes, directs and stars in the six-part Web series — a dark comedy that draws heavily on her own experience living with bulimia.
"I just really wanted to show the process of what it’s like to have an eating disorder. You’re never just like better by the third act, and then you’ve got it under control. I really wanted to show that getting better is about giving up control, and that’s why it’s so hard."
Kahnweiler pitched the project to anyone and everyone, but found that few in Hollywood were interested in her story:
"Everyone was like, 'Nobody wants to see that. Eating disorders aren’t sexy. You aren’t sexy. This is not funny.' It was this project that nobody really wanted me to make."
Determined to make “The Skinny” a reality, she took to Kickstarter to mount a crowdfunding campaign so she could shoot the pilot on her own. She recruited actress Illeana Douglas to play the role of her overbearing mother.
Douglas has had her own success online with her award-winning Web series, "Easy to Assemble." Then, impressed by the pilot, "Transparent" creator Jill Soloway agreed to become an executive producer. Her company Wifey.tv partnered with Refinery29 to produce and present the show.
Despite being a Web series, the premiere of "The Skinny" firmly placed Kahnweiler and the show in the universe of indie filmmakers. In January 2016, the Sundance Film Festival screened all six episodes, giving "The Skinny" its public debut.
“The fact that Sundance was actually into that story and giving us a proper premiere and being with this community of filmmakers, it was really incredible,” says Kahnweiler.
As reviews and interview requests roll in, Kahnweiler says she’s happy to be "the bulimia girl” for now. She envisions “The Skinny” as a catalyst for a much larger conversation about eating disorders and the many people they affect, and she's gearing up for a second season of the show.
But Kahnweiler plans to cover plenty more awkward subjects over the course of her filmmaking career:
"I’m not a spokesperson. I’m not a politician. I’m not a rabbi — sorry, Grandpa. But I’m an artist. I just speak to what matters to me, what I’m feeling that day. I can’t wait to make my Web series about divorce after my third husband. [laughs] I just got to keep moving, keep making mistakes and keep writing about it."
You can watch all six episodes of “The Skinny” Season 1 on Refinery29.