The short film is called My Story (Anorexia). It contains a series of still images of a beautiful girl from Kiev in Ukraine, whose ambition to be a model turned into an obsession with losing weight.
“I ate green apples with black coffee for a week and a half,” say the stark captions. “I decided I’d do ANYTHING to get thin ... I was purging 14 times a day ... I was abusing diet pills. I overdosed on them twice. I didn’t care if it killed me. I wanted to die. To disappear.”
What makes the YouTube film so compelling is the combined effect of the pictures with music. As the sad story of 18-year-old “katerynabilyk” unfolds, a soulful female voice with an Irish accent sings about an anorexic girl called Sophie who, to the distress of her family, is “tryin’ to make herself thinner.” Her desire “to be like all the other girls, be just like all the other girls” is driving her toward self-destruction.
The impression is that the song, entitled Sophie, was produced to lend a potent cinematic quality to the film, whose final caption reads: “Anorexia lied when she told me that thin was worth everything ... It’s not worth it.”
But the song was recorded more than 10 years ago by a little-known Irish artist and quickly disappeared. Its creator, singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy, described it as an “obscure track” that was placed far down the playlist of her third album.
Yet, in the era of the Internet, Sophie has been rediscovered and grown into a sleeper hit, an anthem that is touching, inspiring and consoling thousands of anorexic girls around the world.
Dozens have turned to YouTube, the video sharing Web site, as an outlet for self-expression, confiding the anguish of eating disorders as they might to a diary or therapist. Many have made films containing photos of themselves with captions narrating their personal stories.
Some have included magazine pictures of super-thin models or computer animations. They have then added Sophie as the haunting soundtrack to their lives. One girl, user name “LanaxCore,” has filmed herself singing it in her bedroom.
Collectively, the Sophie films have been viewed more than 1.5 million times. Many have attracted comments from YouTube users, asking where they can get the song, expressing support or, in some cases, arguing that anorexia is a positive aspiration. The trend has shown the potential of Web “mashups” — the editing together of images and music — to empower users to create something more arresting than a simple blog.
McEvoy, who lives in County Wexford, based the lyrics on observation of anorexia’s effects rather than personal experience.
“I think all women, or maybe all people nowadays, do have more focus on their appearance than they should have,” she said. “We tend to know what weight we are, which we shouldn’t really if we’re reasonably healthy. It shouldn’t be a big issue to the extent that people are starving themselves.”
McEvoy, 41, drew inspiration from two acquaintances who suffered anorexia. She explained: “With one of them, it really hit her family, and I thought her siblings were neglected a little bit because of it. The second thing that hit me like a hammer was that they felt they were freaks and they wanted to be extra thin just to fit in and be ‘normal.’
“The third thing was that women have had so many constraints put on them and now they’re putting these things on themselves. People say, ‘Oh well, it’s men doing this to women.’ But it’s not men; it’s generally women who make comments about other people’s weight,” she said.