Written by @EllieDangerous
Get yourself to BBC iPlayer and watch ‘Overshadowed’, Eva O’Connor’s story of a girl who like so many girls believes food is the enemy and eating an act of war. Familiar though this tale is, it’s uniquely told through a bunch of vlogs created by a loveable sixth-former called Imo. Played by Michelle Fox, Imo is a character we should celebrate because ultimately she doesn’t represent her disease; she represents the ability to defeat it. Before reading this post, please be aware that anorexia is referenced throughout.

Spoiler Alert
I was initially drawn to ‘Overshadowed’ because of the format; a vlog is exactly the kind of channel through which those young scallywags spill their souls. At first I didn’t know what the vlog would be about. So I rolled my eyes when our slender hero ranted about her supposedly chubby arms. Urgh, not again, I thought. They’ve done that thing where they cast a slim actor to play someone who’s supposed to be fat.

But I thought wrong. When Imo goes running for the first time, and obsesses over how it made her look rather than how it made her feel, that was my first inkling of Imo’s mental state. She is one of those very real people who imagines what they believe to be a very real problem. And they believe it so vehemently that soon it is their delusion that starts to become the problem.

For Imo, that problem is a friend who shadows her steps. This friend symbolises her eating disorder, and goes by the name “Anna”, a name sometimes used by people who normalise anorexia and label it a lifestyle choice. Anna is played by O’Connor herself.

Upon first introduction, Anna behaves like Imo’s best friend and motivator, pumping her with “thinspiration” and lauding her choices. You can do this! I believe in you! Fight that flab! Anna cheers for her, soothes her, creeps on her as she sleeps... and, of course, kicks her when she’s down. Sadly, Anna is a friend that many people share. I don’t think of Anna as a character in her own right, but as a self-destructive chunk of Imo’s psyche. Together, Imo and Anna show us that you can’t simply walk away from anorexia; you have to make the formidable choice to cut it off.

Imo is not strong enough to make that choice. Anna is so deeply embedded in her life that Imo begins to learn from her, treating others the way Anna treats her — that is to say, the way she treats herself. As she rejects food and becomes obsessed with running, Imo unleashes the shadow. She screams at her loved ones, reducing them to sobs of despair. She demeans her little sister, Tara, just as Anna demeans her.

At first, everyone can relate to Imo being her own worst critic, an attitude she might have inherited from her mum, who has tried every fad diet in the book. Imo’s initial desire to get fit and seek contentment in her own flesh seems sort of healthy, at least upon first glance. But Imo’s way of thinking becomes less relatable and more bizarre as Anna tightens her grip. The mere sight of chocolate cake ruins Imo’s night. A compliment from her boyfriend Wayne triggers a wave of genuine disheartenment. And when Anna remembers there is a set of scales in the room, a shadow falls over her face and the camera cuts off.

“It’s just a control thing”, she explains at one point. But by the end of that same episode, she’s completely out of control.

At the beginning of her vlog, Imo is a sunny ball of silliness — this is how we meet her, and this is how she is. But by the end, her jolly disposition has been cruelly repurposed as a facade. She puts on a show for her YouTube audience, her gaunt smile forced and her sunken eyes glazed. It seems her identity has gone out of the window, leaving her lost and isolated. Imo doesn’t know who she is anymore.

But there are some who know exactly who she is. Imo’s sister, Tara, suffers her in her darkest hours and still bounces back to her side. All the more so when Imo’s behaviour leads to Tara being hit by a car, which ultimately does nothing to damage Tara’s loving and goofy disposition. It appears the car accident was Imo’s catalyst for change, but I like to think Tara’s response is the real catalyst. We know that recovery will be a dark path for Imo, but love makes it lighter; a light seen clearly as the sisters joke around in Imo’s new room at the recovery centre.

In Imo’s final upload, Anna continues to haunt her. The storyteller, herself a survivor of anorexia, does not allow the series a fairytale ending, making clear that recovery doesn’t just happen the moment you turn off the camera. But the final note is one of hope. The sunny ball of silliness will shine again.
I believe recovery is possible for everyone. Don't give up.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 3 November 2017

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