Proud2Bme | Proud2B Outrageous: An Interview with Jessie Kahnweiler of ‘The Skinny’

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Proud2B Outrageous: An Interview with Jessie Kahnweiler of ‘The Skinny’

Hi there! My name is Jessie Kahnweiler. I’m 30 years old, I’m an Aquarius and I have a series coming out called The Skinny. It’s a dark comedy about a feisty Jewish girl named Jessie who’s trying to make it in L.A. while dealing with her bulimia, recovery and the ups and downs of what it’s really like to have an eating disorder.

Trigger warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior.

Diana Denza: Thanks Jessie! Now that we know the basics, tell us one thing about you that we wouldn’t expect.

Jessie Kahnweiler: I’m actually really punctual and I come off as somebody who’s like “oh, whatever” but I really, really hate not being on time. I like being very type A about my time and being punctual. 

DD: It’s totally true. You were exactly on timedown to the second.  

JK: I’m like nauseous right now. I made the driver haul ass to get here.

DD: Can you tell us more about your body-positive role models?

JK: Both my grandmas are curvy Jewish women and not the typical. My late grandma Ruth always had such dignity and self-respect and to me that was so much more than looking good in a pair of jeans. Her beauty was really from the inside out.

And, I don’t know…Adele. Adele is awesome. She’s the sexiest person ever because of her talent. To me, it’s just the way that she carries herself is so powerful and feminine and real. She’s just like somebody you’d get a beer with. I was watching the Golden Globes the other day and seeing thin, thin, thin and when I saw somebody who wasn’t thin I was like “what?!” and it’s just so sad because I’m still programmed that thin is better, thin is good and so having people like Adele where she’s sexy as fuck and her talent—that’s what I look up to.

DD: What were you like as a teen?

JK: Crazy. I was pretty rebellious and I like to tell my parents that I was an artist who didn’t know she was an artist yet, so I had a lot of energy and I was loud.

I would always be one to get in trouble, but I was really happy as a teenager. I had friends and I was really engaged in life—and that was also the time that my bulimia started, and I’m still trying to reconcile that. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to make the show. The examples that I had seen in the media of people with eating disorders were really skinny ballerinas, or people who had an eating disorder and it completely took over their life.

I look at it as a spectrum, and all I had ever seen was feeding tubes or near death, so to me I was bulimic but I was like, “well, I’m throwing up but I look normal, I’m not too skinny or too big and I have a great life, I have friends and I’m artistic.” There was this other side of me—the secret side of me—that, after a long day of being engaged with the world, would go up to my room, sneaking up food—I would literally stuff Pop-Tarts in my bra.

I would binge and purge and it was like it wasn’t weird to me, it was just this thing I did and it didn’t seem like a big deal. It became my coping mechanism. I’ve always been really sensitive so I think that the food and the purging were a way for me to literally get out my feelings, to get out the bad feelings. I’m always like, “I need to be happy, funny Jessie 24/7.” That’s the only part of me that I felt I could show to the world; my bulimia was the way that I managed my life.

DD: Were you able to confide in anyone about what you were going through?

JK: You know, looking back on it, I told a friend here and there and my parents found cartons of Healthy Choice ice cream under my bed—they were everywhere and they were empty. My parents also saw beer and boys and everything in my room and they knew how to talk about it—you know, “Are you having sex? Are you drinking?” But the thing with eating disorders is that my parents had no words for it. I remember my mom saw something on Oprah about it and asked me about the ice cream. I lied and said “oh, my friends ate it too.” There was no real language for my parents to even know how to approach it.

DD: With The Skinny, you’re really starting that conversation. What do you hope to achieve with the show, ultimately? 

JK: First and foremost I want it to be something entertaining and something that people can enjoy. They can go through this journey and feel like a part of this world. But I guess my underlying desire is for the show to be a catalyst to engage conversation and to really take the shame out of eating disorders. I see sex, violence, drugs every night on TV and I see nothing that depicts eating disorders. I feel like—excuse the pun—that we’re starving for that kind of content because —literally—I have yet to meet someone who has not struggled or known someone who’s struggled or had a weird thing with food or whatever you want to call it, but there’s no dialogue around it. For me, that silence reinforced my shame.

I would think, “I’m going through this thing, and yet I’m a feminist so I should be able to figure it out on my own.” Everybody wants to be the strong feminist woman who eats pizza all day and is a size two. I feel like that’s where the ethos is right now in the world. It’s like, you need to not care about your body and if you are having these thoughts, then there’s something wrong with you and you need to figure it out on your own. And that is such, such bullshit because, for me, this problem was linked to so many factors: genetic, social, emotional, psychological. It is WAY too big to handle on your own, so that’s my hope for the show, that it can open up a dialogue. The Skinny is an incredibly personal story but it is so much bigger than just me.

DD: The Skinny is a dark comedy. What would you say to people who question why you’re using comedy for such a serious issue?

JK: For me, there’s absolutely nothing funny about having an eating disorder. I was bulimic for over 10 years and it’s a nightmare. There’s nothing funny about it; it’s absolutely horrible. My goal with The Skinny was to create something that honored that experience in an authentic way. At the same time, I’m somebody who finds comedy in tragic moments. Comedy is a huge way for me to cope with something. This character has an eating disorder and it is shown—blood, guts and all—in a real way. I was setting up my character to go through these experiences, and also experiences that we all go through—like love, success, relationships and dealing with your family. To me, these situations are naturally comedic. I can sit down and have a conversation with my mom that’s crying and laughing at the same time. That’s just how life is, so that was the tone I was really striving for. When I say comedy, I really mean authenticity.

DD: Are there any particular misconceptions you’ve faced about your work? 

JK: Yeah, people always hate my work before they see it. Every time I’ve ever had an idea, every single person in my life is like, “that’s horrible, please don’t make that.” I made a video inspired by my rape a couple of years ago and everyone was like “no, there’s nothing funny about rape, it’s not funny.” And I was like “okay, okay, okay…but let me do it.” I’ve faced the same thing with The Skinny, especially in the eating disorders community. When we were fundraising for this, there were some people who were really concerned. I totally understand that, and nothing is for everyone, but I guess my hope is that people watch it before deciding that it’s horrible. This show is what I wish I could have watched when I was 16 and throwing up in my room, alone and miserable.

DD: What role did humor play in your own recovery?      

JK: I found a network of women, especially in L.A., where we can really walk through this with other people. It’s given me a sense of community because when you have something like an eating disorder it’s so big and so constant. It’s always there. In recovery, there’s so much humor, especially with eating. I was in a sound booth the other night, recording scenes for The Skinny, and I was pretending to binge. I had to reach out to like 10 people and say “Can you believe how fucking crazy this is? What is going on?” And to have people go “Yes, that is really crazy.” This is going to sound super cheesy, but it’s really scary for me to put the show out into the world, but I feel like I have so many people in my heart—and I’m getting really emotional—but I’m not alone. I’m not alone in this.

DD: What would you tell young people who want to share their own recovery story?  

JK: I would say that it’s normal to be scared, fear is incredibly healthy, and that’s just being human. But I’d also say not to rush it, because I definitely tried to make the show while I was still sick and I was trying to write my way out of it. Something that comes with recovery is this gift of intuition and getting back to listening to your body and how it connects with your mind.

DD: Do you have advice for our readers who want to talk to their parents about struggling?

JK: I would say that your parents or whomever you trust—whether it’s a teacher or an older friend—they just really want to help you. You don’t have to take care of it yourself or know the answer, and they may not even have to know the answer, but just go into it, be really open and honest, and leave space for them to respond. Take a deep breath and drink some water. You’re really brave and awesome to do this. It’s a radical act to be able to be that honest. That’s strength. I always thought that strength was “I can handle it, I can do it, I don’t need any help,” but I really think that the strongest thing you can ever do is to ask for help.

For recovery resources and treatment options, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 800-931-2237.

About the interviewer: Diana Denza is NEDA’s Youth Outreach Coordinator. 

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