What It’s Like to Freeze Your Eggs at 32: ‘I Didn’t Want to Be at War with My Own Biology’
Jessie Kahnweiler, a 32-year-old Los Angeles-based filmmaker, has never shied away from taking on sensitive and controversial topics, and her latest project is no exception: freezing her eggs.
In a recent essay, she openly discusses everything from the pressure she felt of having to “find the one” and the experiences that led to her decision to go through with the procedure.
“The decision to freeze or not to freeze is going to happen gradually,” she wrote. “Don’t stress. Live your life but pay attention.”
Putting Herself First
The idea of freezing her eggs first came to Kahnweiler’s mind when a guy she was casually seeing told her that he didn’t want to ever have kids.
Kahnweiler quickly responded, “Whatever. I don’t need kids. My films are my babies.”
But the honest truth, she says, is that she really does want a partner and a family one day.
“There is this social stigma that as women we don’t want to be baby crazy and we don’t want to scare off guys,” she says. “But I do want a family and I’m just now realizing that. I didn’t want to be in the position where I was at war with my own biology. There was something that I could do, so why not do it.”
“It’s way too much pressure to put on someone that you’re dating and on myself,” she adds.
A few months after their conversation, they broke up, and Kahnweiler began to work on Bump — a potential TV series about a twenty-something woman who becomes a surrogate for an interfile 40-year-old woman.
“For the project, I interviewed dozens of women in their forties who experienced fertility issues. Some chose adoption, some chose multiple rounds of IVF, some chose to stop trying to have kids entirely — but all of them said the same thing to me: “I wish I could have been more proactive when I was younger,” she wrote.
“Meaning, by freezing their eggs they could have possibly avoided some of the emotional and financial stress that fertility treatment entails. Even though it is widely known egg freezing is not a ‘foolproof’ plan it does give you more options in the long run. For my career, I have taken every action, hustlin’ 24/7. Why not do the same thing for my own body?”
These eye opening experiences led her to “decide to bust out the bottle service and put my eggs on ice,” she wrote. “Or at least go talk to a doctor about it…”
A Crash Course on Fertility
The night before Kahnweiler had her first consultation with a fertility specialist, she stayed up late on the Internet to come up with a list of prepared questions.
“Will the procedure damage my ovaries? No. Will it decrease my chance of having kids naturally? No. Will the hormones drive me to the brink of insanity? No,” she wrote.
She also realized that her well-educated friends also had zero education on what it really meant to freeze your eggs.
“There is still so much stigma,” she says. “Some of them said, ‘Wait, wont that kill your ovaries?’ There is so much fear. People need to start talking about it more.”
While the decision to freeze her eggs was difficult, she didn’t know how tough the hormones she was required to take would also be on her body.
“I had to give myself all of these [hormone] shots and mix all of these chemicals,” she says, “and I had to do it at a certain time every day. It was painful. Emotionally, you’re on this total roller coaster — and you’re bloated.”
Kahnweiler says she ate crackers and drank ginger ale for almost two weeks before her procedure because she was too nauseous to eat.
“I took the shots every night before I went to bed so I could sleep through most of the symptoms,” she says.
When Kahnweiler’s doctor determined that her eggs were ready to be retrieved, they give her a shot that she had to take in the middle of the night to induce ovulation.
After her actual egg retrieval in July, she says she felt sore and tired, but she was physically back to her old self in less than two weeks.
“Emotionally, I was depleted and sad, but this can be really normal because of the hormones and the experience itself,” she says. “But I felt so incredibly happy that I’d done it and was so grateful for my body.”
The experience also made her realize how lucky she was to even have the procedure.
“Freezing your eggs is a financial burden. It’s over $10,000. There are payment plans, but I personally would not have been able to freeze my eggs without help from my parents. I recognize the extreme position of privilege I am in. I feel grateful. I also feel totally ashamed,” she wrote in the essay. “How can I waste my parents hard-earned money? The world is so overpopulated, does it really need my offspring? How can I be so selfish?”
After a mild freakout, she says she realized that this decision “is not simple or without flaws,” but ultimately, “I want the choice to carry my own child.”
The Road Ahead
Since her procedure over the summer, Kahnweiler says she has been able to live her life with even more freedom than she had before.
“I can continue to pursue my career and not have this pressure to have children now,” she says. “Why do so many men have children later in life? I basically feel like I’m borrowing male privilege. If I want to have a kid at 45, I can have a greater chance of doing that now.”
She is looking forward to working on her movies, becoming more financial stable and eventually bringing a baby into the world when she wants to, not when her biological clock tells her she has to.
And she says it was her 97-year-old grandmother’s reaction to her procedure that really hit home: “She said, ‘Great. Now you won’t have to marry a guy just because you want to have kids.’ ”
Kahnweiler says it was the best decision she ever made.
“Maybe I’ll defrost the eggs in 10 years, maybe I’ll adopt, maybe I’ll be the quirky stepmom, or maybe I’ll just get more cats,” she wrote. “The point is, I am now an educated woman with choices.”
Jessie Kahnweiler and Martin Shkrelli. courtesy Jessie Kahnweiler
From her hit YouTube series “Meet My Rapist” to her recent web series The Skinny, Jesse Kahnweiler has long been one of the most fascinating YouTube personalities. Her ultra-confessional style of interviewing people, along with her glib glee in saying and doing the most ridiculous things in order to uncover deep dark societal truths is entirely unique.
Needless to say, when I found out she was doing a podcast, I was excited.
Her new series “Schmucks” is a three episode mini-series on Earwolf Premium where Jessie talks to the people that the internet loves to hate and tries to understand what makes them do the things they do.
The first episode is about Steve Rannazzisi, star of the television show The League and the fallout that occurred when it was revealed that he wasn’t really at 9/11 when it happened like he said he was. Spoiler: He’s really really sorry.
In episode two Jessie talks to Nicole Arbour, a very popular YouTube star whose videos all involve her telling large groups of people what they should be doing to change their lives for the better. Her video “Dear Fat People” brought her fame to new heights and an equal amount of people that couldn’t stand her. Naturally Jessie tells her right away that she wanted to hate her because she was so pretty, and they kind of become friends.What else is there to say about the third guest Martin Shkrelli? He raised the price of a drug called “Daraprim” from $13 dollars to $750 million earning instant notoriety in the process. From his smug answers before Congress, to paying $2 million for a Wu-Tang album and not letting anyone listen to it, Martin Shkrelli is basically a wrestling heel. He absorbs his audiences boos and smiles back at them. Jessie was terrified to talk to him. Did she survive?
We got on the phone with Jessie Kahnweiler to find out!
Observer: Since you document yourself so much does it feel like you’re always performing?
Jessie Kahnweiler: I live in L.A. I feel like everybody’s performing. I think that’s a human problem. I’m just finding that as I get older there’s a certain amount of ease that comes with being in my 30s. I mean I’m still crazy, but I feel more comfortable in my crazy and less of a need to prove myself.
Have you ever gone out with a guy who said “Jessie, I just want to know the real you?”
I’m like yeah me too. I would love to know that. I would love to know who I am. No I’ve gone out with guy who was like “I found the real you. I’m out I’m done.”
But really the show is about unmasking these parts of myself that I keep hidden, and about how in the process of talking to these characters I discover stuff about myself. There’s this idea of hating people or judging people online, which is so easy to do. We wanted to explore why people feel this way. Like why do I feel so much hatred or judgment or jealousy or disgust towards somebody that I don’t know and what would happen if I had to actually sit down and come face to face with them?
What ended up happening was that I did discover some kind of truth about myself. It was mostly something scary that I didn’t realize. You think you know who you are, especially when you make work and you’re like “oh this is my brand. People aren’t brands though, they’re people.”
You said Martin Shkrelli was your dream guest. Now that you’ve done that, do you have another dream guest?
That’s a really good question and people keep sending me emails about how I should get Milo or you know Trump, and other horrible people.
Is there anybody that you wouldn’t want to talk to?
I definitely wouldn’t turn down Trump, although I hope that I wouldn’t have any dreams about him because I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself if I did. We wrote to Charles Manson, and I’m still waiting for him to write back. We kind of wanted to draw a line, because at first I was like well “let’s talk to pedophiles or talk to murderers. Let’s talk to people that are in prison for doing these immoral acts.” But, I kind of didn’t really want to get into the territory of talking to somebody who’s not mentally stable. Because it becomes a different kind of interview, and they don’t really understand it, then it’s like kind of ethically murky.
I think what was really nice about the guests that we did get is I think they’re kind of what I like to call a modern day witch hunt or the new Internet villain. They’re born of the Internet, and there’s this amazing headline, and they are amazing clickbait for a week or two, and we look at it, and we say “fuck them.”
We share that article, and then we move on. And so I really wanted to find out what happened to these people afterwards. What are they doing now and how did this affect them? Do they feel remorse? I wanted to target people that have done something that I think I could have done. I’ve certainly made videos that have offended people. I’ve certainly lied about shit. I haven’t stolen billions of dollars and denied people medical drugs that they needed. I don’t know if that might make sense.
Do you have an underlying thought of how great it would be if people listened to these stories and gained empathy for other people?
I don’t try to give people any people any way to feel.With a scripted show, I can have kind of a personal mandate, but with this show we didn’t. It really is a documentary. It was happening as it was happening. We were making it because there was a part of me that was like “Oh I’m curious about these people. I’m curious about their lives.” I know that people are multidimensional, but I really don’t want to tell anyone how to feel about it, especially because I still don’t know how to feel about it. I’m still confused. I still think Martin is a fucking asshole, and he’s kind of compelling. Afterwards I felt frustrated that I wasn’t harder on him. I just hopefully give people some kind of feelings. If they’re feeling hatred or disgust at me, which I’ve gotten too, then you know that’s cool, at least they’re feeling something you know. How people feel about things or why is between them and their therapist.
I think it’s interesting the way that you approached each one of the guests from a different perspective. You talked with Steve about his real experience with a cab driver and how running away from the World Trade Center felt as real as the story he told. Then with Nicole you talked body positivity and made her feel good. You related to them as people and I love the way you did it.
Thanks! Those really good podcasts like Mark Marons make you just feel like you’re in the room. That’s the feeling I wanted, and a lot of that does come from being in a tiny room with these people. We were in Steve’s house, and we were in a tiny room with Martin, and it’s very intimate. There was no moment where I was like ‘OK now this is when I make them feel comfortable and relate to them.’ It was just what I naturally do. And I think that’s why I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from people that are like “you we’re too nice to them”, or “why didn’t you grill them” or whatever. And I’m like, “go sit in a room with somebody that you don’t like.” “Go sit in a room with somebody that did something you don’t agree with.” There is a natural empathy that happens and we can’t help but relate. We can’t help but find common ground.
Nicole Arbour and Jessie Kahnweiler. courtesy Jessie Kahnweiler
I think if I was a woman that was deeply affected by Nicole’s video, or if I was somebody that was at 9/11, then maybe it would have been a different story. I totally acknowledge that I didn’t have a personal connection to all these people and what they did. I just thought like ‘oh he’s just a fucking guy, but he did something terrible.’ Maybe he is terrible.
But you know he takes a shit like everyone else.
Do you think it’s important that people think of themselves as good people even if they aren’t?
That’s a really good question. It’s certainly a fascinating concept that came up in the show a lot. Steve was very like “I did a shitty thing and I totally own it.” And Martin, not only does he not think he’s a horrible person, he thinks he’s Robin Hood. He thinks he’s saving the world, and people just have to catch on and wait for it. So you kind of have two very polar opposite guests. I think it’s important for people to be in touch with the truth. Now something that is happening in the world right now is we are living in a post truth world. So what does it mean to tell the truth? Somebody like Martin can go online and say horrible things and then go ‘yeah but I mean just kidding the Internet’s not real.’ Then somebody else can say “but Martin said a horrible thing and it it really affected me”, or “this person bullied me.” I guess what I’m trying to say is, that I feel like we need to take a step back and collectively figure out what is the literacy of the Internet. We need to have a universal literacy rate so we all understand how we’re communicating now.
Jessie Kahnweiler and Steve Rannazzisi. courtesy Jessie Kahnweiler
I think that the thing is we’re too binary. We think that this person is good, and this person is bad, and the internet makes that so easy. Everybody is everything. We need to stop being, in my opinion, so ashamed of all of our deep dark bits. It adds a whole feeling of being gross or sad or scared or horny. All of these feelings that we’re told are not acceptable to feel creates this layer of shame. For me in my 30s with my eating disorder people tell me “ok well don’t feel that.” It created this whole other layer of shame on top of all the bad stuff I was feeling. We’re wired to have all these different feelings, and I think if we can accept the bad quote unquote bad feelings we’re less likely to retaliate and act on them.
What do you think Donald Trump thinks about before his head hits the pillow? Like how much shame is inside that person?Maybe if he was hugged a little bit more or told “little Donny like it’s OK to be upset because your brother is an alcoholic” like its ok to feel sad and jealous and rageful then maybe he wouldn’t be ruining the world.
I honestly believe it. Now I’m thinking about how upset I was about our new president. Eventually I realized that I had to get over it. But how can you get over it if you don’t empathize with the guy? I’ve been having a hard time doing that. Have you felt the same way?
I’ve been dissociating it, but again I think the answer to that is to just keep talking about it, keep the dialogue open. The part of you that is angry, we have to keep opening up to that. I hated myself because I didn’t get the right interview with him. I felt all this pressure, and I felt like a failure, and it was so unacceptable. It was a hard experience to go through within the show.
I don’t know if it’s a female thing, but I will turn on myself because of all the horrible stuff that’s going on in the world. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m not volunteering enough. “Oh my god I’m a piece of shit.” That’s something to really watch for, because there are some things going on in the world right now that are really fucking scary. I can’t yell at myself and hate on myself just because I feel vulnerable.
I think everybody is exploring their rage right now, and that’s what Martin was talking about. He said he felt he could be a different person on the internet than he is in real life. Do you think that’s a valid form of escapism or expression?
I think not if you’re hurting other people. He’s talking to people that don’t understand that he’s kidding. I just think the Internet is not the place for it, because I am somebody that is getting tortured on the Internet on the daily and it does feel real. People tell me I should just brush it off because no one’s being threatened. When your life is being threatened, that’s real.
That person may not mean it, but it’s so scary. But I think that something else that the show taught me is that we need to try to understand each other better on the Internet. Zuckerberg needs to step it up, and we need to develop some emotional intelligence around this stuff. We need to take our power back because it feels like a drunk baby, and we need to sober up.
Jessie Kahnweiler interviewing Martin Shkreli on Schmucks
Courtesy Jessie Kahnweiler
When Jessie Kahnweiler sat down to interview “pharma bro” and notorious Internet troll Martin Shkreli for her podcast, she didn’t expect that she’d be the one pouring her heart out to him. The L.A.-based writer and comedian isn’t known for being shy — her viral YouTube videos have titles such as “Jessie Gets Arrested,” “Jessie Fucks a Vet” and “My Boyfriend Is Homeless” — but even by her own standards, the interview with Shkreli was particularly unhinged. She told him about the time she shit her pants after taking too many laxatives on the set of her own movie (she’s long been open about her battle with bulimia) and then detailed the sex dream she’d recently had about him (honestly, it was more of a nightmare: He’d forced her to sign a contract agreeing to have an abortion if she were to get pregnant).
“I was like, ‘Fuck, Terry Gross would never do this,’” Kahnweiler says, referencing the host of the NPR show Fresh Air. “I felt like, ‘What have I done? I’m an asshole, I’m a pussy, I’m a coward.’”
But Kahnweiler isn’t a coward — nor does she claim to be a journalist — and so she decided to embrace her on-air flubs, rather than editing them out of the podcast or attempting to re-tape the interview. Acknowledging her own failure to hold Shkreli accountable, she recorded a postscript in which she consults a family member (“He was playing the victim,” her grandmother agrees); gets chewed out by her producer (“You were so friendly and funny and chummy with him that I felt like it was letting him off,” he chides her); and analyzes exactly what went wrong (“I don’t think I was fully honest about how scared I am of him and what he represents, and what I do when I’m scared is I make sex jokes,” Kahnweiler admits). They’re the type of introspective, behind-the-scenes revelations that don’t often make the final cut of a podcast. They’re also part of what makes Schmucks, a new Stitcher Premium series about the most hated people in America, so thrilling to listen to.
“I went into this interview and I felt prepared, I felt very connected to him. I felt like I just showed up and did it,” Kahnweiler says. “It wasn’t until afterward that I got these feelings of dread.” Those feelings of dread later multiplied into sensations of shock and then self-loathing. When Kahnweiler posted to Instagram a photo of her and Shkreli embracing prom date–style, it was met with enraged comments about his marking up the price of an HIV drug. She realized that maybe it was she, not Shkreli, who was the biggest schmuck of all.
“Oh my God, I let everybody down. It was this thing of like, ‘How do I live with myself?’” Kahnweiler remembers thinking. “Not to be melodramatic, but it felt like my whole self-worth was kind of on the chopping block.”
To her credit, there are plenty of redeeming moments throughout the interview with Shkreli, who was recently kicked off Twitter for harassment and is currently on trial facing federal charges of securities fraud. Kahnweiler gets him to open up about his childhood with racist and emotionally abusive parents, his heartbreak over a repeatedly failed relationship and his poor hygiene habits, including that he hates brushing his teeth with a passion typically only seen in preschoolers. The point of the podcast, she says, isn’t to convince listeners that Shkreli is a supervillain — he does a pretty good job of that on his own — but to examine the person beneath the headlines, many of which declare him the most hated man in America.
“Just try sitting in a room with somebody. It’s such a different experience than being on Twitter and having your opinions,” she says. “You’re forced to be in the humanity of the moment.”
Kahnweiler is no stranger to being on the receiving end of internet hate. As a filmmaker and performer who frequently uses the medium to explore her own sexuality, body image and eating disorder, she’s gotten rape and death threats from male commenters across Reddit, YouTube and Instagram. “It’s one thing to be like, ‘Oh, this person called me fat.’ But it’s another to be like, ‘Oh, this person wants to rape and kill me,’” she says. “I’m very fascinated by the emotional and psychological effects of living your life out loud online — because obviously I have a personal vested interest in it because I love the internet, but also, the internet can suck a dick.”
Kahnweiler with Nicole Arbour
Courtesy Jessie Kahnweiler
Nicole Arbour, another interview subject featured on Schmucks, likely can relate. The former professional cheerleader turned YouTube personality achieved viral Internet fame in 2015 after her video “Dear Fat People” — which might be described as the opposite of a love letter — garnered a tidal wave of backlash from celebrities who accused her of bullying and fat-shaming. Steve Rannazzisi, the other guest Kahnweiler tapped for the three-part podcast series, is a television actor who became a pariah after admitting he lied about having escaped from the World Trade Center on 9/11.
“There’s the concern with the podcast that we’re just giving a platform for hate, and that’s something that I was really nervous about,” Kahnweiler says. “But it’s like, well, I’m not going to not do the podcast, and that’s a risk — I’m going to try as hard as I can to make this thoughtful.”
Kahnweiler has gotten heat for sympathizing with guests like Shkreli, whom she allowed to downplay serious accusations. But she says the social experiment at the center of the podcast could serve as a powerful lesson in a country that’s divided by political extremes. “I look at all these people now who voted for Donald Trump,” she says. “What am I going to do: Am I going to hate these people, or try to understand them? I think that’s the next level is trying to understand them.”
Are there other dream guests she’d like to book on the podcast someday? “I wrote to Charles Manson,” she says. “So, fingers crossed.”
Check out Ep. 2 of SHMUCKS ft. Nicole Arbour who discusses her viral video DEAR FAT PEOPLE, body image and being hated online. In the words of my father “She seems like a very interesting woman” Father knows best so check it out!
*in order to listen to shmucks you have to sign up for Sticher premium here http://www.stitcherpremium.com/schmucks and then download the APP to listen on your phone. It’s a pain in the ass but so am i so…
The first episode of SHMUCKS features comedian, actor, and pool owner @steverannazzisi Steve got supes deep about his experience getting caught in a lie and dealing with Internet shaming. What lies have I told in an effort to find my identity? Does the truth really set you free? What the hell is a first down anyway? Listen by signing up for #sticherradio and use promo code SHMUCKS for a free month trial. http://www.stitcherpremium.com/schmucks #sticherradio #shmuckspodcast#vulnerability
We invite you to a meeting with Jessie Kahnweiler, a filmmaker from Los Angeles who comes to Warsaw to take part in Asylum Arts project at the POLIN Museum. The show includes storytelling, screening the episodes, and a talkback with audience – the show runs a little over an hour. Afterwards, a less formal part with kosher snacks and wine. Feel welcome!
The meeting will be held in English.
The event is coorganised by Hillel Warsaw (Hillel Warszawa) RSVP HERE
VEDEM (which means to lead) was an underground newspaper written by jewish boys while prisoners in the Terezin ghetto. “The writers braved hunger, exhaustition, and forced labor. They would regurlarly risk their lives by sneaking into forbidden places in the ghetto in order to write”
This photo is of Petr Ginz who was just 14 when he created the magazine. Ginz proclaimed “you probably think you know Terezin well. I want to prove you wrong” Please join us for the open reception of the VEDEM exhibition tomorrow night at 730 at the silverlake jcc and our panel discussion “creative activism: From Terezin to Trump” @sijcc and yes @ivankatrump you’re invited of course but only if you bring the kugel
Jessie Kahnweiler is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California. She’s pretty amazing. I reached out to Jessie after watching her web series, The Skinny,which closely touches on her own experiences with bulimia, and she agreed to do an interview! The Skinny is absolutely fantastic, and available on YouTube, so you should check it out!
K: Hey, Jessie! Thank you so much for talking to us!
J: No problem!
K: Ok, so here’s my first question: do you think there is a significant and separate stigma against just eating disorders in the world of mental health?
J: Yeah, definitely! I don’t even think I initially knew eating disorders were a mental illness, because it deals with food, and the representation of eating disorders in the media is so one-sided, like a thin ballerina trying to lose weight. It’s very focused on the physical aspect of it. I think it gave me the message that it was just a silly thing, and that I just needed to get my weight under control and then I’d be fine. I never considered it a mental illness, or even anything of the mind, and to me, that’s pretty much why eating disorders are so shameful. They’re not given the regard that other mental illnesses are given – and even other addictions! I guess people just assume that it’s food and you should just be able to handle it. So that’s part of the reason why I was in denial for so long, because I didn’t know eating disorders were a problem.
K: Yeah, I definitely think that’s a huge problem, and part of the reason why eating disorders are so detrimental. Part of the reason I loved The Skinny so much was that it felt like the first real, raw representation of eating disorders that I had seen in the media. I feel like eating disorders are often romanticized, and the media only seems to represent a very small percentage of the community. The way that eating disorders are represented in the media doesn’t even show relapse. I think that’s part of the reason why The Skinny is so powerful – it shows the full recovery process in an honest and genuine way. How did it feel to make something where you were really throwing yourself out there, especially with how The Skinny explored the underrepresented parts of having an eating disorder?
J: Well, it was really fucking terrifying, and I didn’t want to do it at first. But I saw those Lifetime movies too, and my friends and I would talk about them – and honestly, they did a better job of giving you tips on how to have an eating disorder than representing the issue at hand in an authentic way. That was part of the reason I wanted to make The Skinny. For me, the process was about how I could take this really personal thing and make it relatable for a wider audience. Life is all about trying to matter, trying to figure it out in the world, and trying to cope when you don’t have any resources. What do you do when you’re lonely and scared? What do you do when your heart is broken? Everyone experiences these things, but I used bulimia as coping mechanism. Of course, that caused so many more problems. That’s kind of the irony of eating disorders – you use them to escape your problems, and you wind up with even more problems. That’s what I really wanted to show – to heal and to start a larger conversation about eating disorders in general. I also didn’t want to make light of eating disorders in any way, but at least in my experience with recovery, there is so much humor in everything, and I get through my experiences in life by laughing at them, and that’s what I did with The Skinny.
K: Oh, yeah! The Skinny had perfect levity. It was so funny without making light of eating disorders in any way.
J: Thank you!
K: I also read another interview… I think it was with Refinery29, and you were talking about the importance of being honest, which I think is so important, especially with eating disorders. To you, what is the importance of being honest with yourself about your eating disorder beyond The Skinny?
J: Well, yeah, it’s kind of everything, right? How do I show up and live my life honestly? – That’s what being in recovery means to me. It’s a day-to-day thing. I also say that I will have an eating disorder forever, and I don’t mean this in a hopeless way. I say it in a way that keeps me honest. There are things I need to do everyday, to stay focused on recovery. There are big things, like finding healthier people to date, and there are little things, like getting enough sleep. It really affects every aspect of my life. For my art, right now I’m working on like seven projects at the same time, and I still have to figure out how to take care of myself. With The Skinny, this was what I really wanted to face. And the crazy thing is, once you stop vomiting, it’s like, “Well, what was I vomiting over? What was making me vomit?” And it was literally life. It was my inability to cope with life! For me, I’m also not going to get over it in a day, or by making a web series, but it’s also like, “Oh, this is the beginning of a much longer journey,” and that journey is life. I don’t think it ever stops, and I don’t think it’s ever like, “You have arrived.” That’s such counterintuitive thinking for my eating disorder, which has always said “Once you’re thin, you’ll be perfect and happy,” and that is such an illusion. Recovery is like trying to live in reality. Even with The Skinny, it felt really good for people to tell me that they loved the show, but I also was like, “Ok, this isn’t going to fix me.”
K: What does being in recovery mean to you, and how do you maintain or support your recovery?
J: Well, there are a number of things I do to support my recovery. I go to a support group, and I’m friends with lots of other girls that have had experiences with eating disorders who I speak with on an almost daily basis. I think it’s all about finding community, because it’s so hard. It’s really impossible to do on your own. Now I recognize how horrible my mindset was! I literally thought I could handle it on my own, and there was just no way I could have done that.
K: Yeah! Eating disorders can also be so isolating, so I definitely agree that finding a supportive community is so important.
J: Totally! And for me, I think it really forced me to get honest and find friends that got me for me.
K: Definitely. Going off on that – when you were in a more severe stage of your eating disorder, did you find that your relationships with others were affected seriously?
J: Oh, yeah, it affected every relationship. I mean I have ADD now –
K: Oh, I have ADHD, so pretty much the same thing!
J: I have no attention span, I’m always distracted, always thinking of a million things, and I think it all got really affected because I was so deep in self-hatred and was always obsessing my body, so I wasn’t really present a lot. It’s not a black and white thing – I still had a lot of amazing relationships, and had a ton of great people in my life, but I wasn’t fully present for a lot of it. That’s something I still work on. So many people think eating disorders are all about you and hurting yourself, but you’re really also hurting others, because you’re not able to be fully present or honest. Bulimia is like a full time job – you’re lying about food, you’re lying about where you’re getting food, you’re lying about where you’re going, and it just creates these heart-breaking barriers with people you love.
K: Yeah, that’s such a big part of it too – being mindful and in the moment is so important for me. Since I have ADHD, everything always feels like it’s moving so, so quickly, so it’s easy to act impulsively and such until I can really slow things down.
J: Dude, I fucking hear that. I think everyone struggles with that to some degree!
K: Yeah, definitely! It’s so hard to be present when there are so many other things going on at the same time.
K: Ok, here’s a question: what are the three things you truly want people to understand about having an eating disorder?
J: I guess it would be that it’s not about weight, it is in the mind, and the eating disorder can really be so incredibly powerful. I think when my parents and other people found out, they all felt really helpless. And it’s really heart-breaking – I get this question a lot, “What am I supposed to do?” So many times, it’s just offering support and empathy. What has really helped me the most is when people are like, “God, I get it.” or “I don’t get it personally, but I empathize.” That is the opposite of secrets, shame, and lying. Offer people the space to feel! And I guess in a dream scenario, think. Especially before you comment on someone’s body. You need to think and be sensitive because you have no idea what people are going through. We tend to laugh at eating disorders, but they’re really serious. It’s life or death. It’s a slow death, and it’s a mental death.
K: Absolutely! One last question: how has filmmaking been an outlet for you?
J: It’s been like my life! It’s everything to me – my creative outlet has saved my life. I don’t know what I’d do without it. I call it learning in public, because I’m just trying to go on my journey, and figure out what the fuck it means to be me! So yeah, it’s literally everything to me.
K: Amazing! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us! You are incredible, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for you!
Thousands of marchers took to the streets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago on Saturday as protests continued across the US following the election of Donald Trump as president. At least 25 cities have seen major anti-Trump demonstrations in the five days since the controversial businessman’s shock election victory.
The Republican, who defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton against the expectations of pollsters and pundits – not to mention the candidates themselves – has generated national opposition over his attacks on Mexican immigrants, Muslims, women and others.
In Los Angeles, protesters chanted slogans including “Her body, her choice”, “Say it loud, say it clear: immigrants are welcome here” and “Can’t build the wall, hands too small” – a reference to Mr Trump’s proposal to erect a wall the length of the US-Mexican border.
Police estimated that 8,000 people took part in the march from MacArthur Park to the federal building in Downtown LA. On Friday night, almost 200 protesters had been arrested after refusing the LAPD’s order to disperse amid reports of squad cars being spray painted and rocks being thrown at officers. Saturday’s march passed off peacefully, however
Given his shifting opinions and vague policy proposals, it remains unclear precisely what Mr Trump plans to do with his presidency. A comfortably GOP-controlled Congress means he can wield power with more freedom than almost any president in modern times, but he also faces an unparalleled wave of opposition from the half of the electorate that did not vote for him.
Ru Dominguez, 52, an organiser with the labour union Unite Here who attended the LA march, said she and fellow union members were prepared to oppose his agenda at every turn. “We’re going to stick together,” she said. “Trump is a racist, he’s ignorant, and he’s not my president.”
Ru Dominguez (Tim Walker)
Since election day on Tuesday, more than 3.6 million people have signed a petition calling on the US electoral college to elect Ms Clinton president when they formally cast their ballots on 19 December, and pointing out that the Democrat won the popular vote.
The Former Secretary of State got more votes than any presidential candidate in history besides Barack Obama, and won the popular vote by a wider margin than John F Kennedy in 1960 or Richard Nixon in 1968, both of whom ended up in the White House.
In some states, electors are permitted to vote for a candidate other than the one selected by the majority of voters in their state, but for so-called “faithless electors” to overturn an election result is utterly without precedent and almost certainly out of the question.
Maria Dominguez (left) (Tim Walker)
“The message is pretty clear: we don’t want him as president,” said 15-year-old protester Maria Dominguez. “The people wanted Hillary as president, and we didn’t get that from the electoral college. So there’s not much we can do but protest and make sure our voices are heard.”
In New York, demonstrators walked from Union Square along 5th Avenue to the bottom of Central Park, where the President-elect’s Trump Tower is located. One man said he had driven his family five hours from their home in Syracuse in upstate New York to send a message that they did not approve of Mr Trump.
A 25-year-old black man who asked to be identified only by his first name, James, said that the election of Mr Trump had already led to a wave of incidents of racial and sexist abuse and harassment.
He said that because Mr Trump was elected after using racist language and being filmed bragging about abusing women, people felt emboldened. “I don’t think all Trump supporters are racist. I think a lot have lost their jobs and have fallen for his words,” he said.
Carol Finneran and her sister, Kate, said they believed Mr Trump would attack civil liberties. She said that he and Mike Pence, his vice presidential running mate, were opposed to abortion. “I am here because I have a daughter. I want to say that women own their own bodies,” she said.
The LA protest included an “organisation fair” for campaign groups to encourage marchers to join and remain politically active in future. “If you’re really concerned, you have to be a participant in some active way,” Ron Gochez, an organiser with Union del Barrio, told LAist.
David Rowley (left) (Tim Walker)
Demonstrator David Rowley said Mr Trump’s victory had inspired him to get more involved in politics and activism. “We need to offset any negative things he does with positive things: support the American Civil Liberties Union, support Planned Parenthood, support any group that he appears to be attacking,” said Mr Rowley, 39. “Our democracy isn’t something you do every four years, it’s something we do every single day.”
Jessie Kahnweiler (Tim Walker)
Comedy filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler, 31, described the march as “part peaceful mobilisation and part therapy,” adding: “My generation has been so privileged, we’ve never had to face this amount of hate before. I can’t sleep at night knowing someone who assaulted so many women is president. Donald Trump doesn’t realise that we’re not just being sore losers; we’re scared.”
So excited to announce our big news! We are pregnant with another web series! BUMP is a family friendly comedy about fertility, shame, and boundaries. Stoked to work with @abcd Let’s go baby! #BUMPTv#abc#webseries — with Paul Young at Disney-ABC.
Writer/director Jessie Kahnweiler discusses her painfully funny webseries The Skinny, now available via Refinery29.
by Daniel Barron
The pratfalls of making it and faking it as a Millennial have become well-tread ground in film, TV, and especially DIY online content. We persevere in the face of questionable internships, a noncommittal dating landscape, a fickle job market, and the pursuit of abstract concepts like “influencers” and “going viral.” Self-reflexive, yes, but often still in good fun. That snake finally chokes on its tail with writer/director Jessie Kahnweiler’s honest, acidic webseries The Skinny, which premiered in January on Refinery29 from Executive Producer Jill Soloway (creator of Transparent). The six-episode show follows Kahnweiler, playing herself, as she attempts to preserve her dignity and sobriety while chasing success as a YouTube star. The comedic actress has previously drawn praise in The New York Times, The Guardian, and Cosmopolitan for her provocative, often hilarious, videos that gave a royal roasting to rape culture and white privilege. She is no more charitable when examining her own issues, including bulimia and toxic co-dependency. If most mumblecore is Billy Madison, The Skinny is Punch-Drunk Love. The series also co-stars Illeana Douglas as her mother and premiered at this past Sundance Film Festival. It went on to receive a Webby award for Best Dramatic Series.
Photo: Patrick Gookin
The concept of capturing what is “real” or “authentic” in entertainment is better stated than achieved, and usually is an ideal that exists to be varnished and homogenized. These notions clash with Kahnweiler, who has little interest in safe material, and The Skinny resists classification. Kahnweiler may be widely recognized as a comedic actress, but her creation defies the impulse to be a non-stop joke machine. “I certainly thought a lot about tone,” she says, “but I also think it’s really counter-productive to say, ‘This is going to be a comedy.’ It makes more sense to work from the inside out. What is the story you want to tell?”
This ethos is perhaps best exemplified in a scene that occurs early in episode 3, where Kahnweiler is pitching her material to a roomful of potential financiers. She shows them a clip in which she shows her support for veterans by crudely offering them sex. “Real women are the next wave of clickbait!” enthuses her producer. “No one likes women that real,” someone deflects.
“I think [that scene] was a reaction to being a female trying to create content in a very specific way while trying super hard to make men and women like me. You want me to be funnier, you want me to be louder, you want me to be real, but you also want me to be sexy-real. It’s exhausting. Who do I need to be? That’s a question we ask in the show.”
Photo: Patrick Gookin
So how has the actual public reacted? “There are people who really don’t like it and that’s actually a huge compliment. I want everyone to love it- slash me- but they don’t and I think that’s what art is supposed to do. It’s supposed to polarize people [laughs]. Any kind of reaction is a win.”
Sometimes that means winning big, especially from young women who connect with the material on a deep personal level. Kahnweiler has spent the past year touring The Skinny on college campuses and having an open, often humbling, conversation with students. “It’s special because it’s so much bigger than me. There’s so much shame that no one wants to talk about. What does it mean to be a feminist? What does it mean to hate myself and not know what to do about it? For me observing other people allowing themselves to be so vulnerable is the greatest gift.”
As with her onscreen counterpart, coming to terms with her own limitations is part of the growing process. “I’ve also learned that I can’t be responsible for fixing people.”
Since self-help is rarely an easy process, the The Skinny leaves no tidy conclusion for its protagonist, who tiptoes towards recovery. Details are tight on a second season, but Kahnweiler states that there have been discussions. She is, however, very pleased with her results. “Making [The Skinny] was a great exercise in getting out of my own way and making something really personal.”
Admirers of Kahnweiler’s work get can dirty again much sooner when her podcast Safe Space debuts on the Earwolf network this coming January. The show revolves around Kahnweiler getting personal with some of society’s most infamous public figures, such as comedian Steve Rannazzisi and pharmaceutical entrepreneur Martin Shkreli.
It’s hard to find any other description for a woman who demonstrates the existence of white privilege by trying to get arrested—walking up to two cops, offering to sell them her antidepressants and walking away undetained. On another occasion, Kahnweiler crossed the Green Line in Israel simply to ask border guards if they were circumcised.
The Los Angeles-based 30-year-old writes, directs and acts in Web shorts and series. She has been making a name for herself the past few years with her special brand of comedy.
In 2013, she created a webseries on YouTube called Dude, Where’s My Chutzpah?, where she tries to discover her Jewish identity through a series of hilarious trials and errors. Her short video, Meet My Rapist, went viral that same year. The film is about a fictionalized Kahnweiler running into her rapist at a farmer’s market. Kahnweiler explained that it was a response to her own feelings after she was raped 10 years ago while studying abroad in Vietnam. While the subject matter may seem somber, the end result is a genuinely touching and surprisingly funny look at something that far-too many women have to cope with.
Paul Young, the co-founder of Principato-Young Entertainment, said that this was what drew him to start working with Kahnweiler as her manager.
“I initially became aware of Jessie because I saw her short film, Meet My Rapist,” Young said. “It was such a courageous, funny and meaningful short film that represented a rare talent in Jessie.”
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, the first documentary Kahnweiler created and directed was Little America, which she made during her senior year at the University of Redlands. Kahnweiler and a friend hitchhiked across the country with truck drivers, interviewing the various people they met at truck stops. Kahnweiler admits that this was reckless, but she relished the opportunity to meet new people, especially those that society has cast off or ignored. She found it to be a spiritual experience, and said that was when she found her purpose. The comedy came later.
“I never really set out specifically to do comedy,” Kahnweiler said. “I started making documentaries, so I was always behind the camera. Everything that I worked on always felt very personal, but it wasn’t until I started really taking on the issues of pain in my own life that I really developed my style.”
When Kahnweiler went through a particularly bad breakup, she decided to write a comedy about it. The experience helped her process her pain, but ultimately she found that it resonated it with other people, who shared their breakup stories with her.
“I come from a family [that] always laughs at the hardest things,” Kahnweiler said. “That’s how we cope with this stuff. So just being able to laugh about it, it felt very natural.”
Since then, Kahnweiler’s projects have only gotten funnier, not to mention, more personal. Her newest web series, The Skinny, delves into the life of a young woman navigating her increasing Internet fame, while also dealing with bulimia. Kahnweiler struggled with her own bulimia for 10 years, using some of her own experiences as fodder for the show’s comedy. The series, produced by Refinery29 and Jill Solloway’s Wifey.tv, debuted at Sundance earlier this year. It also won a Webby—the Oscars for online content—for best dramatic series. That award doesn’t quite do The Skinny justice; the series is more than just a drama. It’s not just “that show about bulimia.”
Throughout the six 10-minute episodes, the main character Jessie, played by Kahnweiler, navigates her turbulent personal life when her ex, Cole, a recovering junkie, moves in with her mom, played by the fabulous Illeana Douglas.
There are a myriad of entertaining moments, like when Jessie rips into the media executives who say she’s just another pair of tits.
“I am so sick of asking men with man buns and tuna breath for permission to be myself!” she yells. “There is more pussy fear in this room than the Republican National Convention!”
Yes, she does eat cake out of the trash, stuff prosciutto, sushi and God knows what else into her bra and she steals a box of chocolate laxatives while wearing a diaper. But the series shows that bulimia is not the cause of Jessie’s problems, it’s her very misguided attempt at bringing some sort of control to the chaos converging around her. It doesn’t overtake her life, but it’s always there in the background waiting for things to go wrong.
Kahnweiler said she was trying to subvert expectations of what someone with an eating disorder looks like. A person doesn’t have to be uber thin to suffer from an eating disorder. It can happen to anyone, even someone as boisterous and outgoing as Jessie.
Kahnweiler maintains that talking about her problems openly has been the best medicine. But when she tried to get The Skinny produced, she found that not a lot of people were willing to go down that path with her, saying it wasn’t “sexy.”
Her manager, Paul Young, and her mentor, Jill Solloway, the creator of Transparent, encouraged her to keep moving pushing forward.
“They said it was too risky it wasn’t commercial enough,” Young said. “I happen to believe that when you tell the truth like that in stories, audiences feel it and want to watch it. It’s that simple. When a storyteller is being authentic, that’s when they tell stories that are emotionally resonant.… She’s just able to go there. She wants to tell the most honest story she can and she’s willing to go through the pain that requires.”
Kahnweiler and Young are working on several different projects, including a new Web- series about a surrogate mother, and trying turn The Skinny into a traditional half-hour long program for television. One thing’s for certain: Kahnweiler is not going to stop delivering her brash style of comedy.
“I really don’t know what I would do without having art to express myself,” Kahnweiler said. “It’s like air.”
The Skinny will be screening at USC Oct 18th at 7pm and our hot ass cast and crew will be in attendance to answer all your questions like who was the biggest diva on set? (no..not me….whatever!) RSVP here for free!
The first episode of CHUTZPAH is streaming now CHOSEN.TV This show is not just for my fellow Jewys but anyone who has struggled with finding their purpose, balls, and place in this world. Is God real? Does she like me? We all the Chosen people. #chutzpah
A gallery exhibit of previously unreleased early photos of Amy Winehouse, looking happy and “full of hope,” opens in London on September 13, the day before what would have been the singer’s 33rd birthday.
Celebrations and explorations of her life have continued to emerge since her death five years ago—most notably Amy, the critically acclaimed 2015 documentary. The film portrays the singer’s struggles with drugs and fame; she reportedly used heroin and crack cocaine, and was found by an inquest to have died of alcohol poisoning.
But Amy has been criticized for failing to highlight the role Winehouse’s eating disorder played in her struggles and her eventual death. Her brother, Alex, has said that “what really killed her was the bulimia.”
One such critic is filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler. She wrote, directed and stars in the web series The Skinny, which tackles bulimia with humor, pathos and rare honesty. Produced by Refinery29 and Jill Soloway‘s Wifey.tv, the six-part dramedy premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was the only web series to land a coveted spot.
Based on Kahnweiler’s own life, the series is about addiction in multiple, intersecting forms, and follows a few days in the life of “Jessie,” a Jewish wannabe YouTube star, as she binges, purges, drinks and uses drugs, has sex, gets dumped, and befriends a younger social media powerhouse and her crew.
The first episode of The Skinny is below, and you can watch the rest here.
Kahnweiler is just getting out of a pool when I call her, giving the impression of a carefree LA life. She comes across as warm, open and funny—a little like “Jessie.” But over the course of the conversation, it became clear that she’s also perceptive and direct.
Including on the topic of the film Amy.
“Amy,” Kahnweiler tells me, “was inspiring.” But she also found it incomplete.
“I felt like they talked about the drug addiction and all that stuff so much,” she says, “but there are scenes of her binging in the documentary that are not talked about [in the film]. This perpetuates the idea that addiction’s just about alcohol and drugs, and you should just be able to get a handle on your ‘weird eating thing.’”
While watching the film, Kahnweiler says she thought “about all the times I did drugs and drank.” For her, “the eating disorder was what they call my ‘core addiction.’ Whenever I did coke or drank it would all be about losing weight or controlling weight, or using alcohol (or men) to replace food.”
It’s unclear whether that was also the case with Winehouse. But Kahnweiler urgently wanted to know things that the movie didn’t address, like, “How did her eating disorder affect her depression?”
She’s not alone in finding the issue under-exposed. “We all knew she was doing it,” Alex Winehouse told the Guardian, “but it’s almost impossible [to tackle], especially if you’re not talking about it. It’s a real dark, dark issue.”
And in a comprehensive essay for Pitchfork, titled “We Need to Talk about Amy Winehouse’s Eating Disorder and Its Role in her Death,” Kayleigh Hughes took a similar position. She described a scene in Amy where “A teenaged Winehouse, snacking with her friends, laments between mouthfuls that she’s a pig and she cannot help herself. In a voiceover during this sequence, the singer’s mother Janis Winehouse recounts the moment a young Amy tells her mother about discovering a great new ‘diet’—eating and then vomiting […Her mother] muses that she essentially ignored the statement and forgot about it, thinking it was a silly teen girl activity that Amy would soon grow out of.”
Hughes wrote that “this casual dismissal—the first mention of Amy Winehouse’s eating disorder—is wrenching, and comes almost halfway into the film. For many viewers, this may be the first they have ever heard about Winehouse’s eating disorder. As well-documented as her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction were, the tiny little fact of her severe, untreated, decade-long eating disorder was rarely mentioned.”
Hughes acknowledged that Winehouse’s official cause of death was alcohol poisoning, but argued that “this can be understood as the equivalent of someone with AIDS who has died of complications from pneumonia. Similar to the way HIV compromises a body’s ability to fight infections, bulimia damages the body to the point where it is no longer able to keep up basic functions and is more susceptible to external threats.”
The Skinny refuses to collude in the kind of cultural dismissal of eating disorders of which Amy stands accused. Neither does it treat bulimia in a narrowly-focused, after-school-special fashion. Instead, over the course of six short episodes, it gets at the interwoven, interactive relationships with drugs, alcohol, food, love, sex, relationships, and technology experienced by one woman.
That’s realistic in that there are clear correlations between problematic relationships with drugs, alcohol and food, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Statistics vary across studies, but they report that up to 50 percent of people with eating disorders “abuse alcohol or illicit drugs”—far more than the 9 percent figure among the general population. And around 35 percent of alcohol or illicit drug “abusers” have eating disorders, compared with 3 percent of the general population.
Another thing that feels different about The Skinny is its funny yet emotionally resonant approach to bulimia. It’s not a pure dark comedy, with bulimia as a punchline, nor is it purely tragic. I ask Kahnweiler what inspired her.
“There’s a Henry Jaglom movie from 1990 called Eating,” she says. It was made by “this white dude,” but nevertheless, it’s “amazing.”
She describes it as a “‘a day in the life’ about this woman’s dinner party in LA.”
“I remember seeing that,” she says, “and thinking that no one has ever said this stuff out loud about food, and talked so openly about body image. It wasn’t a documentary but it kind of feels like one. That really inspired me when I was still really in my addiction. I was obsessed with it—on a deeper level, it made me feel like I’m not alone, I’m not crazy … it was a really realistic portrayal.”
Though the clothing and decor are cheerfully late-20th century, many of the sentiments in Eating are entirely contemporary.
In one scene, a French ingénue, who attracts the jealousy of the other women for her thin Gallic sexiness, admits that she has made herself throw up after eating. She says that it’s hard for her to admit, because “…you can say I’m an alcoholic or a drug addict, and that’s ok, its kind of interesting. But just saying ‘I have an eating disorder’— it’s so unattractive, it’s so disturbing. I was never able to say that to anyone.”
I ask Kahnweiler if there will be a second season of The Skinny. “I’m developing it right now for TV, as a longer form,” she says, “but still thinking about whether or not I’ll do a second season of the web series. There are different forms it could take, which is really exciting.”
Meanwhile she’s “working on another series which I can’t officially announce yet, but it has to do with motherhood, and infertility and boundaries and shame—it’s gonna be really funny!” We laugh. It makes sense, though. I can see her applying The Skinny‘s tragicomic approach to the topics of infertility and motherhood, which, like bulimia, are hyper-gendered and involve weight, bodies and societal expectations. And in an interesting parallel, Jaglom’s second film in his “women trilogy” after Eating is called Babyfever; you can guess what it’s about. (The third in the series is Going Shopping).
But the new project will be further from Kahweiler’s personal experience.
“I’ve never been pregnant,” she says, “but I’ve definitely felt like I wanted to belong and would do anything to belong. So I’m taking that emotional truth and building a story around that. In some ways it’s awesome writing about your own life, and in some ways it’s harder. [With writing about your own life] you think—’does anyone care about this?’ I tell other writers to go to therapy so you can sort it out first.”
While working on The Skinny, which did deal with issues so close to her own life, she found it helpful to surround herself “with people who can call me on my blind spots. One of my biggest strengths,” she says, “is actually knowing what my weaknesses are.”
I ask her what they are. “Trying to go for the joke,” she answers, “without necessarily having an emotional truth to back that up. Focusing on ‘moments—like when you see a movie and think ‘oh there were good moments in that.’ But I need to work at coming back to ‘what is the story?’”
One aspect of her story that was important to her was showing that in her experience, “when you have an eating disorder it’s not just depression. I had a full life.”
Her goal was “to show the reality of what I went through—which is really sad, and beautiful. But also fun.”
It does look fun, at times. When the “likes” are coming in [when one of “Jessie’s” videos go viral], the blissful expression on her face is similar to the one she has after vomiting or masturbating. When I say that she conveys a lot through that recurring facial expression, she responds that she’s “had a lot of experience!”
And where does technology addiction, if that’s what it is, come in? “The internet is a huge relationship in my own life—getting all the comments—both for good and for bad.”
Kahnweiler says that if she didn’t have a “core base of some kind of spirituality or soul or something deeper,” she “can really get fucked up in that stuff.” She says she’s “very prone to it,” and feels like she has “an addictive personality.”
I wonder whether the new attention she has received for making the show fed into the very addiction it depicts. “There’s been a couple show-within-a-show moments,” she laughs. “When I’m getting all this love, it feels good, like maybe I am queen of the world! Then it goes away and it’s like ‘what is my life?’”
TV is a great medium for her to tell her particular addiction story, she explains, because there’s a lot of space to unfold a saga without a neat ending. “You see so many addiction narratives and the character is better after 90 minutes,” she says. “That is definitely not my story.”
Instead, the Skinny shows the interactive ebb and flow of relapse and recovery both within and around Jessie. At one point Cole (Jessie’s on-off boyfriend) gets out of rehab and says “My sobriety is the most important thing to me right now.” She responds, “Well you’re the most important thing to me.”
“I’ve had a lot of experience on both ends,” Kahnweiler says. “I’ve been close to many different addicts and also in recovery myself.”
When it’s someone else entering recovery, she says, there’s a fear that they will change. And “they can be kind of annoying, those smug people in recovery—it can be annoying! It is selfish. If you’ve ever been an relationship with an addict, they’re like, ‘I’m sorry I can’t do that—I’m an addict.’ And it’s like, that’s not an excuse to be an asshole!”
But coming at it from the other side, as someone in recovery herself, she says “it’s like, maybe I do need to be selfish right now. And I’m sorry that I can’t be the person that you need me to be in order to feel okay.”
She says that she “doesn’t have the answers, [but] wanted to represent that struggle in the show.”
Kahnweiler has said that “bulimia is something I’m going to have forever.” I ask her why.
“Light question!” she jokes. Then she explains that she’s not currently “actively engaging in bulimia, in terms of binging and purging” (though that period of her life lasted 10 years). But she does “believe it’s an addiction, in that there’s stuff that I need to do every single day to protect myself and keep my health.” Her list includes support groups, therapy, meditation, yoga, making sure she eats three meals a day and doesn’t skip meals, and practicing “self-care, self-love and service to others.”
“I don’t want to get into the habit of thinking I can rest on my laurels,” she says. “The bulimia is a symptom, and the core issue was just feeling terrified of my own mind, not feeling comfortable in my own skin. That was a way to distract and control.”
I ask her if she has any advice for people wondering if they have a problematic relationship with food.
“For so many years,” she says, “I thought that because I’m not super skinny or because I’m not throwing up 50 times a day I’m not sick enough. I had this idea about what it meant to have an eating disorder, and that kept me really silent and ashamed.” Her weight, she says, “hasn’t changed since recovery.” But her mental state has.
“I know it sounds cheesy,” she says, “but there is so much help out there. You can find help anywhere in the internet age—you can find help on instagram. We partnered with the National Eating Disorder Association for The Skinny—they’re a great organization.”
For people suffering yet wondering if they actually need help, Kahnweiler says: “If you think, ‘I’m not sick enough,’ maybe re-frame it as: ‘I deserve to be happy.’”
Web series The Skinny tackles dramatic subjects like eating disorders with heavy dose of comedy. As part of DQ’s Digital Drama Season, filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler explains why budget remains the only separator between online and TV drama.
Eating disorders might not be the first topic that springs to mind for a new comedy, but it’s the dramatic nature of the subject at the heart of web series The Skinny that makes it stand out from the online crowd.
A 2016 Webby Award winner, The Skinny sees writer/director Jessie Kahnweiler play a fictionalised version of herself as wannabe YouTube star Jessie, who attempts to face up to and overcome bulimia – an illness Kahnweiler herself has struggled with.
“The Skinny is about our desire to avoid discomfort,” Kahnweiler tells DQ from her parents’ home in Atlanta, Georgia. “In season one we’re watching what effect that has on your life. You cause yourself a world of pain to try to avoid discomfort so we’re setting up those seeds and [examining] how those issues become a security blanket. We’re just setting up this rollercoaster ride of insanity and a lot of fun.
“My goal for the first season was to create a character who has a problem but has an amazing life and sex and dreams. We’re all like that. We all have so much stuff that’s horrifying and amazing, we’re not one-dimensional.”
Kahnweiler is no stranger to filmmaking. She has her own YouTube channel filled with videos such as Jessie Gets Arrested and Meet My Rapist.
And for her next project, she wanted to confront her experiences of bulimia by putting a humorous spin on a very personal story.
“Looking back, everything came together really organically, even though at the time it felt like a fucking mess. It felt like a hurricane,” Kahnweiler says of The Skinny’s origins.
After failing to find success in shopping the pilot she had written, the comedian decided to let the camera do the talking and film it herself.
“Whenever I have an idea, people are like, ‘That sounds like the worst idea ever,’” she declares. “My pitches often leave people crying in the room horrified. I did a comedy about sexual assault. So people were like, ‘Bulimic comedy? Absolutely not. That will never work.’”
Kahnweiler grouped together some friends to make a half-hour spec pilot that landed in the hands of Jill Soloway, the creator of Amazon’s award-winning Transparent, who suggested some editing work to get it into shape. The resultant promo, paid for with a successful Kickstarter campaign, was watched by style website Refinery 29, which ended up picking up a six-part series.
“Having Jill was really a turning point for me,” she admits. “Yes, it’s very personal but it’s not a documentary. When I first sat down and started working with her, she was like, ‘This isn’t therapy – this is not ‘hey world look at me’.’ This is creating something that everyone can identify with and that feels emotionally solid. The story really connects and you’re wondering what’s going to happen and you care about these people, so it’s not just this girl is puking. That is the difference between Transparent and a lot of shows – you actually give a shit, and it’s hard to make people give a shit.”
Kahnweiler confesses that the biggest thing she learned from the process is that she needs to be able to talk through stories and plot points when she writes, rather than writing in isolation. Soloway paired her with two associate producers from Transparent who would break down story with her and build episodes in a way that makes viewers want to continue watching after the credits roll.
“For me, it was so important to have people around me that really called me on my shit, because I think sometimes people can be so positive,” she notes. “Sometimes I could get really funny or really crazy, so it was great to have people around me – imagine a bunch of judgemental British people! I would yell and scream because you don’t want to write another draft but The Skinny wouldn’t have been what it is without those conversations. That’s what I learned – writing isn’t about sitting down at the typewriter and just having it all pour out. It’s really wrestling and struggling and it was kind of the moments that came out of those really hard conversations.”
With unrestricted freedom granted by Refinery, which encouraged Kahnweiler to always push the show harder and further, she admits she would impose her own limits to create boundaries for the series to live within. This included keeping a handle on the levels of nudity and swearing, to ensure the show was as accessible as possible to all audiences.
One note from Soloway also instructed her to focus on ‘bubble scenes,’ those “money shots” in each episode that drive the plot and the characters forward.
But how did she manage writing, directing and starring in her own web series? “I love it because I’m a masochistic control freak,” she jokes. “I love it because you’re writing throughout the process. Fifty percent of writing is done in the editing – I don’t think people realise that. It’s amazing how much is done in editing. So I find it, as a writer, really amazing to be able to be there.
“But the most helpful thing I found was locking those scripts. It might not be perfect, or you might not know if it’s going to work, but just being able to give yourself the grace of locking the script so then you can go on set and you’re not worried about rewriting. You can work those kinks out on set but I wouldn’t have been able to make it with directing and writing if I was still rewriting on set.”
However, the nature of the subject at hand meant Kahnweiler had to be frank and confess to her producers that this isn’t a story that could be neatly wrapped up at the end of its first season.
“The biggest challenge we had was convincing the producers and Refinery [that Jessie is] not going to get better in the first season. These kinds of things, you don’t wrap them up in six neat little episodes. It’s a long road.”
Though traditional television networks didn’t pick up her ideas first time around, Kahnweiler is now once again shopping The Skinny to broadcasters. But whether a linear channel or another online outlet picks up season two, the writer is in no doubt that web series and TV are crossing over and the boundaries are becoming increasingly blurry.
“Netflix has web series now and pretty soon you’ll turn on Netflix and there will be a 30-second episode,” she explains. “I think time is this revolutionary thing – it’s whatever the content, whatever the episodes want to be. There’s still a separation, mostly by budget, but there are all the opportunities in the world and there are no excuses not to be making your own content. I’m very grateful to be on this path.
“All these projects I’m working on, a couple of years ago people would have been like, ‘Absolutely fucking not, no way’ – and people still are, but you have to keep proving yourself. These are the stories I want to tell and only I can tell. The coolest thing about The Skinny is that the Kickstarter was funded by all these women with eating disorders. It’s amazing because it brings the conversation closer. Everyone’s talking to each other. You want to watch real shit? You want to make real shit? OK, let’s get to work!”
Focusing on the story for season two, “whether that’s on HBO or tampons.com, I don’t really care but it’s going to be out there for sure,” she adds. “I have a feature I’m working on and I’m working on two web series about fertility and women’s issues. I’m just taking all this collective trauma – sexual abuse, eating disorders, infertility – it’s a party!”
When @stylelikeu nominated me to pose for @swimsuitsforall in a bikini sans a coverup or photoshop I was really annoyed. Yes I believe in body positivity and self acceptance for all people but when it comes to MY body there is still a part of me that cringes when someone calls me “healthy” or “curvy.” Some days I want to get so small that you and your mom and the entire internet calls to tell me how good/thin I look. For me my body journey has been accepting and even loving that part of me that is not 100% better. That shame or Shame of having shame is what makes me a human woman person — and being honest with myself and the world is what makes me feel beautiful. These trash cans and I have had some dark times — I’ve thrown food away only to hours later dig food out of them like a drunk Raccoon. I pose with them today to keep adding to the story. Nothing is ever one thing, except my body — she’s a badass bitch. I nominate @theonlyalanajohnston @urfavprgal @bekiebekie f#bodypositive #selflove#nodiet#whatsunderneath#theskinnytv hat by @heraldhill #myswimbody
Are you a member of The Television Academy or currently sleeping with someone who is? Pls consider voting for #theskinnytv for the first ever short form #emmyBecause I have a huge hole in my heart that can only be filled with a golden statue that will never love me back. VOTE HERE
Last May, the web series made its appearance at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes during the Film Market . Nestled in the hollow at the Short Film Corner , a conference entitled ” Wild Wild Web: webseries are tomorrow’s goldmines? ” ( ” Wild Wild Web: are the web series the gold mines of tomorrow “) is open to all young writers, directors and producers of the 2,000 short films present this year on the Croisette. Halfway between the televisual codes and sometimes look very artisanal Short Film, the web series can sometimes be an interesting alternative for creators.
To represent this trend, the conference welcomed young Jessie Kahnweiler, designer, actress and director of the webseries The Skinny , shown in Europe for the first time in the last edition of Mania Series .
In 2013, Jessie had already made a first web series titled Dude, where’s my chutzpah? , Caustic comedy about Jewish identity. Since Jessie became known almost exclusively on Youtube , occurring at regular intervals videos at once funny and engaged , often reaching hundreds of thousands of views. His favorite subjects? Sex, love, rape, feminism, but also racial privilege.
The Skinnyis a web series of six episodes of ten minutes, Jessie calls itself a “dark comedy” that follows the (mis) adventures of Jessie , a young bulimic YouTuber, faced with a painful breakup. “I hope no table of fate, because what I’m going to show you is really dirty, “ joked the young director before the screening of the first episode.
The series has a true autobiographical background, like Jessie confirms: “I left ten years of bulimia, and I realized that no film, no series not dealt with this problem yet affects millions of people. “
Between Girls and Broad City , the series offers a new variation on the young woman thirties, more or less good about yourself, away smooth body and sanitized fictions.
The series offers its director amazing mirror, not only on his eating habits but also on his professional activity, videographer on Youtube , many are still struggling to be considered a “real job”: “My career is something I am very proud, and at the same time I can really hate me in my private life. This contradiction is common to many women, and I found it interesting to use the world influencers and youtubeurs as a metaphor for this; a world where even with a million views, always more you want, you’re never really satisfied. “
“A series like mine would never have emerged on television. “
Jessie Kahnweiler first tried to sell her story to American television. Without success, she then turned to Refinery29 , platform “lifestyle” for hip New Yorker. “It was crazy that they agree to make The Skinny , it was really the first time they produced a content of this type without top models with imperfect bodies, far removed from what they usually do. “
The series is co-produced with well Wifey.tv , feminist video site explicit slogan ( ” Be the subject, not the object “), one of the founders is none other than Jill Soloway, creator of the series Transparent . ” Jill was a kind of mentor to me, it was she who advised me to turn to the web when I realized I could not do the Skinny on television. “
The Skinny was unveiled for the first time in January, days before it went online at the last Sundance Film Festival , alongside films indie most hype of the year.
Jessie Kahnweiler claim to belong to the web and what it owes. “I feel that the webseries give voice to original and unique voices. They can tell stories that I had never seen before, crazy stories. “
Ignoring the difference between videos posted on the Internet in minutes, and short films for festivals chiadés, Jessie Kahnweiler has reconciled everyone at the end of the conference. The numerous requests of the (young) audience asking advice, Jessie met all “Make stuff, post them online. It is still the best way to learn. “
Short Form Series Help Established Networks Grow Brands
While Cartoon Network has been in the short-form game quite a while with both animated and live-action series — including pretty much everything in its Adult Swim block — think “Children’s Hospital” and “Robot Chicken” — a growing number of cable networks are starting to realize the power of the platform.
Whether distributed on air, digitally, or across multiple platforms, both episodic and serialized short form series are helping networks stay flexible and relevant in the rapidly evolving entertainment landscape.
Sponsored by ESPN’s 30 for 30
“I don’t think any TV business can actually think exclusively about creating content only for television any more,” says Lisa Hsia, exec VP, digital, for Bravo and Oxygen. “So our development teams, all of us, think in terms of creating content for all platforms. Content is content, as far as I’m concerned, and whatever screen it appears on, its success will be measured on its overall impressions and engagement, wherever it exists.”
Hsia has about a dozen short-form series in development, and with good reason: In 2013, Bravo’s online series “Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen” won an Emmy for creative achievement in interactive media multiplatform storytelling, and its fifth season had nearly 10 million streams. Bravo’s new digital series, “Going Off the Menu,” has been submitted for consideration in the Emmys’ new short form category.
When Paul Cabana joined History last year, he knew that ensuring the long-term vitality of the brand meant courting new viewers, and he felt short form was a good way to woo them.
History decided to take divergent paths into short form: “History Now,” a series of one- to two-minute documentary-style videos, and “Night Class” a block of two on-air and online comedies.
“These represent two very different approaches to talking to new audiences,” Cabana says. “ ‘History Now’ is a new way to target a different audience — young people who may never get cable. We’ve shifted that product to focus on young people who are making history now. Young activists. Young people experiencing things now that we’ll one day look back on as historic, whether it’s the Flint, Michigan, situation, or Black Lives Matter. What better way to curate this living time capsule of history than by doing it in social and short form?”
On the surface, History’s comedy block might not seem a perfect match for the stalwart network, but both its shows — “Great Minds With Dan Harmon” and “The Crossroads of History” — build episodes around a real person or event in history.
“What we’re doing [in those comedies] is different because it’s based in actual fact. That it also happens to be funny and irreverent and feature lots of stars and have this totally unexpected tone was a bonus,” Cabana says. “You walk away knowing these things happened. Hitler was actually rejected from art school. Just as with everything in our programming, there’s a foundation of fact.”
Elizabeth Shapiro, writer, producer, and star of “Crossroads,” applauds History for expanding its brand to include humor.
“Short form allows you to take risks and experiment because it’s not the same amount of crazy money that’s on the line,” Shapiro says. “For a creator like me, it’s a wonderful space to play in because you have a budget to do something awesome, yet it’s not the kind of budget that has everyone scared it won’t work. That left us a lot of room to play. The cool thing is the show is on television but it’s also on YouTube. Straddling those two worlds has the potential of bringing very different demographics together.”
Although AMC had previously done webisodes of “The Walking Dead” and created digital pieces supporting “Breaking Bad” and other series, the network synergized its on-air and digital assets with “Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462.”
“Aside from wanting to re-imagine what short-form content could be, we also wanted to have a way for the period of time ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ was off the air and ‘The Walking Dead’ was on the air to keep that world alive and keep people engaged in ‘Fear the Walking Dead,’” says Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development, AMC and Sundance TV. “The creative driver for ‘462’ was: How do we take a story, tell it in a serialized way in short form, but also do it in a way that continues to immerse people in the beginning of the zombie apocalypse? — which was a big differentiator of ‘Fear the Walking Dead.’”
As such, Stillerman says “462” was a hybrid of sorts, streaming not only digitally, but also airing during commercial breaks of “The Walking Dead.” “The idea of taking these short form pieces and presenting them in a serialized way, those things, structurally, got us interested in trying to tell a story a different way.”
Even better, there was a crossover between “462” and its namesake series by having “Fear the Walking Dead” character Nick [Frank Dillane] watch the ill-fated plane fly overhead, and giving a “462” character, Alex [Michelle Ang] a story arc on season two of “Fear the Walking Dead.”
Across all platforms, Stillerman says “462” had about 8 million views. “We’re very happy with those results. It was a truly original way to extend brands and push promotional messages out through non-traditional [means]. We will absolutely look at other opportunities [in short form].”
While Hsia, Cabana and Stillerman are all committed to the short form format, Hsia says there’s a big learning curve.
“There are so many challenges with digital video series,” she says. “What’s the best way to distribute them? Should you give them all at once in a binge fashion, or should you do it in batches? What’s the best way to let audiences know it exists? How can we leverage social [media] best to spread the word? Do we need to create different versions of the content for different platforms? With a series like ‘Off the Menu,’ should we be creating something for Snapchat or Facebook to encourage people to watch the longer versions? The jury’s still out on how audiences will learn about and enjoy video series, but we’re very pleased with the results so far.”
L.A.-based filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler does not shy away from controversy. She has just released a new video where she confronts men who’ve sent her online sexts on Tinder. In the video she confronts these men in person—men unprepared for her experiment—to have them read their online sexts to her in person. Even they are embarrassed by their communication, and it’s clear from the exercise that the men treat women in person differently than online.
This video can be seen as a continuation of “The Skinny,”Kahnweiler’s recent dark comedy series. Produced by Jill Soloway’s Wifey.TV and Refinery29, the web series premiered at the Sundance. The episodes follow Jessie’s life as a feminist and striving YouTube star in L.A., yet the series is unsettling; it deals with the realities of battling bulimia, based Kahnweiler’s own 10-year struggle with the eating disorder.
Kahnweiler, 31, told the New York Times, “For years, I’ve been wanting to tell this story, but I haven’t known how.” Rather than tackling the topic of bulimia directly, she has a sidelong take on the reality of the disorder, which proves to be a more realistic depiction of the role an eating disorder can play in one’s life. Bulimia is never the highlight of “The Skinny,” but it’s always there, weaving in and out of the narrative, depending largely on what else is happening in her life.
Throughout her career, Kahnweiler has made several other unsetting, provocative, and fiercely honest short films. “Meet My Rapist,” for example, shows a woman who runs into her assailant in a farmers market. In“Jessie Gets Arrested,” she illustrates white privilege through trying to get arrested, and failing, despite violating a dozen laws, including selling prescription medication to cops.
Kahnweiler is known for her ability to depict the dark and hidden corners of the female experience. When her ex-boyfriend rapes her in Episode 5 of “The Skinny,” rather than creating a moment of high drama, the scene shows the subtleties of how a conversation can escalate from flirting, seduction and pleasure to violence. Our culture often refers to rape as something that happens to a woman alone on the street at night. But in reality, 85% of rape victims already know the perpetrator. The normality of Kahnweiler’s rape scene and the silence that follows are deeply unsettling. Through comedy, Kahnweiler conveys darker, often uncomfortable realities.
– See more at: http://lilith.org/blog/2016/05/jessie-kahnweiler-confronts-online-dating-app-sexters/#sthash.aZiVx9Rs.dpuf