I featured the show Red Band Society in this post and now that I've watched the entire series, I want to talk about my favorite character and how relatable she is for me. I will try to avoid as much spoilers as possible but some parts will be mentioned briefly to provide supporting backstory for the analysis. Be careful, you've been warned.
Based on the Catalan drama Polseres vermelies, Red Band Society is a teenage medical drama-comedy series about a group of teenagers living together as patients in the Ocean Park Hospital's pediatric ward. These group of teenagers are members of the Red Band Society, a club (or clique, if you will) of teenagers who have gone through or are suffering certain medical conditions. The iconic "red bands" worn by these teenagers refer to the hospital IDs they wear.
The Girl Next Floor
One of the Red Banders is 'girl next floor' Emma Chota, an intelligent and perfectionist lass who suffers from anorexia nervosa. On the surface, Emma is formal and polite, calm and understanding. She can come off as shy, a little sarcastic and has been shown to be quite sensitive when it comes to her anorexia. Despite struggling with her inner demons, she demands to be in control of herself and is not afraid to approach this from a comical perspective, as seen when Jordi Palacios, a patient with Ewing sarcoma and fellow member of the society, called Emma twisted.
To a pair of naked eyes, Emma comes off as a calm and collected girl who knows how to fix things and says the right words. She is the nice girl who reads books, doesn't drink, smoke or do drugs.. Emma, who'd rather spend most of her time inside the hospital because she could care less about loud neighborhood parties and teenagers sucking each other's faces, also never got the chance to experience a homecoming party. A perfect, well-mannered girl on the outside, it is easy to think that Emma is alright, that she's in the hospital because she wants it and not because she needs it.
Here's the truth about Emma: she does not eat. She doesn't let food enter her mouth and even if she did, guilt will follow. For a perfectionist like Emma, calorie counting is an obsession and avoiding food or skipping meals is a project she does not mind volunteering. Not only does Emma skips breakfast, she also thinks she does not need lunch and dinner. This turns into The Emma Project, a project to see how long she can go without eating. While the show did not get the chance to elaborate and develop further into Emma's eating disorder (because Fox decided it was okay to cancel a concept with lots of potential), her mentality towards food reminds me of my own.
Like Emma, my relationship with food was not the best. Some of the signs and symptoms revealed in the show reminded me of my own. When I see Emma, I was transported back to how I used to be and still am. She knew how to play her game, control her poise and say all the right excuses just to avoid a proper nutritional intake; how to fake her weight, put on a stunt and made people believe that she has been cured and no longer needs any supervision from authority figures breathing down her neck. Emma insists she "is not hungry" the same time she openly admits about her eating disorder. All of the excuses she made, the smiles she put on her face and the tough "I am getting better" exterior — I cannot stress how identifiable they are. At one point, she also expressed her confusion for being fought over when she doesn't even like herself , a concept very similar to what I feel about myself.
Eating disorder, romanticized
In episode 4 "There's No Place Like Homecoming", Emma finally gets the chance to leave the hospital and experience a casual teenager night filled with loud music, dancing with a boy and meeting people in dresses and tuxes. One of the scenes to highlight this episode was the conversation between Emma and two high school girls who grants the infamous hashtag #thinspiration a reality. The two high school girls, in awe of how skinny Emma is, further adds a comment to glamorize eating order, "I have never seen a triple zero in the flesh" — once again a reminder to all of us regarding the pressure and stigma formed by the media and society. It's a reflection of how disgusting society can be by encouraging eating disorder for the sake of a universally stereotyped beautiful figure.
Another example is further seen from the second episode "Sole Searching" when Kara Souders, a Queen Bee cheerleader with an enlarged heart waiting for a donor, tells Emma about her desirable condition: "most girls I know would kill to have an eating disorder." Though the dialogue itself is pretty obvious and self-explanatory, it is once again a reminder to us that most girls today are probably thinking about eating disorder as a way to be beautiful. In my opinion, not only do these scenes remind us of how beauty is perceived in today's media, they are also a way to deliberately ridicule the truth of what is happening in our world.
Eating disorder, ridiculed
Like any other mental illness, Emma's eating disorder was ridiculed by a few characters on the show. The first and foremost scenario, her parents — especially her mother who, as the story unfolds, never went to the hospital to visit Emma. Her mother, in this case, symbolizes neurotypicals who are in constant denial regarding mental illness. Whether it's eating disorder or depression or other types of mental illness, such people will always live among us.
One of the most well-known arguments often said towards people with mental illness is how ridiculous we are for thinking we are sick when we are not. It's easy to see pain and damage when the scars are visible and for people with mental illness, those scars are hidden beneath our skin. In episode 4, there is but one particular scene shared between Emma and Leo Roth, an amputee and cancer survivor, where he expresses his frustration, telling Emma she does not have to be in the hospital because nobody pities her. This line makes me contemplate about, well...things. Nobody pities Emma because they do not understand the hidden scars beneath her skin. She was surrounded by patients and friends who are physically ill but none that is admitted due to mental illness. This makes me ponder how lonely things must have been for Emma, to be the only one with mental illness and without visible scars or wounds. Beneath all her intelligence and poised behavior, Emma is lonely, fragile and on the verge of breaking apart.
Emma Chota marks the very first character that I can really, really relate. The show itself has so much potential but was unfortunately killed off when Fox decided to cancel it just when it was about to find its rhythm. I have to admit, it may not be a flawless, realistically accurate medical drama but it's still a good show with interesting characters nonetheless. I just wish they didn't waste the concept since it could have been so much more interesting.
Before I end this post, let me give you one memorable quote from the show, spoken by the Red Band Society's unofficial leader, Leo Roth —
"Your body isn't you, your soul is you.and they can never cut into your soul."
do you have a fictional character you can relate? do tell me about it in the comments!