Apple TV+'s Physical is the kind of show the world needs right now.
We're living in an era when influencers and actors preach body positivity, as if people can simply flip a switch and voila, you're happy with your figure. But the Rose Byrne-led series is an unflinching look at the realities of eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
"I think there's a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders, that it's really about the behavior and when you fix the behavior, you fix the problem," series creator Annie Weisman told E! News. "So what we get to see this season is that even though the behaviors have stopped, the core problem has not been addressed."
So in season two, Sheila Rubin (Byrne) thinks she's doing better because she's working out instead of binging, but the reality is she's replaced one compulsion with another. And for Weisman, it's obvious that this is happening because Sheila "hasn't really dug in" to the underlying issues causing these behaviors.
Eventually, Sheila's father dies and the funeral triggers her need to workout. It's at this point that viewers realize Sheila isn't just breaking a sweat for the sake of it. "She's confronted by her past, as we often are when you go home, and there are these metaphorical ghosts," Weisman explained. "So it was just a great opportunity to be truthful about some of the origins of her illness."
In analyzing Sheila's relationship with her past struggles, Physical also tackles the subject of generational trauma. Now a mother, Sheila sees the ways her mom failed to protect her from men and she wants to prevent the same thing from happening to her own daughter. But Sheila can't be there for her daughter if she's sick, prompting the realization that it's time to get serious about her health. As Weisman said, "The idea with her recovery journey is to try to help break that chain."
And Weisman isn't just making assumptions about what Sheila's experience might be like. "Might as well come clean," she wrote for Vanity Fair in 2021. "I struggled for years with an eating disorder that I kept a secret from everybody in my life until well into adulthood."
Naturally, a lot of the lessons Weisman learned have been put into the show. Like Sheila, Weisman understands that binging and purging isn't necessarily about appearances, it's more like she's "being compelled to do a series of increasingly destructive behaviors."
"When I would enter a binge and purge cycle, it felt totally out of my control," she explained. "It was as if I was walking down the street and someone pulled up in a car, put a blanket over my head, and pushed me into the backseat. I was going for a ride, whether I liked it or not."
So, while it's sometimes difficult to see eating disorders and generational trauma dissected on-screen, it's important to be honest about the subjects that impact people every day and Physical does just that.