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Watching the Netflix Shawn Mendes Documentary as Someone With an Eating Disorder

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I’ve always admired Shawn Mendes for his music and his reputation. His albums are one of the few that I will actually listen to in their entirety – which is rare for this chronic song-skipper. And so, when I sat down to watch his Netflix documentary “Shawn Mendes: In Wonder” this weekend, I was expecting to enjoy it. But what I wasn’t expecting is how much I would feel absolutely seen by it.

One of the first scenes of the documentary is Mendes using the adaptive capabilities on his phone to speak for him, because he is unable to speak after pushing his voice to great lengths for his tour. Through Siri’s voice, he explains, “Ever since I was about 10 years old, I was obsessed with being really good at things. That my worth is based on what I do. And that can lead to a dark place.”

To some extent, we can all relate to that. Capitalism has turned everything into a business venture — even I had only taken up embroidery for a month before I started selling it on Etsy. Our worth is centered on our productivity, and we are only as revered as what we can offer the world.

As someone with anxiety and an eating disorder, though, this hits different. Much like how Mendes pushed his voice to its breaking point, I pushed my body to its breaking point because I was obsessed with being perfect. And when it came time for me to stop, take a look around and really commit to making myself better, I had the same realization as Mendes – “I am not invincible.”

I saw so much of myself in this documentary. I saw it in the small head nods and the deep breaths and the quietly disappearing to go sit alone for a minute, away from the noise and chaos and expectations. I saw it in the gratitude and disbelief and selflessness and the feeling old at age 21. I saw it in the joy and comfort of being back home, laying in a field, soaking in the overwhelming normalcy. More than just saw it; I felt it. I felt it in the exhaustion and raw emotion of asking for help as he performed the first verse of “In My Blood” on the concert film. I felt it in the anxious, fraught attempts to fight a body that demands a break, and the crushing powerlessness when you lose. I felt it when his mother questioned why he never told her it was “that serious,” and I felt it when all of the underlying issues went unaddressed as he shoved the emotions back in their box. Our issues stem from different things, certainly — mine from family and environment, his from selling tickets to hundreds of thousands of devoted fans — and yet we are the same.

Because we are the same, I have hope. Mendes has shown throughout this documentary that he is vibrantly alive and unapologetically, candidly himself. He turns “imperfection … into magic” and embodies what it means to give and receive grace. He sees beauty and light everywhere because he has seen the darkness too. It is easy to forget the worst moments of our psyche when we’re not fully in them, but somehow I feel like Mendes has put a face to it forever with this documentary. It is a powerful thing to turn all of that struggle and emotion into something this meaningful and authentic.

At the end of the documentary, Mendes says that he is trying to see his anxiety as “a companion that [he has] to live with, and less of an enemy that [he is] trying to resist.” And if you’ve heard the new album, “Wonder,” I think it’s coming through wonderfully.

Image via YouTube

Originally published: November 30, 2020
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