Abnormal psychology focuses on unusual patterns of behavior, emotion, and thought that might not be understood as a mental disorder (Ahn, Novick, and Kim, 2003). Thus, the abnormality is dealt with in clinical contexts (Butcher, Narikiyo & Vitousek, 1993). Many films depict instances of abnormal behavior; therefore they are used as fundamental case studies in understanding the unusual behavior and how to deal with it in a clinical context. This essay critically analyses the movie ‘Precious’ by bringing out the depiction of abnormal psychology that exists in it.
Produced in 1987, the film ‘Precious’ is about a character who is an overweight and illiterate teenager. He is a victim of incest including other terrible sexual abuse instances (Fletcher, 2009). While watching the movie, one may lose and find themselves as the movie embodies stories of tenacity and survival of a teenager. The film also presents a blunt outlook by establishing a connection between abuse and eating disorders.
Precious is a teenage mother raised by two abusive parents. Worth mentioning, Precious’ mother, who is unemployed, indulges in smoking cigarettes and stays at home. Precious is a girl who is physical, sexually and mentally abused by her parents, but she is determined to work her way out of her situation of abuse. Such experiences impact Precious’ social skills, self-esteem and also academic performance (Santrock, 2016, 170). Concisely, her experiences in the hands of her abusive mother affect her socially. For instance, she acts aggressively and displays abusive behavior towards her young neighbor Ruby; who is only looking for friendship in her because she can identify with her, based on their socio-economic status, neighborhood and living with abusive parents.
An instance of abnormal behavior is evident in how she is affected mentally and cognitively. She is illiterate and lacks self-esteem; her intellectual growth suffers and requires nurturing. She experiences and becomes a victim of verbal abuse and belittling. For instance, the verbal abuse is so profound when she receives words like, “You are a dummy, don’t nobody want you, don’t nobody need you, school ain’t going to help none. You need to take your ass down to the welfare” (Fletcher, 2008).
Sexual abuse violates a person’s body and personal boundaries. Physical sensations, including sexual feelings and hunger, become severely disrupted. At times, we see Precious resort to food for soothing and comfort. For example, when hungry one morning, she seeks solace in food. She steals a 10-piece bucket of fried chicken, eats it all and then vomits it back up. Precious loses control over her body, mainly how to appropriately feed her physical hunger. She admits, ashamed, at various points, that she overeats. She is painfully aware of her unhealthy eating or rather the eating disorder that she has developed as a result of her experiences.
The storyline of the movie highlights different aspects of emotional, physical and more especially sexual abuse, which are played out to precipitate eating disorder endured by Precious. However, it should be stated quite that abuse is not a ‘cause’ but instead a condition that instigates the disorder or unhealthy eating habits that are demonstrated by Precious in the movie.
Reportedly, most of the abuse survivors cope with sexual abuse through dissociation, which was portrayed in the movie. Following her father’s sexual abuse or emotional abuse by her mother, Precious disappears into “emotional detachment.” On a fancy world in which she is gorgeous and immensely admired by a handsome white boy. While these journeys to her fantasy world were as an emotional escape in time of the abuse, it eventually instigates her unhealthy eating habits.
When one detaches from their emotions, they lose connection with their bodies. Concerning the movie “Precious,” the victim of abuse uses food and not just food, but excessive and unhealthy food to try and fill the emotional void that was created as a result of emotional detachment – following constant abuse.
The fact that Precious’ mother, Mrs. Mary Johnston did not protect her daughter Precious from the father’s abuse, contributed to the continuation of the abuse in many ways. One way is through food. As depicted in the movie, the mother violently demands her into eating greasy food even when she is not hungry. As a result, Precious grows fat and obese – thus loses her attractiveness and appeal. Her mom is jealous of her because she strives and takes pains in looking good and sexy to be on the cover of a magazine. She is adored by her fans, she looks good, but her mom belittles and brings her down. Precious struggles with her self-esteem, partly because of the mother’s verbal abuse. He weight-gain only leaves her vulnerable to other boys who don’t find her attractive anymore. And this further ignites painful embarrassments and rage within her and to people surrounding her. As a result, she chooses to detach entirely from reality. She then resorts to eating a way of numbing her pain. She sets out, within her closets, to rebuild a different life, that she wants to lead and a new identity altogether.
We see that Precious kept her story of sexual abuse and her bad eating habits to herself. From a psychologist point of view, those who have been abused tend to stay quiet of their sufferings as a survival mechanism. Because talking about it will open a window for stigma, vulnerability, and even more abuse. But we see that the moment Precious speaks about her story, she breaks the cycle of abuse. The narration acts as an avenue for her healing, and she is also empowered with a voice to speak out about her abuse. Her self-esteem significantly improves. Precious was able to see the life that she always wanted, and was able to attain it by gaining an education, and allowing herself to be part loved and to love. She can meet people, who later became friends. She finally receives actualization in terms of acceptance by his friends, who are seeing playing an essential role in her self-worth and love, she so desperately wanted from her mother.
In my opinion, ‘Precious’ is a phenomenal, inspirational and extremely enlightening movies. Vividly, it started harsh and explicit; it sends out a fundamental moral lesson, that is how Precious walked up the ladder to achieve true potential. Precious lived in an abusive environment, with the principal perpetrators being her very own biological parents. Against all the odds, she still dreams to make it big in life.
Ahn, W. K., Novick, L. R., & Kim, N. S. (2003). Understanding behavior makes it more normal. Psychonomic Bulletin & review, 10(3), 746-52.
Fletcher, G. (2008, January 16) The Internet Movie Script Database. Genre: Drama Movie: Precious Retrieved from http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Precious.html
Butcher, J., Narikiyo, T., & Vitousek, K. (1993). Understanding Abnormal Behaviour in Cultural Context. Comprehensive Handbook of Psychopathology, 83-105. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-3008-4_5