They are two stunning teenage girls who should be arguing about their favourite bands, swapping clothes and discussing boys. Instead the pair are involved in a deadly game of competitive dieting that spirals into self-starvation. And by the end of the summer one of them will be dead.
For the first time a television soap, Hollyoaks, is taking on the subject of anorexia in its most extreme form. As the debate about size zero models rages, the Channel 4 show is to explore the consequences of the social pressure to lose weight.The series is likely to attract charges of exploitation and sensationalism to bolster its two million-strong audience.
Anorexia has been explored in the The Archers on Radio 4 and in BBC1's Australian soap Neighbours, though never before presented as a fatal illness. But the producers of the Chester-based series insist that raising awareness of the dangers is crucial to protect young people from a condition with the highest death rate of any mental illness.
One in five people diagnosed with anorexia dies from starvation or by suicide, according to Beat, formerly the Eating Disorders Association, which has advised Hollyoaks on its story. A disturbing feature of the condition is the rivalry that can develop between "anorexia buddies", who vie with each other to starve themselves to the point where their lives are in danger, the theme explored graphically in the series.
Anorexia usually begins in adolescence affecting 1 to 2 per cent of teenagers and university students, though it can occur at any age. It is defined as a bodyweight at least 15 per cent below that expected for the individual's height and weight. At the centre of the Hollyoaks story is one of the show's most popular characters, the vivacious Hannah Ashworth, played by Emma Rigby. She forms a friendship with a model, Melissa, played by Carla Chase, who is suffering from anorexia.
Melissa recognises in Hannah someone who is going through a vulnerable phase with family problems whom she can control and manipulate. She encourages her to lose weight and shows her how to go about it.
They become classic anorexia buddies who develop a growing obsession with avoiding food while keeping friends and family in the dark. In …