Violence is inherent in our media. From big budget action movies to cult horror films to the cartoons our children watch, violence is an essential part of entertainment. Many throughout the years have made arguments against violence in media, seeing any sort of extreme violence in entertainment as gratuitous by nature. The implication is that violence in art can't serve any purpose beyond its most literal and superficial aspects. But that's where something like X Is for XXL comes in.

X Is for XXL is a short directed by Xavier Gens. The short is a segment from an anthology film called The ABCs of Death. The concept of the film is fairly straightforward and pretty much what one could expect based on the title. 26 directors were each given a letter of the alphabet, and they then had to direct a short centering around a specific way of dying but so that the word they chose began with the letter they were assigned. The resulting anthology film is a diverse two-hour collection of shorts ranging from horror to comedy, from live action to animation. Some of the shorts are better and more memorable than others, but one of the highlights of the film comes towards the end with the letter X and its corresponding short.

In X Is for XXL we are introduced to a protagonist who is a woman of a larger size. We see her out and about, but everywhere she goes she overhears sneers and negative comments about her appearance. Some people go as far as to even openly harass her about her size, equating her to a dinosaur from Jurassic Park or laughing about how she surely can't get up the stairs at her size. When she finally gets home, things aren't much better. The moment she turns on the TV she is confronted with commercials of diet cereals with conventionally attractive skinny women promoting the products. The same imagery she sees on posters in the subway she can't escape even in her own home. This leads her to binge eat, after which she goes to the bathroom to examine herself in the mirror. And with the weight of all the preceding events weighing down on her as heavy as her actual frame, she takes a blade to her flesh and proceeds to slice and carve herself thin, fatally mutilating herself in the process.

For gorehounds such as myself who adore extremely gory splatter movies, X Is for XXL is just one of the many extremely violent shorts in The ABCs of Death that feed our appetite for blood and gore. But an overabundance of gore is not why the short is as memorable and impactful as it is. Sure in, say, many splatter movies, for example, the gore is just there for gore's sake. The entertainment value of such a movie is marvelling at the ingenious practical effects used to create the bloody effects, and the more imaginative the ways people get dismembered and gutted, the better. But violence isn't always there for the sake of violence. Sometimes violence - even violence of an extremely explicit nature - can serve a larger ideological and narrative purpose, and that is the case with X Is for XXL.

Frustrated with the contempt she receives from the outside world due to her appearance and the resulting hatred of her own body, we see the protagonist of X Is for XXL physically harm herself to the point of death. Sure, it's a gruesome sequence where those after gory entertainment will get their fix. But through extreme violence X Is for XXL makes a point about what is a reality for far too many girls and women - a day-to-day life of self-loathing made worse by the ridicule and bullying of the outside world. This body shaming can result in self-harming which is taken to the extreme in X Is for XXL. Even if most girls who do self-harm would never go as far as using the blade they take to their skin to actually carve out pieces of flesh right down to the bone, the result of cutting may still end up being the same as that of the actions of the woman in X Is for XXL - lying dead on the bathroom floor in a pool of their own blood. All for the need to feel like a worthwhile human being in the eyes of a world that makes them feel like less of a person because of their size.

Beyond the most superficial and literal aspects of the short however there is also a metaphorical aspect to its extreme violence. The woman we see hates herself so much and wants to change so badly that she is willing to put her life at risk just to be skinny. She is willing to go to the brink of death. Again, while most women won't carve out their body to be skinny, many will still engage in life-threatening methods out of desperation. The clearest case, of course, are eating disorders, such as anorexia. No blades are present, but stripping the body to the bone still is in its own way. And again, the result is the same - namely death. The short ends on our protagonist having finished carving the flesh off her body to achieve a skinny figure, and striking a pose as a diet cereal commercial can be heard in the background. As the words "my body loves it" are spoken, we see our protagonist fall to the floor, gasping for air as she writhes in pain. The idealized vision of what it is to diet and to achieve a thin frame comes face to face with a much uglier reality. Being skinny to the short's protagonist is no longer about treating her body right or loving herself so she can improve her quality of life , but about being skinny period, no matter the cost. She is so desperate to be skinny that she abandons all feelings of self-preservation to achieve her quote-unquote ideal body, even if it means not being alive to appreciate it.

Through its portrayal of graphic violence, X Is for XXL poses the question of what happens when achieving a certain body type is seen to have intrinsic value that outweighs any and all negatives and dangers of achieving said body type. It is a brilliant example of how art can be used to convey messages and ideas beyond the most superficial aspects of its content. Sure violence in art is sometimes just that - violence. And I see nothing wrong with that so long as people know the difference between reality and fiction, as I'd assume most do. Saying otherwise would be damn patronizing. But sometimes violence can be something more. Sometimes it can be a narrative tool to inspire and make you think. And if there's one thing I think X Is for XXL is aside from extremely violent then it's inspired.