Thoughts: To the Bone

Netflix originals seem to be all about the controversy lately! From 13 Reasons Why (I have not and will not watch this), and now with the new release of To the Bone. While I applaud Netflix for having the metaphoric balls to tackle some difficult subject matter, To the Bone has left me with more questions that I had before I watched.

For those of you who are not aware, To the Bone is a new Netflix Original film about a girl named Ellen, who struggles and lives with Anorexia. In the months leading up to the release, this film has been a source of controversy throughout many social media outlets. Let me run you through some reasons why:

  • Lilly Collins, who stars in the film as Ellen, has a personal history with eating disorders and lost an incredible amount of weight for the role. She says that the weight loss was done in a safe, controlled, and healthy way. But many people who are also in recovery from eating disorders have expressed concern about this online. They are saying that the idea of someone losing weight in a healthy way with the intent of portraying someone with a life threatening eating disorder is a dangerously mixed message to be sending.
  • People are questioning the ethical choices of the movie’s crew (just FYI, the movie is based on writer Marti Nixon’s experiences in treatment with her own eating disorder) of allowing Lilly Collins to potentially jeopardize her own health and recovery by preparing for this role.
  • Many people in the online body positivity and eating disorder recovery communities have expressed fear that this movie may glamourize eating disorders and the behaviours that go along with them. This would be so harmful when in reality what people need is education surrounding eating disorders and calling them what they are: The mental illness with the highest mortality rate
  • Many people have also expressed concern that the film could potentially perpetuate harmful stereotypes associated with eating disorders. For example: That an eating disorder affects only certain type of people, or looks a certain way. Historically, the media has had a tendency to only portray eating disorders by showing images of young, white, emaciated women.

Overall, prior to this film being released, I had seen more concern and negativity about this film that positivity or praise. I saw countless urges to people in recovery to not watch it, due to possible triggers. But, I decided that I am strong enough in my recovery that if I were to feel triggered I would simply stop watching. I decided I wanted to be able to form my own thoughts and opinions about the movie. So I watched it, and let me tell you have I got thoughts…

Things I liked

Firstly, I was thankful to see that the film was prefaced by a trigger warning. I felt that considering the subject matter and the fact that there are fairly graphic depictions of eating disorder behaviours and of very low weights that this was responsible. While the warning will not prevent people from watching (we can’t control people, as much as we’d like to sometimes) I felt that it was in very good taste to include it. It showed an awareness about the subject matter and made me feel like they had considered the possible effects that the film could have.

Something I felt was really well portrayed in the movie was the effects of Ellen’s illness on her family, as well as their struggles to understand. Eating disorders can create a ripple effect within families. It is incredibly difficult for people to essentially watch their loved ones die in front of them; it’s only natural for family to be effected in these situations. This difficulty is only compounded by a present lack of understanding of the loved one’s condition.

Unfortunately, there are many people who believe that eating disorders are a choice, and since that is not the case, people can be confused by how difficult recovery is as the complexity of recovery is not consistent with the notion that eating disorders are a choice. Now this is not to say that this is the only source of confusion for families of loved ones with eating disorders. These are complex illnesses and honestly they can be hard to understand for anyone. All in all, I think that To the Bone did a good job of illustrating a family’s struggle with eating disorders including the confusion, fear and hurt that goes along with it.

In the movie, the main plot centres around Ellen entering a new residential treatment facility. I was pleased to see the film show some (key word: SOME) diversity when it came to the other patients that Ellen was in treatment. For reference, the group home has seven residents. Of the seven, six were female, one was black, one vocalized struggling with an eating disorder other than Anorexia or Bulimia, and one was pregnant. Now while this was a valiant attempt at showing some diversity, it unfortunately leads me into…

Things I didn’t like

Eating disorders do not discriminate with regards to who they afflict. There is no one way to have an eating disorder nor is there any one particular way that an eating disorder can look. I appreciate that To the Bone attempted to represent this diversity, but I just felt that it fell short. I am someone who did not fit the societal picture of what “an eating disorder looks like.” I appeared to be at a healthy weight and often felt that I did not “look sick enough” to need help. This is not something uncommon and unfortunately I have heard many other people talk about experiencing similar feelings. I feel that To the Bone showed the majority of its patients as fitting societal expectations and stereotypes of what eating disorders “look like.” This is an extremely detrimental way of thinking especially to those living and struggling with eating disorders. To the Bone perpetuated these harmful stereotypes and in my opinion did not do justice to displaying the diversity and wide spread nature of eating disorders.

Now let’s go back to where I said that six of the residents in the group home were female; yes, there was a male patient. I think this was an amazing choice to show a male living and struggling with an eating disorder. It is too commonly believed that eating disorders are exclusive to women, and this did a great job at dispelling this.

However, in my opinion it wasn’t all good. SPOILER ALERT: Ellen becomes romantically involved with this male patient. Now first of all, in inpatient treatment settings, romantic relationships between clients is highly forbidden. People receiving that level of treatment for eating disorders are extremely vulnerable and relationships between two people in such vulnerable states could potentially be disastrous to recovery- so right off the bat it’s a pretty unrealistic story line. Secondly, I was extremely bothered by the film’s portrayal of the notion that “if someone struggling with an eating disorder finds someone to love them, then it will be a magical cure for them.

THIS. IS. NOT. TRUE.

People living with eating disorders are not sick simply because their lives are devoid of love. This though proves takes away from the severity of eating disorders. I feel that this part of the film trivialized and diminished eating disorders and honestly, this was probably the biggest disappointment to me.

Things I am neutral on

Now with regards to if the movie glamourized eating disorders, I genuinely did not feel that the film did this. I felt that the film accurately and genuinely portrayed certain eating disorder behaviours. The way Ellen had bruises along her spine because she was constantly doing sit ups, the way that the nurses at the treatment centre had to lock bathrooms for thirty minutes after meal times, the way that patients were terrified to get feeding tubes because the fear of food was that strong, I felt that these things were accurately depicted throughout the film.

The last thing I want to touch on is if the film is triggering. This part was hard for me to form an opinion on. I personally, did not find the film to be triggering. But that is not to say that it could not be triggering to others. I feel that I am at a very good place and I feel cert strong in my recovery. But I feel that for people who perhaps do not feel strong and confident in their recovery, or people who haven’t yet made the choice of recovery that this film has the potential to be triggering. My advice would be to use your judgement and if the film does get to be too much for you to remember that you have the power to simply stop watching. If that happens then take a beat, and reach out to someone you love and trust and have a conversation about you’re feeling.

Overall, I do not think that To the Bone was a terrible movie, but I also do not feel that it was the best portrayal of eating disorders. I think that this film had nothing but the best intentions- to raise awareness and create conversations about the reality of eating disorders. However, I feel that in some areas they did a disservice to the eating disorder recovery community. My final thought is in the form of a question that I would love to hear thoughts/comments on:

Will there ever be an appropriate way
to depict an eating disorder journey in film?

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