TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST IS ABOUT EATING DISORDERS AND THEREFORE DISCUSSES HABITS, TRIGGERS FOR EDS AND WEIGHT.
I’m writing this post as I’ve found my thoughts of the new film commissioned by Netflix rather difficult to convey in just 140 characters. It’s difficult to present a balanced argument when you post something strongly leaning one way, and want people who disagree to understand you do respect what they’re saying but…
The first time I became aware of this new series was on Tuesday. I saw my friend retweeting angry messages, directed at Netflix, so I asked her what was going on, to which she replied “they’re making a series glorifying and romanticising anorexia”, to which I automatically felt angry. Before going on a rant myself, I decided to google what I soon found out was called ‘To The Bone’ and starred highly idolised actress Lily Collins.
After this research, I was angry. Angry at the fact producers think it is okay to romanticise mental illness, so to begin with, that’s all I tweeted about.
And as was pointed out, it is no different to romanticising other physical and mental health problems in films and media, I do agree with that much.
I never got beyond the first chapter of The Fault In Our Stars (John Green doesn’t really write my preferred style of literature), so I feel I don’t have much to say on it, but it is known that the romanicisation of a serious illness in that book and subsequent film made me angry. Even in my favourite shows and surrounding my favourite actresses, I get angry at the romanticisation of stories. So, don’t think i’m just attacking this film.
I decided to then seek out a few different perspectives and watch the trailer again (not finishing it the first time due to the triggering nature of the 3 minute piece), with these in mind. It made me think and consider everything from all angles. Before I talk about the trailer, I want to address something else I discovered during my research.
I discovered via an interview with Refinery29 that Lily Collins, the 28 actress playing the seriously ill protagonist ‘Ellen’, had to lose a lot of weight for the part. It was stated that this weight loss came under supervision, and supposedly was safe, but regardless of what the producers say, I really don’t think this is okay. Even Collins states she had concerns before taking the part because of how easy this preparation alone can lead to a relapse, considering the actress suffered from anorexia as a teenager. This was not my only concern. I feel like Lily Collins must have found some things she had to do triggering; coffee loading and counting calories are in the trailer alone. This is especially because eating disorders are something you are always in recovery from. You are not your illness, but whether out of your ED habits and weight restored*, eating disorders
are unfortunately a condition that burdens you for your whole goddamn life. I also have concerns that it will make her triggers and habits more fresh, therefore being more likely to influence her in the future. I just think this is incredibley dangerous and not worth the risk of hindering someone’s mental health and recovery for the sake of views, and I guess money too.
*Another thing i’m worried about is that anorexia and other eating disorders will only be portayed as many think they are; anorexic people will only be played by extremely physcially ill, skinny people. This angers me, because there is such a stigma around this issue already- people seem to forget that eating disorders are a mental illness. Yes, many people suffering from the illness suffer from dramatic weight loss and weigh fluctuations, but many people who ‘do not look anorexia’ still suffer and too, could be very seriously physically ill but just not conventionally look it. Some people physically struggle to lose weight (which can actually sometimes be fuel to make the ED worse) but are still just as mentally and likely physically ill as someone you may more likely think has an ED.
NEDA has a page on the physical impacts of eating disorders, and it is important to remember this.
Another concern of mine is this: There is such a fine line, especially when it comes to EDs, between raising awareness and being somewhat influential. Especially as mental health problems is becoming more widespread, and many young girls- whom are likely the primary audience- will probably be suffering with a form of dysphoria, be it worrying body image issues or simply insecurities. Programmes and films in the genre of To The Bone is something that will more than likely push easily influenced teens and young girls over the edge, and that is worrying.
Netflix, you want to raise awareness? Make a documentary. Make a documentary about EDs and people’s experiences, the severity of it. Make a documentary in association with NEDA and BEAT (whether you choose the profits to go to you or charity). You probably still could have got influential figures such as Lily Collins to speak about her experience without needing to put her at risk. That’s why tweets saying that it’s offensive to feel negatively and be reluctant about it upsets me because it’s not invalidating, mental health, especially EDs are so in need of awareness, and people aren’t fighting it because it’s inaccurate, people are upset because it romanticises mental health and instead of raising awarenss puts actresses and arguably, as mentioned above, young (and even older) boys and girls at risk.
On to the trailer
The trailer starts with a girl counting calories; This is accurate of many eating disorders and from an awareness point of view, is significant as it shows the obsessive nature of an eating disorder. I have two views on this. The first applauds the awareness and accuracy, but the second thinks it’s a very risky move. People watching may think ‘why am I not counting my calories?’, and begin to. Once you fall into one habit it is easy to fall into others, so even the first 10 seconds of the trailer is risky, in my opinion.
It then comments on what Ellen and the lady I presume to her mum is having for breakfast. The comment on coffee not being breakfast hints at coffee loading, which I consider dangerous as it’s not a habit known widely outside of the ED community. It is done in a good way though, and I think it’s important for the audience to remind us that a drink, calorific or not, is not sufficient and out bodies need food.
I do think the above, combined with the trailer’s opening scene gives off an important message: restricting, a main aspect of eating disorders, does not necessarily mean totally starving yourself- it can mean skipping meals, eating less than your intake, it can mean totally starving yourself… all are just as dangerous.
“You do a lot of sit ups” is something I can’t comment negatively on at all. It once more highlights the obsessive nature of eating disorders and compulsive exercise regime many sufferers have ingrained into the mindset of their ED. It is comparatively not particularly triggering (aside from the protagonists dangerously skinny spine showing) and is good for awareness.
“I’m not going to treat you if you’re not interested in living” is also something I have nothing negative to say about. If you suffer from mental health problems, you will know that recovery is difficult and say you suffer from depression, you are desperate to get better… with eating disorders it’s different. Most people don’t want to recover for so many reasons (which I will not list in this post), but from an awareness point of view, I think this is so important because it’s not something that’s easy to describe unless you feel it yourself.
Something I am critical about is the “I am healthy / I am strong / I am in control” because you expect these messages to be empowering when Ellen is not healthy. Ellen thinks she is, and she is in control, but of her ED. She’s controlling her body in a negative way. Seeing these messages crop up upsets me quite a bit as I don’t think portraying to the audience that having, I guess what is the willpower to not eat and subsequently kill your body, comes across as promoting EDs and glorifying anorexia, and that is really not okay.
I don’t have a lot more to say about the trailer, as I’d like to leave the rest up to the film but I again think “I’m not going to lie, I’m really f***ing hungry” is another important quote as amongst the talk about EDs and the portrayal of someone struggling with food, it reminds us, the audience, that it is perfectly normal and in fact healthy to eat when you’re hungry, to act on what your body is telling you when you know it needs nutrients.
All in all, there are many aspects of To The Bone that I don’t agree with, primarily the romanticising of a serious illness and the risks Netflix took in making this film, but it clear that it is important to look at all sides and consider people and their opinion as individuals and respect them.
I hope Netflix proves me wrong; I hope they have used this film as a chance to raise awareness rather than to glorify something that never in a million years should be. I hope Lily had her say, having genuinely struggled and she was able to bring her experiences to the table safely. I hope it educates the friends and family of people with EDs and presents people of all shapes and sizes as ill, rather than adding to the stigma.
I hope, now, you understand where my anger has come from, and please know that if you disagree (and have a valid argument for doing so), I respect your view, too.