After getting a bit riled up about Netflix’s new film, “To The Bone,” last week, ultimately curiosity got the best of me. I watched it Saturday afternoon and wanted to share my thoughts here.
Prior to reading this post, I must inform you that there could potentially be information related to eating disorders that are triggering to some. Additionally, I’m not going to attempt to abstain from spoiling plot points in the movie, so if you intend on watching the film, I suggest you head back here after watching it. I don’t want to end up ruining the film for anyone! Also, I’d much rather you watch the film before reading my opinion on it, because I’d hate for my judgment to cloud your experience watching the film for yourself.
Already knowing this post will probably err on the longer side of blogging updates, I’ll give you the brief version.
TL;DR: I do not support this film, even if produced with the best of intentions.
Also, be forewarned, I’m not one to get angered in my writing that often, but here, I don’t hold back. I make no apologies for what I say in this post. I do hope I do not offend anyone if they have a differing opinion from me though. If you disagree with anything I say in this post, I really do encourage you to shoot me an email or leave a comment. You’ll help me understand a perspective that is foreign to me, thus making me a better person. Please please please do not shy away from having a respectful debate with me. I promise, I don’t bite and would love to hear from you, whether you agree or disagree with me about “To The Bone.”
“To The Bone” Review
“To The Bone” chronicles one young woman’s journey through a treatment center after multiple failed attempts at recovery. Her name is Ellen and she is played by Lily Collins. While at treatment, she encounters others who suffer in their own ways while the viewer gets insight on Ellen’s backstory and what has led her to this point in her life.
The main character is supposed to be 20 years old. Seeing as though I’m also 20 years old, have suffered from severe anorexia, displayed many of the same disordered behaviors as Ellen does in this film, and am also white and middle class, you’d think I’d be the perfect person for this film, right?
I’ll start with what the film does right, in fairness. For me, “To The Bone,” was not a complete bust for a few small reasons. They show that eating disorders have consequences. Multiple people at the treatment center have life-altering changes happen to them over the course of the movie directly resulting from their disordered behaviors, including losing out on a career one was extremely passionate about and a miscarriage for another patient.
Harmful Portrayal of Credible Treatment Centers
Unfortunately, that’s where my short-lived praise ends. First, there is a scene at the beginning in which Ellen and her step mother are awaiting their appointment with a highly specialized doctor for eating disorder treatment. The step mom confides in a mom-daughter duo also waiting that this appointment took a significantly long time to get, while the other mom also shares that they had been on the waitlist for over six months. This, as confirmed by many of the friends I met throughout recovery, is accurate. Admittance into hospitals is one thing, but receiving admittance into a quality treatment center that understands the psyche behind eating disorders is comparable to finding a four leaf clover. Treatment centers are few in number, extremely expensive, and only allow entrance to certain people under very specific conditions. However, this is where the correct information stops in this particular scene.
The step mom and the other mom go onto briefly mention other treatment options, such as Renfrew and Maudsley. The two quickly dismiss both treatment options’ validity, insinuating that this one eccentric doctor is the way for someone to get better.
This is not true. This does not inspire hope. What about the hundreds of families worldwide currently dedicating their home lives around Maudsley? How must they feel after viewing this? Families who have uprooted everything to center around family meals for their loved one to feel safe when they eat. If I were still in the midst of Maudsley, this interaction would diminish my spirit.
Maudsley worked for me for a few months before I moved on to Minnie Maud (which was what ultimately worked for me- not that it works for everyone). I know the grueling efforts my family went through to make Maudsley happen for me. For either Maudsley or Renfrew to commented on in a ten second jabber is harmful for advocacy. Both Maudsley and Renfrew are very credible options for some people within their own recovery.
Irresponsible Weight Loss – Reinforcing Stereotypes
In my response to the trailers, one of the issues I took with the film, “To The Bone,” as Lilly Collin’s intentional weight loss for the film to “accurately portray” the harmful effects of anorexia.
Here I go again: People struggling with eating disorders are NOT always emaciated.
Let me say it again for the people in the back.
People struggling with eating disorders are not always underweight.
Eating disorders affect people of all weights, ages, genders, sexual orientation, religious preference, etc. This film reinforces two common stereotypes that I utterly loathe: eating disorders do not only happen to young white women and they are not only harmful when someone is underweight.
There are immensely damaging side effects to anorexia, even if someone looks to be perfectly fine on the surface.
Putting Lily Collins in the susceptible state of consciously losing weight, given her past with an eating disorder, is setting her up perfectly for a relapse. It makes no difference if she was closely monitored by the best nutritionist team in the world. That couldn’t even be true because the best nutritionist team in the world would have stood aghast at someone asking them to help a previously anorexic girl to lose an unhealthy amount of weight.
As I said in my previous post, society is far more likely to accept my disorder past than of someone from a marginalized demographic. I’m privileged in such a way that I’m a middle-class, white woman. I don’t need a gorgeous actress that also falls into that demographic to portray eating disorders. I don’t need that representation as much as others do. To really display the truth behind an eating disorder, it would have left a larger impact had they shed light on someone struggling who was a POC, or male, or gay, or a combination of any number of different demographics… literally anyone else than a middle-class, white, young, attractive female.
But that movie probably wouldn’t have done as well, so it wasn’t worth it, right? /s (sarcasm to the nth degree)
As if something could horrify me even more than Lily Collins’ drastic (and yes, I consider it drastic) weight loss, this film has now become an infinite source of pro-ana material for the internet. If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘pro-ana,’ I plead with you to refrain from googling it. Pro-ana is essentially the black hole of the internet wherein people post pictures of extremely starved bodies to use as inspiration, otherwise known in that community as “thinspiration.”
Usually, I try to break up blog posts with pictures because it is more visually appealing from a reader’s perspective, however because of precisely this reason,I refuse to download or upload any pictures from the film and have them on my site.
Lily Collins’ frail body is literally being used as “thinspiration.” Suffers are now looking to her physique in this film as a goal. Those who struggle with eating disorders are often seekers of being the *best,* meaning they’ll constantly search to beat others. Now, thousands of people active in the pro-ana world have a new goal, new source for their disorders.
Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by this at all. Of course people stuck in their eating disorders are going to fetishize every second of this film. Whether to justify their own disorders or use it as a source of motivation for becoming sicker, everything about the visual representation of this film is a disservice that hinders the film’s goal of advocacy.
The Title – To The Bone
This brings me to another point I cannot wrap my head around- the title. I don’t understand any train of thought that leads someone to believe, “To The Bone,” was a productive label for this film. All it does is reinforce another misconception constantly associated with eating disorders.
People with eating disorders do not have the sole goal of getting “To The Bone.” The title alone is a blatant misrepresentation of the pain people with eating disorders go through, day in and day out.
It was never my goal to become a frail skeleton with bones protruding out of me at every angle. This is so wrong, yet the title suggests this to be the case.
On the same note as the disproportionate demographics, anorexia is the most well-known eating disorder. However, the majority of people suffering from eating disorders do not suffer from anorexia. We need more representation for those struggling with bulimia, orthorexia, anorexia athletica, EDNOS, AFRIDs, OFSED, and so on.
“To The Bone” featured underweight anorexia almost exclusively, with other subtypes of eating disorders displayed as if they were an afterthought of a diversity requirement.
Approximately 8 million people in the United States have an eating disorder (note: this is only diagnosed. I would argue there are millions more in the United States who suffer from an eating disorder.)
Most people think of anorexia and bulimia nervosa when they think of eating disorders, but no one ever thinks of binge eating disorder (BED). And yet, BED affects more people in the United States than anorexia and bulimia combined. Where is their representation?
Actually, “To The Bone,” does make an attempt at providing awareness to BED, but it misses the mark completely, at least for me. I myself have never struggled with BED, so I know I’m not the one to be the deciding voice in this portrayal, but I thought I should still offer my thoughts.
In the treatment center, there are seven patients, one of which suffers from binge eating. This patient is an Africa American female who is overweight. She only eats peanut butter at mealtimes and does so without making a big deal of it. She shows no sign of shame. She eats at a slow pace. In a candid conversation she even mentions to a patient suffering from bulimia that she wishes she could “do the whole binge-purge thing.” She laments that she is only good at the binging part.
Based on my own research, none of this is an accurate representation of what people suffering from BED actually experience. Binge eating disorders often involve insatiable hunger, consuming large amounts of calories at an expedited rate. There is often a lot of shame attributed to these behaviors, leaving those struggling to eat in hiding. [More symptoms of BED can be read here.]
It is important to raise awareness for anorexia. I will never concede on that point. But it’s so incredibly important for people to understand that anorexia and bulimia are not the only eating disorders to be wary of. Both orthorexia and anorexia athletica are on the rise in this nation, and they are much easier to skate by unnoticed with.
This is only a minor point. In fact, it’s more of a question. In the film, there are a few scenes in which people test their ability to recall calorie counts. They refer to this “skill” as having calorie aspergers.
I understand what they were going for. By their standards, sure, I have it too. But is it not offensive to call it that? Aspergers is a serious developmental disability and this dubbed title rubbed me the wrong way.
Glamorizing, Fetishizing, Romanticizing Eating Disorder will never be okay. This was not a story of recovery.
This story does not focus on recovery. At all.
This was not a story to provide hope. This was not a story that showed recovery is possible.
Perhaps, it is my fault though for assuming it would be. After all, it is not a documentary. It does not “owe” it to me as a viewer to abide perfectly by the real horrors of an eating disorder.
But then, I have to ask: why make a movie purely about the horrors of anorexia without shedding light on the hope?
This is why the film appears glamorized to so many, and I have to say, I see their point.
Eating disorders are similar to other additions, like drug addiction or alcoholism. However, because we live in a society that fawns ver people with a self-discipline for health that can often be confused disordered behaviors, we are left with representations such as “To The Bone,” in which everything cannot be too disgustingly appalling, but instead we have a beautiful young white woman with a jutted out collarbone depict the mental illness
Recovery was overshadowed by a love story.
You cannot take something as serious and potentially fatal as an eating disorder and turn it into a one-dimensional flick that is dominated by an artificial love story.
I take issue with the Lucas character as a whole. Not once does he show any sign of weakness with his treatment. While I follow the train of thought that perhaps the filmmakers gave him this persona as an attempt at displaying hope for recovery, it was implausible.
Additionally, he was only in treatment for 6 months. Based on dozens of different research studies, 6 months is an extremely short period of time for someone to have that much resilience for recovery. The average recovery takes 3-7 years.
Regardless of Lucas’ own personal story in the film, Ellen should not have had a love story featured in the film. Let alone having it with another patient of the same treatment center. The word that keeps coming to my head repeatedly when I think of different aspects of the film is “irresponsible.” It’s no different here. Ellen and Lucas’ love story was irresponsible, taking away from the main point of the film.
Ridiculous form of treatment shown.
The treatment under which Ellen goes through during this film has no evidence back it. There is no portrayal of people actually getting better.
At one point, Ellen’s doctor even says, “Let the person hit rock bottom to they want to live again.”
Uh. Excuse me?
This gets into very unstable territory.
Many would argue that yes, this is in fact true. At times, I even fall into that category of people, but when I think about that statement, I usually consider it in emotional terms, not physical.
A treatment center should never let someone drop so much weight under their supervision, allowing them to eat how much they want, even if that means nothing at all. That is a recklessly insipid method.
Granted, I’ve never been admitted into an inpatient facility, and I am not a medical professional. I realize I am not the person to provide empirical evidence on issues such as this, but as someone who very easily could have died had my family let me hit rock bottom, I felt dejected and disheartened watching this.
When you’re malnourished, you have the inability to think straight, therefore, there is no rock bottom for you. You’ll always strive for more sickness, more disorder. To someone with a starved brain (even if their body does not appear starved, there is no rock bottom.
One other point about this treatment that disturbed me is the relationship between Ellen and her doctor. This is a topic I’d like to hear more about from people in the comments who have been in treatment centers. Was this type of rapport normal for any out? To me, it came off as extremely inappropriate, with him sitting on her bed, visiting her late at night, and basically telling her to “suck it up” as a reputable recovery method. Please let know if you have thoughts on this, as I’m extremely curious.
“Suck It Up” // “Just Eat”
Going off of that quote, “suck it up,” I was extremely angered by some of the apathetic rhetoric spewed throughout the film.
In another scene, a patient is told to, “just eat.” Hearing that practically gnawed at my insides as I recalled the countless times I was told that exact phrase throughout the initial stages of my recovery.
Here’s a tip: this is, by and large, the most insulting approach you can take with someone struggling with an eating disorder. It minimizes the problem by assuming the patient is being stubborn. No. They are not being stubborn.
Someone with an eating disorder is incapable of “just eating.” Trust me. If we were capable of “just eating,” eating disorders wouldn’t exist in the first place. This ludicrous phrasing trivializes eating disorders, angering me even more.
The Intended Audience For The Film – Triggering Content
Why, I have to ask, would anyone watch this film?
Hell, why would I watch this film?
Curiosity, sure. But honestly I know a lot people who have struggled with an eating disorder (or are still struggling) are going to watch this film to indulge in their disorder. Myself included. I admit it.It’s an easy way to revert back to a time when you *felt* safe because your were living within the confines of your eating disorder without actually harming yourself.
Perhaps there is less guilt associated to it. I thought watching this wouldn’t leave me feeling dirty, but it really did. My mom walked into my film when I was watching and I paused it immediately, whereas had I been watching any other movie, I would not have has grasped at the remote so suddenly. I told her what I was watching when she asked, and it was not a big deal at all, but it is quite telling to see that my instinct was to hide it from her.
I felt like I was doing something wrong by watching this. In a sense, I was.
I was watching a film that blatantly pulled me back to three years ago when a different interpretation of this was my life: an all-consuming, introspective obsession on everything wrong about myself, both physically and emotionally. Watching this film led me back to that same point in time.
I don’t regret it though. I’m glad I watched it, and though I don’t think I went into it unbiased, I’d like to think I’m level-headed enough to provide fair and valid critiques without letting all of the steam come out of my ears.
The ending was unrealistic. After on vulnerable conversation with her mother, the main character’s epiphany supposedly carries her though to a full and lasting recovery.
That is not how it works.
Recovery is a daily, how by hour, minute by minute choice one has to make over and over again. One conversation is not enough to transform someone through to becoming a balanced, intuitive eater.
It’s almost laughable the film thinks this is an okay way to showcase recovery. This is where I fully agree with anyone who says the film romanticizes or glamorizes eating disorders. It’s impossible to ignore that this scene in particular does precisely that. While it does not necessarily show her going from frail to healthy overnight, it is certainly implied. This suggestive storytelling is dangerous. Frankly, I find it absurd.
Ultimately, this film fails to accurately portray the complexity behind an eating disorder.
But maybe- just maybe- this is the point.
A film, a book, a blog post, an interview, any form of expression or medium could never truly depict what goes on in the mind of someone suffering from an eating disorder. “To The Bone”‘s attempt is off base in suggesting that eating disorders solely arise based off dysfunctional families, when that is simply not the case. Sure, family dynamics do play an imperative role and factor for some people, not not all eating disorders cannot be chalked p to this. There are a myriad of reasons.
Eating disorders cannot be placed into tiny boxes all wrapped up with a big bow. Eating disorder stem from all sorts of issues: genetics, biological imbalances, trauma, abuse, developmental issues, disabilities, emotional instability, unhealthy coping mechanisms, lack of coping mechanisms, etc. The list could go on forever.
It’s impossible for a film to really encompass all of that, and it’s absurd for me to think it could, but I do think it could have done a much better job at addressing the issue at hand, rather than asserting that these problems come and go based on one’s willingness to make amends with familial issues.
If you’re looking to educate yourself on eating disorders, I commend you. I really really do. I encourage you to continue forward with this movement. However, this film can stay off you r list of informative work to take in. It’s not worth the chance at taking on a misperception of the true horrors of an eating disorder. Instead, I recommend the following articles:
I don’t claim to be a journalist, however, after writing this post out, I did want to see what a credible journalist has to say. I found this article from the Atlantic poignant, informative, and transparent in its review on “To The Bone.”