Last Friday, Netflix released a feature file “To the Bone.” Like other mental illnesses, eating disorders are difficult to understand. One of the reasons, I opened up about my struggles with anorexia was because I know firsthand the struggle, the isolation, and shame a person feels when they are suffering from an eating disorder. And that seems to be what this movie tries to do. The director, Marti Noxon said, “My goal with the film was not to glamorize EDs, but to serve as a conversation starter about the issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions. I hope that by casting a little light into the darkness of this disease we can achieve greater understanding and guide people to help if they need it.” This blog shares my opinion of To The Bone.
Before I sat down to watch this movie, I wanted to hear what others were saying. So I read blog posts from dietitians who work with individuals suffering from eating disorders (Marci RD and Amy Goldsmith) and from a fellow blogger who has also recovered from ED (Jayne). All three of them have different opinions on the film. But the consensus is if you are struggling with an ED, early in your recovery, or think you may be triggered by this film, do not watch To The Bone.
Before I watched the film, I also learned the actress Lily Collins has struggled with anorexia in her past. In the movie she plays the role of Ellen, the main character who is struggling with anorexia. There was an interview (*which I am not linking to intentionally) with Collins about how she prepared for this film. She explains she lost the weight in a “healthy way.” As someone who has lived through an eating disorder, I think attaching the word “healthy” to how she obtained the frail body that you see in the film contradicts the purpose of this film. In no way was the weight loss healthy.
Obviously, this movie did get people talking about ED’s. But I don’t think we’re talking about them in ways that are bringing about more awareness or help. I know if I had watched this movie four or five years ago, I would have been highly triggered, especially if I had read that the actress’s weight loss was considered healthy weight loss. Especially since the media makes it a point to promote the fact that the actress worked with a dietitian to lose the “healthy weight”. I would have felt more isolated, more ashamed, and more scared. So I know those that are suffering from an eating disorder should not watch To The Bone. And it can be very harmful and triggering.
I think the movie attempts to show how difficult ED can be on family members. Throughout the movie, family dynamics are talked about, evaluated, and sometimes blamed for Ellen’s ED. It is true, that no one can come through recovery without addressing their own family issues and dynamics. And family members often do not know how to react, how to deal with the disease, or how to show the person how much they are loved without causing more harm. But I think there are much more effective resources for family members to utilize to get a better understanding of how to navigate the path of recovery with their loved one. Families are a powerful aid in recovery and here’s just one resource that talks about how families can navigate the many trials that are involved with eating disorders.
Why Watch It?
If you haven’t watched the movie yet, I encourage you to answer this question: What is your purpose for wanting to watch To The Bone?
Because it can’t be for entertainment purposes.
There is nothing entertaining about this movie. Even with the love story entertained into the plot, the movie is not meant to be entertaining. Because if it was, that would go against the producer’s goal of the movie.
If you want to watch it to get a better understanding of what an ED is.
I don’t think this movie is the best source for that. Keep in mind everyone’s disease looks different. Everyone’s journey to recovery is different. There are a lot of individuals sharing their experiences in ways that are not harmful to others. Eating Disorder Hope is an online resource that helps individuals share their story without including triggering facts.
If you want to watch it to see what the hype is about.
Make sure you realize that this movie is deep, emotional, and at times extremely uncomfortable. The character’s body is wasting away. But also keep in mind, ED’s look different. You cannot always tell a person has ED just by looking at them and not everyone with an ED suffers from anorexia. Take notice of the other characters in the house and notice that each of them struggle with different elements of ED. If you’re going to watch it, come out on the other side, knowing something that you didn’t know about ED’s that is helpful.
The Conversations to Have
There is no right or wrong ways to feel after viewing this movie. But I think there are right and wrong conversations that should occur. Eating disorders are serious and potentially life threatening. That is something that is highlighted in this movie. Know this and know that if you suspect a family member or friend is struggling, it is important to address it. But also know what you talk about can make it harder. In the movie, the doctor tells Ellen that the only way he will treat her is if she does two things: doesn’t talk about food and calories associated with food and she has to want to get better. I think these are two good take away points that can help conversations go in the right direction.
I think the other good take-away from the movie is that individuals with eating disorders often struggle with self-love. Struggle with self-love and self-esteem but are constantly thinking about themselves. There’s a big difference in this and one of the characters in the movie highlights this. She is pregnant and she says talking about her baby, “it will be nice to think about someone else besides myself for once.” I think this is important because it can provide some clarity into eating disorder behaviors. I think it’s about not focusing on the behavior but why the behavior is happening.
Awareness is Empowering
I am in total support of more awareness for ED. In ways that are helpful, productive, and healing. My opinion of To The Bone is it is not the best resource to start healthy conversations about ED.