Thoughts on 'To the Bone'

I'm not watching it. 

If you haven't heard about To the Bone, it's the new Netflix film about a girl with anorexia. There are virtually zero films centered around eating disorders, so this is a big deal. It's been super controversial in the mental health world, for a multitude of reasons (like the fact that Lily Collins, the lead actress who has experienced anorexia, actually lost weight for the role).

As someone who is "recovered" from an eating disorder, I'm not watching To the Bone. Yes, I've been "healthy" for almost 3 years now, but I truly don't believe this movie was created for people with eating disorders - or the recovery community. The trailer alone is triggering, and the way they portray the storyline doesn't suggest to me that it's something that will be comforting, helpful, or inspiring. Rather, for anyone who has been in that deep, dark hole of ED brain, it's a flashback to an unhealthy time;  and I know myself well enough now to know that watching something like this is just not helpful for me. 

That said, it's starting important conversations.

Even though I'm choosing not to watch it, I think the film's existence is starting a number of important conversations around mental illness, and portrayal of eating disorders in the media. I think To the Bone is an important conversation starter for people who might not necessarily have personal experience with an eating disorder. Similar to 13 Reasons Why, it's getting people talking - and in a way, that alone is great. 

On the other hand, talk isn't enough.

Especially if it perpetuates stigma. It's another story that's adding to the harmful expectations around who struggles with these disorders: incredibly thin, white, beautiful women. This is a problem on two levels: 

1. The Public's Perception of Eating Disorders - there is already very little media that is informative, authentic and inspiring when it comes to eating disorders. This film centers around the same storyline - and the same type of character - that is already prevalent. It reinforces that this is the kind of person who struggles with anorexia, and that if someone doesn't look like Lily Collins, they might not be taken seriously when reaching out for help. 

2. Self-Perception of Eating Disorders - in the same right, there is a dangerous narrative in the eating disorder community about being "sick enough". If you don't look emaciated, you might not feel deserving to get help. When I was in the midst of my ED, I was constantly comparing myself to the other girls in my group therapy - who were smaller, and more sick, and more "deserving" of help than I was. I'm scared for that younger version of myself - and the millions of girls struggling with these issues - that seeing this personified on screen is the ultimate thinspiration to get worse before they get better. 

Final Thoughts

I think we need more media surrounding recovery after the fact, and not just the storyline during ED. The realities of recovery are so f*ing challenging, and almost no one talks about how hard it actually is. I would love to see a film showing the depths of what recovery looks like (including weight gain) and celebrating those journeys as the primary focus - not the battle with the disorder. I think focusing on recovery would be much less triggering, and could actually be really helpful and inspiring for the ED community, rather than triggering. 

But complaining about To the Bone doesn't get us anywhere, because this kind of story IS what SOME people need. My opinion is one of many, and every eating disorder experience is different. There is - and will continue to be - a lot of talk about this movie, and its controversies. But I think action speaks volumes, so I'm working on a new project to add another layer of perspective to the already existing media narratives. It will probably be a while before you see anything of it, but sharing more authentic, diverse, informative and inspiring stories is something I've become really passionate about in the past year (primarily through things like the Role Models Initiative I created at Wear Your Label).

If you're in the ED recovery community, and believe in a different type of media narrative - let's connect. My lips are sealed for now, but I'm excited about the opportunity to create around this narrative, and I can't do it alone.



Kayley ReedComment