In the last few days, Netflix have released a trailer for its newest movie. To The Bone, stars Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves, and portrays a young woman dealing with anorexia. It has received a mixed response; some have lauded the streaming service for dealing with this 'taboo' subject, others have condemned it for romanticising mental illness under the guise of 'raising awareness'.
Whilst it is hard to believe Netflix have produced this film to actively encourage anorexia, films and television programs that deal with eating disorders often inadvertently become part of the problem. They frequently rely on attractive, palatable tropes to tell tales about life-ruining illnesses. The manic pixie girl who needs saving from herself, the mum who just doesn't understand, the doctor with an alternative way of dealing with things who isn't afraid to tell it how it is - we've seen them all before. Watering down these illnesses into well-known stereotypes makes them easier to understand, sure, but it also helps so-called pro-anorexia movements to make them look that much more attractive.
Pro-anorexia websites relish in having new content. Gifs of Lily Collins' emaciated and bruised spine, will soon sit alongside black and white screenshots of Cassie from skins telling the world she didn't eat for three days so she could be lovely. Against the backdrop of an attractive middle-class home, soundbites like, 'it's like you have calorie Asperger's' are all too appealing. The reality of recovering from an eating disorder is far from screen-worthy. With a cute British love interest to keep things interesting and that alternative doctor mentioned earlier, this trailer makes dealing with an eating disorder look like a cool, fun thing you can do in your spare time over the summer.
One of the many troubles that come from making films like this is that it can lead to the invalidation of any experiences that deviate from the story line presented on screen. Eating disorders thrive on invalidation of thinking you can't possibly be suffering because someone else is always suffering more. For those in the grips of an eating disorder, seeing a deathly thin girl doing sit-ups and missing meals so easily is just another way to feel out of control.
The point that To The Bone seems to have fallen flat on the hardest though, is the idea of raising awareness. To the public mind, anorexia is already a young, emaciated, middle-class, white girl. What awareness is being raised when we are seeing exactly the character we expect to see onscreen? The reality is that suffering from an eating disorder doesn't mean you have anorexia, it doesn't mean you are skinny and it doesn't mean you are female. It seems like a show about any other kind of sufferer would've been much more effective in raising awareness.
Perhaps To The Bone will surprise us all with a much more incisive, informative and reliable depiction of eating disorders than this trailer has let on. Judging how the general narrative has been thus far however, it doesn't look likely.