On Friday 14th July, Netflix released To the Bone; a feature length film on the experiences of anorexic patient Ellen. Ellen has spent most of her teenage years in and out of treatment programs for her eating disorder and at 20 years old, her family sent her to a group home for troubled young adults, run by the unconventional Dr Beckham. So far, it doesn't sound so bad.
Except there's a lot more to it than this. The leading character in this film is played by Lily Collins. She has a number of films to her name already, and you have probably heard of her father Phil Collins. Lily had anorexia in her teens and has spoken publicly about her battle with eating disorders in her recent ebook Unfiltered. She has admitted in interviews to struggling with laxative abuse and a slimming pills addiction as recently as 2013. In order to get into the role of anorexic Ellen, she lost 20lbs off of her already slim Hollywood frame. Collins insisted that there was no goal weight set for her by the directors, and that she did it with the supervision of a nutritionist, but as a former anorexic myself I know that dieting and weight loss are not compatible with eating disorder recovery. What happens when we start dieting again, is that we re-activate the neural pathways in our brain that tell us to starve, or binge, or purge. What happens next can be deadly. Personally, I feel that it was incredibly irresponsible for the film-makers to cast Lily Collins into this role and I hope she is getting all the support and after-care she needs.
What has also angered me and many others about this film, is that it simply reflects the huge misconceptions around eating disorders that are already prevalent in our society. For example, Ellen's character is your stereotypical young white woman, who is tragically misunderstood and hit with this hideous anorexic affliction leaving her with an emaciated body frame. That is the embodiment of what the media tell us an eating disorder is - white, young, females and very skinny. In fact, eating disorders affect people of all shapes and sizes, all races, all ages and the majority of people with eating disorders will never become underweight and only a very small proportion will ever get treatment. Yes, there is a male anorexic patient featured in the film, so one point to the film makers for that small addition, but of course he is a ballerina - a sport notorious for its eating disordered population. For those of you who do insist on watching it and ticking off all these stereotypes, eating disorders activist Ilona Burton has produced a handy 'To the Bone' bingo card for you.
There is one black patient in the film, who struggles with binge eating disorder but I am told she is not given much of a voice, and stands to reinforce that it's only white girls who get anorexia (clue -it's not!). Marti Noxon, the director of the film, also has a history of anorexia and wanted the film to be educational and much of it is based on her own experiences. She felt it was important that we started to talk about eating disorders and raise awareness. However, to really make a difference to the world of eating disorders, perhaps the money spent on To The Bone would have been better spent on investing in eating disorder services, or on research into effective treatments. Because unfortunately, most doctors out there aren't like Dr Keanu Reeves in this film. In fact, shortly before being hospitalised I stood in my GP's room at a dangerously low weight and a severely eating disordered mind and was told by him, 'Don't worry, we will get you nice and fat like me soon'.
Last, but certainly not least, I am adamant about avoiding this film because I think it will be triggering for me. For those of you reading this who aren't sure what I mean, a trigger is something that makes it more likely that a person will engage in an eating disordered behaviour as a result of something they have seen or heard. Even in the trailer of this film, I found myself being enticed by the voice of my eating disorder again as I watched the close-up shots of Ellen's protruding bones, her exercise regime and the scene where she collapses. It made me want to feel that same sense of control again; that euphoria that accompanies starvation. I can't risk going down that path again - recovery is hard enough as it is.
Useful websites and helplines:
Beat, call 0808 801 0677 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans, open 24 hours a day, on 08457 90 90 90
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393