**TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains images, information and a review of To The Bone. If you are easily triggered, please protect yourself and proceed with caution**
Happy hump day friends! I’m back with another edition of my Wednesday Spotlight series and today I plan on reviewing To The Bone, a Netflix original that was released on July 14th to mixed reviews. Many critics found it empowering and insightful, while viewers (especially those with ED) found it to be harmful and romanticized. Many viewers were outraged and had already formed their opinion after seeing the film’s trailer, which in my opinion, is a bit unfair. I think it’s hard to judge something based on a 2 minute clip, and if I’m being honest, I think people were ready to lash out. I mean I get it, I understand that everyone’s experience with ED is different. Not all people look like Lily Collins, and not all people who struggle with an ED come from a white, upper-middle class, dysfunctional family…but many of them do. I feel like in the ED community we have been waiting and hoping for someone to start the conversation and as soon as someone does, we jump on them for doing it the wrong way. Constructive criticism is always helpful, but sometimes I feel like we become so outraged when what’s depicted doesn’t 100% fall in line with our experience that we discredit the work that’s being done. While I know that not everyone will agree with my take on the film, I hope that we can have a respectful conversation where everyone feels safe and welcome to express their views & concerns!
**DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional and my views surrounding this film are my own opinions and are not meant in any way to be taken as medical advice. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to the NEDA Helpline at (800) 931-2237**
To The Bone is loosely based on writer and director Marti Noxon’s real-life experience with ED. The film follows a young girl, Ellen (Lily Collins) who is battling Anorexia Nervosa and is entering her fourth treatment facility. Her family dynamic is less than desirable and she reluctantly agrees to enter a group home, run by Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves) after her sister begged her to “really try this time.” Ellen moves into the house and is greeted by 6 other patients with their own recovery stories. She is cynical, borderline unfriendly, but somehow easy to love (at least for me). Maybe because I understand her thought process in that moment, or maybe because I can see past the “I’m tough and have everything under control” exterior, either way, I didn’t have a hard time liking/rooting for her!
Contrary to many viewer’s opinions, I feel this film offers an accurate portrayal of everything this illness embodies…at least from my perspective. Skeletal frames, “calorie Asberger’s” and measuring your arm to ensure that it still fits between your fingers are all consistent behaviors of those that are suffering from Anorexia Nervosa. One thing the film did well (IMO) was highlight a different treatment method, and while I understand that certain situations would prohibit this from being a viable treatment option, showcasing something different is a nice change from what we typically see in the media. I especially love that the film chose not to push family therapy on Ellen after realizing that it was going to do more harm than good. People may not agree with the alternative approach that Dr. Beckham employs, however I think it’s important to note that conventional treatment options don’t always work for everyone. I’m not saying you can’t have success in a traditional treatment setting, you absolutely can, but I do think it’s important to explore other avenues, especially when someone is unable to move forward (i.e., Ellen).
I think having Lily Collins portray Ellen, added an authentic element that is sometimes lost in movies that depict mental health in any variety. Her (and the director’s) personal experience with this insufferable illness helped to create a dialogue that was honest and thoughtful (IMO). This movie, more than anything, is the journey of choosing to heal yourself, and I’m happy that Ellen finally chooses herself over her illness in the end. This is important to note because recovery certainly doesn’t happen overnight; it’s often a long and drawn out process that can take years of anguish & despair to complete. Recovery includes more soul searching than any one person would ever willingly sign up for and I think it’s important to see the (many) failures in Ellen’s recovery journey. They are a normal occurrence and in no way mean you can’t have success, it just means you have to try again. I’ve always said that recovery isn’t an “all or nothing” thing, if it was, I’d be in big trouble. Bad days, weeks or months don’t discredit the hard work you’ve put in, it just means that you have more work to do….but don’t we all?!
So let’s talk about the images depicted in To The Bone; I understand that many people find them to be jarring, and you should, but what does a movie about Anorexia Nervosa look like without these images? I think in order to understand the illness and what it can truly do to the body, these images are necessary. In no way did I find any of the skeletal frames to be glamorous or romanticized; they were just true, accurate depictions of people that battle this particular illness everyday. For those that think this film makes eating disorders (specifically Anorexia Nervosa) look glamorous, I ask you how? There was nothing beautiful about Ellen’s appearance and if anyone is watching this at home challenging that statement, we need to be having a completely different conversation. As parents, sisters, brothers, friends, etc., we need to be aware of what young girls (and guys) are watching; if the material is triggering in any way, they shouldn’t watch it until they are older or in a different place in their recovery. I think To The Bone gets it right by including a trigger warning in the beginning of the film, which allows viewers to make the best decision for their mental health in terms of whether or not to continue watching. If you or someone you know would struggle seeing emaciated images, calorie counting & NG tubes (among other things) I urge you to reconsider watching this film. Marti Noxen covers everything from struggle & despair to promise & hope, and if you feel comfortable viewing some tough imagery, I would 100% recommend it.
While I recognize that not everyone suffering from AN looks like Lily Collins, I also recognize that many people do. I hope this is just the tip of the iceberg and the start of a wider conversation. I would (and hope) love to see more cinematic portrayals that depict a wider variety of eating disorders and the people who suffer from them. This is an insufferable disease that continues to destroy our young women (and men) at a rapid pace and anything we can do to better educate ourselves and understand this illness is invaluable and supremely important.
If you or someone you know is suffering, please visit the NEDA website or reach out to a crisis specialist at (800) 931-2237. I know not everyone will agree with my thoughts on this film, and that’s okay. I just hope that we can have a healthy conversation that can promote healing and change within the ED community!