“I’m sorry I’m not a person anymore, I’m a problem, and it’s my fault”
When I saw the trailer for ‘To the Bone’ for the first time, I was honestly very worried for its release, as seeing only a few clips from the film sparked a trigger reaction.
For those who have not heard about it, ‘To the Bone’ is a recently released Netflix original movie, about 20 year old Ellen (Lily Collins) who suffers with anorexia. It follows her journey as she begins another attempt to recover from her illness in a treatment centre.
There are lots of mixed reviews about this film, as there are with all films imploring delicate subjects, with many people saying it glamorizes anorexia and ‘teaches’ young people how to have an eating disorder. Many who criticise the film have never had an ED, so as someone who was diagnosed with anorexia 4 years ago, I’ll give you my thoughts on ‘To the Bone’. It’s important to note that I can only give MY personal response to this movie, and I know many people will think differently.
First off- yes, this movie did trigger me, being realistic there is probably no person who has/had an ED that didn’t find this movie fuelling up the voice inside their head. However, the way that each individual reacts to the voice is what counts. Triggers can be found everywhere- from Instagram, magazines, calorie talk, etc- but if you are in the state of mind where you are able to step aside and say ‘Is this going to help anything?’ and you can analyse the situation with a clear head, ‘To the Bone’ shouldn’t do any more harm than other triggers would.
**I will make a note though, that if you are in a bad place mentally and are currently struggling hard to fight your eating disorder, I would NOT recommend you watch the film. However, I know from personal experience that if you’re in that position, then your inner demon will most likely be telling you to watch it, because it will go against anything that will improve recovery. If you find yourself it this situation and watch the movie against your own will, please please talk through any parts that upset you with a therapist/family member/friend etc. **
Okay, so I know people are giving out because the main character portrays the stereotypical anorexic- extremely thin, white, with parents who work too much… But in my opinion, Ellen’s thinness only shows the brutal reality of a lot of people with anorexia. She is so underweight that she doesn’t give off a look that would make any viewer inspire to have a body like that; hence, it does not glamorize anorexia in this way. Hairy arms and a bruised spine do not come across as pretty on screen, or in real life. When Ellen’s step-mom asks her if she thinks the picture of her almost bare body is beautiful, and she replies “no”. Anorexia sufferers are not reducing because they want to look good, because ‘good’ will never be good enough. Some stereotypes such as her smoking, drinking diet sodas and wearing baggy clothes, went maybe a bit over the top. Also it would have been better if the other residents in the treatment centre weren’t all so stereotypical. The only person with what appears to be binge eating disorder is overweight, which is not always the case.
Many ‘trigger parts’ (counting calories, measuring her arm by her wrist, excessive exercise, chewing and spitting…) were hard to watch, and brought back many memories for me, but leaving these out would not give an honest picture of what living with an ED is like. This film wasn’t sugar-coated, they didn’t leave out bits that would be ‘too upsetting’, because that would defeat the purpose. At first, I thought that they weren’t taking the issue seriously, when jokes were used (such as “calorie Aspergers” and “Rexia Olympics”), but after a while I realised something- they were showing that people with eating disorders are still people, they may act and think in different, harmful ways, but overall they are still themselves underneath the mask of their illness. We can still joke, mess around, and fall in love. We are human.
Along with the humour in the movie, there are many scenes that are utterly heartbreaking, but unfortunately too true. I’m not going to spoil anything by mentioning specifics, but if you saw the movie, you know what I’m talking about. There will also be different people who relate more to different parts. As with viewers who have never had an ED, ‘To the Bone’ can be looked at as a way of educating the public on the issue (although everyone experiences an ED in their own way, and Ellen’s struggle is just an example).
I understand that Lily Collins has had a history of anorexia, and that she lost weight for the role. Of course this does not seem right, but the weight loss was closely monitored and she said that playing the part of Ellen was a way of moving on, “This movie really helped break me down in ways that I didn’t even know I could analyze. . . . I think it really helped me let go a lot,” she told Vanity Fair in April. The fact that not only the main character had personal struggles with anorexia, but also the writer and director of ‘To the Bone’, makes it all the more realistic. The humour is relatable to people who have/had an ED, and I wonder if other people find it funny in the same way.
‘To the Bone’ is the first mainstream movie of its kind and perhaps this means mental illness is becoming less stigmatised and more open to be talked about. This movie definitely has its faults, but that is only expected. Overall, it does depict what having anorexia can be like, not only for sufferers themselves, but also how it affects family and other loved ones. I don’t think it’s a movie I would watch over and over, as I’m not sure what result that could produce, but I am glad I have watched it and hope it generates talk and education about eating disorders, and shows how recovery is possible and achievable.
As always, if you need further support on this or any other issue, we encourage you to ask someone for help, and to talk to someone. You are not alone.
Thank you so much to Megan for writing this piece, for always being honest and open about her experience, and for helping to educate us. She is a very important and valued part of our team.