To The Bone is the hot topic right now in the eating disorder community: amongst those who are suffering, those in remission, and professionals who work with people with eating disorders. There are reviews being written about it left, right, and centre, and unfortunately I am here to throw my unoriginal opinion into the mix. I know that what I am about to write has been said already, but I wanted to join the conversation. Here are my thoughts on To The Bone below.
(GIANT SPOILERS ALERT FOR THE CONTENT BELOW)
What was wrong with it:
It shows an overly represented narrative
Eli is a straight, white young woman from a wealthy family, which is totally great, because I’ve just never seen that narrative be explored before. Not. How many times have we seen this in the media? Over and over and over and over again. Quite frankly, I’m bored of seeing emaciated white women counting their ribs in the mirror as their white panties hang off their hipbones. Not that their suffering is invalid, but because the suffering of others is just as valid and I’m not seeing them represented anywhere. Where are the black girls with anorexia? Where are the average weight women? Where are the men (I know, a man was included in To The Bone, but he was not the main character – it was not his story)? Where are the girls with bulimia (the one girl with bulimia got about a minute and a half of screen time) and the men with anorexia athletica, and the elderly? Or just anyone who isn’t white having any other eating disorder than binge eating disorder? We don’t see these people in leading roles, or talked about in magazines, or depicted pretty much anywhere, and they are a huge portion of people with eating disorders. The straight white wealthy female narrative is overdone. It is cliche, it perpetuates myths and stereotypes, and it is damaging for a large portion of those with eating disorders who do not see themselves represented anywhere, and therefore, feel that their pain is invisible, and that they are not sick enough to be noticed.
The lead actress – a recovered anorexic – starved herself for the role and then gave ridiculously problematic interviews about it
Lily Collins said that it was a “scary process,” but “I knew that, this time, I would be held accountable for it. I would be [losing weight] under the supervision of a nutritionist and surrounded by all these amazing women on set. So, I knew that I would be in a safe environment to explore this.” Do you know what is not safe in any environment? BECOMING EMACIATED. Do you know what is especially not safe in any environment? BECOMING EMACIATED WHEN YOU ARE IN REMISSION FROM ANOREXIA NERVOSA. The genetic predisposition for an eating disorder is triggered by energy deficit. A recovered anorexic cannot just lose weight and be safe. You cannot say that it is alright just because you are supervised by a nutritionist. Becoming emaciated always comes with risks, and becoming emaciated as a recovered anorexic opens the gateway as wide as you possibly can for the eating disorder to stroll right on through. Immersing herself into the role is also another huge risk factor for relapse. The point of this is not that I care about her health in particular, because after all she is an adult and she has the choice over what she does with her life. The point is that she is responsible for the way in which she takes care of herself and for the messages she gives out when she knows that a movie like this is going to attract a huge number of vulnerable people, most of them young. Saying that she lost weight in a healthy way to become incredibly underweight sends out the message to people with eating disorders that they can starve themselves and this is totally okay as long as they do it in a certain way – the “healthy” way. This is not helpful. It is damaging, and she should have been way more aware of the position she is in and how what she says will be heard by others. There is no way to starve yourself in a healthy way. Ever. She also said that she didn’t think she would fall back into it because she is “more mature”, as if that makes any difference whatsoever to the development and maintenance of eating disorders, or of the relapse into them. Eating disorders don’t just leave you alone because you grew up. Honestly, for someone who has had an eating disorder, she sure is giving interviews like she is entirely ignorant of them.
The director also said to PEOPLE that Lily Collins losing weight for the role was a conversation that they had and that part of it was “how do we keep you safe, and not at a dangerous weight that’s going to be triggering for you.” In what world was the weight she was at not dangerous for anyone? In what world was it not triggering for anyone with anorexia, let alone herself? I don’t know what planet these guys are living on, but it’s not the same one as the audience of this film.
The psychiatrist is an idiot
He is meant to come off as cool and modern with all the dramatic swearing (how scandalously hip of him!), “revelations”, “wise” and “meaningful” words, and trips to rain installations, but to me he just looks like he sucks at his job. For example, the first time is meets Ellen, he tells her that he is not going to treat her if she is not interested in living. Sorry, what?! Many people with eating disorders struggle to find reasons to live for and part of treatment can be helping someone to find them. He also dismisses family therapy after one session. Therapy is difficult. Family therapy can be a nightmare. But it is through this that many things can be explored and sometimes resolved. You don’t just give up on it in one session, and to me, it looked like that session brought up a number of issues that needed to be addressed. He also tells her that he doesn’t like her name and that it doesn’t suit her and tells her to change it. Maybe this was some sort of point about making a new identity for herself, but it came off as rude and inappropriate. And since we are on the topic of inappropriate, it is highly unlikely that a professional in his position, as a male, would be in her room alone with her at night. Just saying.
The love story overshadowed the whole thing and was incredibly unhealthy
“I need you, Eli,” Luke, the love interests, says as Ellen leaves the unit after feeling completely overwhelmed. Luke puts Ellen on a pedestal and then continuously pushes responsibility onto Ellen for his wellbeing. He spends the entire time demanding things of her: things that often she feels she cannot do, and when he gets pushy and she snaps, he gets all upset and butthurt. This is not romantic, and this is not what should be portrayed as a good relationship. As their relationship grows, he insensitively (and that is putting it lightly) brings up the topic of sexual abuse and asks if she has been sexually abused, saying that it’s a thing amongst “us rexies” (seriously, rexies?!). He then proceeds to tell her that she needs to be touched by someone who cares about her. That’s right: needs. Nothing like a bit of sexual coercion to set a really good example to an audience of predominantly vulnerable young women. And don’t get me started on the idea that women just need to fall in love with a “great guy” in order to find a reason to recover…
There was a weird, psychoanalytical scene that came out of nowhere
Near the end of the film, when Ellen is coming to the end of her tether – or her life – Ellen stays in her mother’s yurt. Her mother starts to talk to her about her experience of postnatal depression after Ellen was born, and how she did not hold her enough and how her pastor suggested feeding Ellen like a baby in order for Ellen to heal from the neglect she had experienced in the past from her mother. Ellen wants to think about the idea, but as her mother leaves says “mom, please feed me.” Her mother then sits Ellen in her lap like a baby and proceeds to feed her from a baby bottle. The scene to me was uncomfortable and totally out of context. If more was explored and developed from this angle, I don’t think it would have come off as such a strange scene, but it was totally out of the blue. It also directly proceeded Ellen’s “revelation” scene, as if being fed by her mother was so healing that it led directly onto a pathway to recovery. It was completely oversimplified, as was the next scene which leads me onto…
Ellen’s revelation moment was ridiculous
Ellen has a dream about being a healthy weight in a tree. She looks down and see herself, curled up in a foetal position, on the ground, naked and emaciated. “Is that me?!” she asks, shocked. When she wakes, she has the drive to recover, and returns to the unit in order to get better. I know that this was an interpretation of the director’s experience, but as a director you must know that you are not just sharing your version of events but also sending a message to the world. This airy-fairy scene is, to me, undermining, and made the transition from wanting to stay sick to wanting to recover look as easy as switching on a light in a dark room, when for many it is months and months of indecision and struggle before they are finally able to give themselves permission to make the arduous but invaluable journey towards freedom.
It glamorises eating disorders
They did not seem to do too well in their quest for awareness with eating disorders let’s be honest, and just like nearly all media, it has also successfully glamourised eating disorders. Beautiful Ellen, with her smoky make up, cool clothes, and sarky attitude, who doesn’t give a shit and eye rolls at every given opportunity. She just doesn’t seem to make eating disorders seem all that bad, does she? Then there are the discussions of behaviours and weight loss strategies within the eating disorder unit that she stays in. There’s the quirky boy that she falls in love with, and the handsome psychiatrist, and almost no discussion about what actually goes on inside the head of someone with an eating disorder. All we see is Ellen pushing food around her plate; Ellen doing sit ups in bed; Ellen fainting; Ellen rejecting food; Ellen getting thinner thinner thinner. All we are seeing here are the physical symptoms and behaviours of eating disorders, and when you don’t see the torture going on in someone’s minds; when there is barely a conversation about it, then how is it going to look like the hell it is to vulnerable people watching it? How does it dissuade people from carrying on into darkness; how does it help people to seek help; how does it educate those who don’t have eating disorders themselves? The truth is, it doesn’t. Not in any shape or form.
It isn’t even interesting
To The Bone is – to put it bluntly – boring. It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t challenge any myths or stereotypes. People who are knowledgeable about eating disorders haven’t learnt anything new, and neither have those who aren’t. It is a non-film: at best, people will watch it and come away with nothing new. But at worst, as discussed above, it sends out damaging messages to those susceptible to them.
So what’s right with it?
It acknowledges the effect that eating disorders have on loved ones
During family therapy, and at other points in the film, the affect that this pervasive and deadly illness has on everyone around them was depicted. This was a positive aspect of this movie, as often stories about people with eating disorders are very much focused on how the main character is affected and does not show the way in which it disrupts the lives of loved ones and the immense pain it causes them.
It acknowledges the hunger
“I’m really fucking hungry. Like two years worth of hungry,” says Luke at one point. I practically whooped at this small but important acknowledgement of the intense hunger that people in recovery often experience, and how this is quite clearly obvious. It is hunger from years worth of damages, and it is there for a reason. The body wants to heal!
It shows a tragic consequence of having an eating disorder
One of the women in the house is pregnant, but she goes on to have a miscarriage. I thought that this was the most moving scene in the film, and shows what eating disorders can do to eating disorder sufferers, outside of the usual symptoms that are often shown.
It did depict one male character with anorexia
Which is great. (But he was still an asshole).
So in conclusion…
Overall, this film to me wasn’t worth making. The only real positive that I can see from the making of this film is that it has provoked conversation across all social media sites. People are naming what is wrong with this film and that sparks debate: debate that will hopefully be educating people. Unfortunately, those involved with reading these sorts of articles will nearly always be those who are already well-versed in eating disorders, whereas the film will have a widespread audience and was a chance to educate people who would not otherwise engage on eating disorder topics. Whilst for many it will be a fleeting moment in their lives, for others it could have a negative impact that could be a factor in propelling them towards unhealthy habits with devastating consequences. Let’s just hope not.