“A young woman is dealing with anorexia. She meets an unconventional doctor who challenges her to face her condition and embrace life.” – According to IMDb referencing Netflix’s new original film, To the Bone. IMDb also claims that this movie is not only a drama, but also a comedy. *Insert confused and slightly disturbed face here.* Genre aside, the film depicts Lily Collins, playing Ellen/Eli as she reveals what it (may) look like to struggle with anorexia nervosa and embark on treatment towards recovery. In all honesty, I was extremely hesitant to watch this film. I was setting myself up for the very real possibility that I would be triggered, and be faced with the instant ability of placing myself back in my own experiences. Both happened.

Because I will always be transparent in my posts, I openly admit that I cried ten minutes into the film. I cried after another thirty, and then I completely lost it when Eli and Luke were dancing in the rain together. Emotions aside, there were inevitably things I loved and didn’t quite love about the film.

Thank you, Netflix

Thank you for bringing awareness about eating disorders, and the severity of them. We see over and over again posts very much like my own on blogs/websites, Instagram recovery accounts, articles, and organizations that attempt to spread awareness, and yet the reality of eating disorders still feels to be very much left in the dark. Netflix is obviously a huge platform, that I, like many others, find themselves binge-watching show after show. Netflix used this platform to expose its viewers to something that we don’t quite feel comfortable watching, and yet may need to watch. To the Bone also included a male actor in the film, decreasing the stigma that eating disorders are female-specific.

Lily Collins

For anyone who didn’t know before watching the film, Lily Collins herself struggled with anorexia. What confuses me more than anything about the film was that Lily was required to lose weight for the role. Yes, she consented to the requirements. However, my mind instantly wonders about the slippery slope that these requirements could create. Personally, when I even see the scale decrease an “insignificant amount,” my mindset very briefly (but very instantly) is prideful. Sounds fucked up, right? Yes, I’m able to keep myself from relapsing (or wanting to), however, the thought is very real and very present for even a short period of time. I can’t help but wonder what implications the film had on Lily. Also, the requirement to lose weight for the role makes the assumption that those affected must also be emaciated. Anorexia affects every shape, size, gender, age, etc. You do not have to look a certain way in order to be “sick enough.”

Depiction of behaviors

I was worried that the film would solely emphasize food. As those who have struggled with eating disorders, we know that food is ultimately not really the issue. Food is simply a tool, for whatever it is that we choose to use it for. To the Bone exposed viewers to not only to restriction, but also purging, exercise obsession, body checking, chewing/spitting, and laxative use. Sit up after sit up, viewers, were exposed to the habitual nature of eating disorders, and how very easily and quickly behaviors can be adopted and obsessed over. We were also shown the manipulative foundation of eating disorders as seen in the initial conversation between Dr. Beckham (played by Keanu Reeves) and Eli, as Eli stated she felt “healthy.” I can remember how many times I said this phrase, and the amount of times I actually led others to believe it. The film shed light on the reality of eating disorders, separating them from the common belief that they are only about the food (or lack of food) an individual eats. What we don’t see is what the film actually revealed: everything behind closed doors, the lengths at which one will go to hide their behaviors, and how one’s history or situation can lend itself to the development of an eating disorder.

Accuracy of interactions

To the Bone depicted the very accurate interactions between those struggling and their family members/friends. Often, the focus is solely on appearance, as seen by the comments made from Eli’s stepmom and mom. “You look like a ghost,” followed by gasps when Eli’s bones were revealed. There is a certain shock-factor that is revealed each family member’s face throughout the film, unintentionally triggering the eating disordered mind and maintaining the unhealthy thinking patterns that exist. At one point, her stepmom made a cake in the shape of a burger, used as a way to encourage Eli to eat. As anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder knows, this is the LAST thing that could possibly provide positive support. As her mom laughed at the “comical” aspect of the cake, Eli was left feeling like her experience was invalidated by being presented with a “simplistic” solution. The film depicts actions taken by family members that are well-intentioned, yet uninformed. I would recommend supporters to watch the film to gain a better idea of what NOT to say or how NOT to react.

Glamorization?

I was most worried about how much this film would glamorize eating disorders, making the very nature of them seem enticing. Let’s review a few scenes here: patients comparing how many hospitalizations they’ve experienced in a competitive manner, exposure to a viewer’s miscarriage, Eli’s development of lanugo and amenorrhea, puke bags hidden under her roommate’s bed, and the trading/bartering that occurred between patients to keep their behaviors a secret. Doesn’t sound glamorous – to the individual who never has been through an eating disorder. I thought about if I watched this film when I was at the worst point of my anorexia: what would I be thinking and feeling as I watched Eli engage in my same behaviors? I instantly knew the answer: I would feel very much attached to my behaviors, wanting to claim them as my very own, and also feeling a sense of competitiveness as I saw the other actors engage in behaviors. In my current state, I felt grateful for the life I have. However, I can’t help but think of the implications of this film for an individual who has not yet decided on recovery. While the film presents an ounce of hope towards the end, we’re still left with unanswered questions.

And so I shall conclude

The film, in my opinion, should be used as a form of eating disorder education rather than something to instill hope for recovery.