You may or may not have heard of a film called ‘To the Bone’, that was released today on Netflix. However whether you were planning to watch it immediately or may spontaneously watch it at some point in the future I urge you not to and to please listen to my views now. And even if you’ve never heard of it and never will watch it, please read on to hopefully help you distinguish between negative and positive awareness in the media and the realities of Anorexia Nervosa.
The film centres around an Anorexia sufferer called Ellen, who is portrayed by Lily Collins. My primary reason for boycotting the film, besides from the potential triggers and detrimental affect it may have had on me and my wellbeing, is as follows. Lily Collins has suffered from an eating disorder in her past and it is therefore completely unethical for any film production team to ask her to lose weight and put herself at risk of relapsing or any of the negative side effects and complications that come along with being dangerously underweight – and yet they did it anyway. It would have been unethical to ask anyone to do that, but the fact that they asked someone who was already as risk to put themselves through something like that is completely unacceptable regardless of the fact that she agreed to do so or whether it actually causes her to relapse or not. In addition to this, the romance aspect of the plot is completely unrealistic. Not only are eating disorders much too complex to be ‘cured by love’ alone but in inpatient settings romantic relationships are forbidden and at any sign of these one of the people involved would most likely have to transfer hospitals as it would be seen as a safe-guarding risk. There are also many other unrealistic things about the characters and the hospital settings, all of which I noticed from the trailer alone so god only knows how unrealistic the entire film is.
Portraying all the characters with eating disorders as incredibly underweight and skeletal also continues to perpetuate the harmful stereotypes surrounding them. You can have an eating disorder at any weight, fat, thin and anything in between, despite what many people (including some health professionals) think. These ideas and views often mean that people don’t receive the help they so desperately need and deserve until it’s too late and that is something that needs to change, and fast.
Additionally, something I’ve spoken about before – not all awareness raised is positive awareness. Yes the film may have got people talking about mental health and Anorexia, which is generally a good thing, and yes it may mean that people are more aware of some of the negative things that come along with these but I don’t believe that these factors redeem the film in any way and it is still incredibly damaging and just not okay.
Films are made to entertain their viewers, not to educate audiences on complex and dangerous matters such as these. Because of this, the issues they feature tend to be romanticised and unrealistic. Even besides the triggering effects it could have on vulnerable people, I’m afraid that people are going to watch this and either be inspired to become like the characters they see in the film (copycat behaviours are all too common when difficult subjects are glamourized in the media), or that people will believe that what they see is the reality. And I can assure you that it is not.
Is it glamourous to have your basic human rights stripped from you in hospital? Are sections, forcing you to remain in places you most likely hate and are forcing you to do the things you fear the most, glamorous? Is having people hold you down while you scream and sob hysterically and they force a tube up your nose because you are literally too afraid to put anything, food or water in your mouth because you believe that people are conspiring to make you fat, something your head has convinced you is the worst thing in the world or even that you’re such a despicable human that you don’t deserve nourishment, you deserve to die, glamourous? Is it glamourous to be exhausted every day because you’ve stayed up all night doing exercise in attempt to stop your head tormenting you, something that never works as nothing is ever enough for anorexia but every time it suggests something new like that you do it, ’just in case’? Is developing multiple further mental health and physical health conditions glamorous? Is turning to self- harm or even suicide because you don’t want to live any longer with these conditions or because your head tells you, you have to because you’ve gained weight or eaten something, glamorous? Is watching your family and friends hurt because they’re being forced to watch you hurt yourself in all manner of ways and all they want to do is help but they just don’t know how anymore, glamorous?
I’m aware that I’ve just thrown a whole lot of rhetorical questions at you and I could continue in this vein for hours but I think I’ve made my point. Anorexia is not glamorous or romantic, it destroys lives and causes, so, so much pain, pain I can’t even begin to make non-sufferers understand; not only this but it has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders with 1 in 5 of it’s sufferers dying. It also really saddens me to have to write another post like the one I did when ’13 Reasons Why’ was released as it appears that the portrayal of mental health conditions in the media is becoming something of a trend. But needs must and I will not stop until I see the changes that the world so desperately needs and the media understands the difference between positive awareness and negative, damaging awareness. As always, thank you so much for reading and please share as widely as you can – lets all strive to be the change we want to see in the world.
Love and hugs,