This blog is going to be a little different than usual. I want to talk about all the thoughts I had on Netflix’s new movie To The Bone. Before you read any further, if you have not watched the movie and do not want to spoil it for yourself DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT!
You have been warned.
The second thing I want to address is that there might be some material that could potentially be triggering to those who have suffered or are currently suffering from an eating disorder (ED). I am going to try my best not to talk about specific things such as weight or tactics that the patients used in the movie. However, for some individuals, just reading a generic article about EDs can be a trigger. I would suggest not reading on if this is the case for you.
If you have not caught on by some of my other blogs, EDs, body image, and self care are things I am extremely passionate about. There are so many people who suffer. I think that our society as a whole wants to sweep these topics under a rug and pretend that these issues are not a big deal. EDs are a huge deal and this movie brings up the perfect opportunity to talk about them. I will preface this by saying I am not a doctor and my opinions are not facts. I do not expect everyone who reads this article to agree with me. This blog is just my opinion on what the movie got me thinking about.
Let’s get into the movie shall we?
If you do not know or have not heard about this movie it follows a young woman named Ellen, played by Lily Collins, and her journey with anorexia nervosa. Ellen has been in and out of treatment 3 times before and it follows her into a 4th treatment center with a “less than traditional” doctor named Dr. William Beckham played by Keanu Reeves. This movie was written and directed by Marti Noxon. Marti, along with Lily Collins, suffered from an eating disorder in her younger life.
This movie has been a controversial topic of conversation since the trailer came out a few weeks ago. After Netflix released 13 Reasons Why it is no surprise To The Bone was put under a harsh light from the start. No matter how you feel about 13 Reasons Why, the Netflix series got the conversation rolling about suicide. I believe that To The Bone will do the same, but for EDs.
Before we get into the meat of the story I want to say that this movie is just one person’s take on what it was like having an ED. Everyone who suffers from an ED has a different experience. I think people are getting so defensive and critical about this movie partly because it matches some individuals’ experience and it is the opposite of others.
Lets open with the things the movie did well. It was honest. There was no holding back on showing the things an individual will do while they are suffering from an ED. Some people are going to say that it was too triggering and could potentially give someone else tips for their own ED. This may be true, however you cannot help people understand the levels of an ED if you are not willing to go all the way there. There is an element of responsibility when watching something like this. If you feel it might tempt you to dive back into those behaviors then you have to do the right thing for yourself and not watch it. If you really want to watch it, but think it could be too much, I would suggest not watching it alone. Watch it with a friend, parent, spouse, or someone who can help you through those feelings while you are watching. You can always turn off the movie if those feelings become too much. I have heard viewers say that it exaggerates behaviors. These people might not have ever been around someone with an ED. The movie is pretty accurate with food rituals and things of that sort.
Another thing I love about this movie is that there is a character in treatment who is male! This is the first movie I have seen of this topic that has a male character with a large role. There were different genders, ages, and disorders. Not everyone in the treatment facility had anorexia.
Along with being honest about behaviors, it was honest in showing some of the consequences of having an ED. In the treatment center there is a girl named Megan who is pregnant. She was doing well, gaining weight she needed to keep the baby healthy. While she was struggling with the weight she was gaining, she was focusing on getting healthy for her baby. After she made it through the first trimester the group had a baby shower for her, however, later that evening Megan had a miscarriage and lost the baby. This is not uncommon for those who suffer with long term EDs because of the havoc it has on the body. These are hard things to hear, but I am so glad the movie was not afraid to go there with it.
The last thing I want to talk about that this movie did well was explaining the fact that EDs are not about the food. It is never about the food. It is not about being thin enough. Food is a way for a sufferer to either control something when they feel out of control or a way to numb or distract themselves from feelings they are not ready to deal with. Sometimes it is not that they are not ready to deal with feelings, but that they do not know how to deal with whatever is going on in their life. Food and weight are the symptoms of something much deeper happening with their brain. This comes up during one of the group therapy sessions toward the beginning and I was so happy that this movie addressed this fact, because so many people do not understand this at all.
Now, to move on to the things I thought could use some work.
The treatment center meal times were extremely unrealistic from what I have seen. In the movie the patients have the choice to eat or not eat during meal times. If they eat, they get points that affords them certain privileges and if they do not eat they earn no points. I get what they were trying to go for with the idea that people will not recover until they want to, but this is just not how it happens. From the centers that I have visited people in, eating at meal times is not optional. You have to eat. It did not show much of the actual treatment at all. There was some group discussions shown and one family therapy session, but other than that, not too much.
The movie did not speak to the fact that getting into a treatment center to begin with is extremely difficult. Insurance companies make it all but impossible to get help. Earlier I mention that EDs are not about the food, and the weight of a patient should not matter, but the parameters that the insurance companies put on people to be able to receive treatment are almost all about weight. It is easier for an underweight person to get help from insurance, but as soon as that person gets to an acceptable weight their insurance will stop paying. The problem with this is that food and weight are just the side effects of what is happening in their brain. If you do not take care of the problem going on in their life, you are not going to fix the food issue. Another thing working against patients is the cost of treatment. It is astronomical. Part of that is because of all the different aspects to treatment. A patient will have individual therapy with a psychologist, group therapy more than likely twice a day, daily meetings with nurses, meetings with their doctor, and meetings with a nutritionist/dietician. I hope one day insurance will make changes as to how they evaluate what it means to be recovered, but I do not see that happening anytime soon.
While the movie did show other kinds of EDs, this movie was another example of the extreme side of anorexia. A young white extremely underweight woman is what we have been shown for many years to be the picture of an ED. While this is an accurate description of some sufferers, the majority of eating disorder sufferers are of normal weight or in some cases even above average weight. This “ideal” of what an eating disorder body looks like is dangerous. If we ever want to make it easier for people to receive help, we need to get away from this thinking that individuals only need help when they reach a dangerously low weight. The earlier we can get people treatment the more likely they will fully recover, so this thinking really boggles my mind!
I do wish the movie would have gone into the mental side of the disease more. This is extremely hard for people to grasp who have never suffered or known someone who has suffered. However, I realize it is very difficult to portray the internal conflict of EDs.
The last thing I wish they would have done was provide resources at the end of the movie for people who are suffering, for people who have friends they think are suffering, or for parents. The National Eating Disorders Association has so many great resources at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or just google NEDA.
Overall, I really thought the movie did a great job with the subject matter. There were a few moments at the end where I was thinking okay this is a little interesting, but not in a good way. Other than that, I think it was worth the watch. The actors did a great job. I applaud Marti for putting part of her story out in the world. That takes major courage.
Again, however you feel about this movie it opened the door to have real honest conversation about eating disorders. It has given people the opportunity to share their own experiences. Remember while you watch that this is only one person’s story in a sea full of stories and you can only put so much into an hour and a half movie. Also… remember that it is a movie for entertainment, not a documentary for educational purposes.