When I first saw the trailer for Netflix's new film "To The Bone" my mind kicked into overdrive and my stomach started churning. The plot line was all too familiar. Girl has eating disorder. Girl insists she's fine. Girl literally tries to kill herself through excessive exercise and restriction. Support system has no idea things are so bad. Things get REAL bad, real fast.
This isn't to say that there are a lot of movies out there about eating disorders. I am aware that if you were to scroll through your Netflix looking for a film, disordered eating would be one of the least common movie topics. It's not exactly something that gets a lot of visibility. Truthfully, I hope most people can't relate to the plot line; I hope it is something totally new. Because odds are if "To The Bone" has a familiar ring to it, you have some sort of connection to eating disorders. And for that, I am so sorry.
As someone who has been personally affected by an eating disorder, attended treatment, and attempted recovery more than once, the trailer for the movie raised some obvious concerns. Will it help or hurt the targeted population? If it is meant to raise awareness like it claims to be, will the film accurately portray eating disorders, dispel myths, and bring about a productive conversation? Or will it serve to promote and glamorize eating disorders, only furthering confusion about the condition as a whole?
I will wait to pass judgments until I watch the film, given that the director developed the film as a narrative of her own experiences with anorexia and bulimia and Collins is reportedly recovered herself, but I won't hesitate to take this opportunity to start a conversation. "To The Bone" could be the greatest, most meaningful movie about eating disorders to date, but it is getting one thing WAY wrong: you don't have to be sickly thin to have a serious eating disorder.
As voiced by psychotherapist and eating disorder expert, Jennifer Rollin, in a piece featured in the "Huffington Post", "there is no such thing as purposeful 'healthy weight loss' for someone with a history of anorexia." Having Lily Collins, the lead actress in the film lose weight to play the role of Ellen, a teenager battling anorexia after her own challenges with an eating disorder is misguided and dangerous.
As someone in recovery, I know that any sort of weight loss is a huge threat to both medical and psychological stability. Weight loss, even with "good" intent, is an easy way to trigger a relapse or return to disordered thoughts and behaviors.
In addition to threatening Collins' recovery, losing weight for the role of Ellen only further perpetuates misconceptions about eating disorders. While anorexia nervosa is often accompanied by substantial weight loss and some sufferers may appear severely malnourished, eating disorders do not discriminate by size.
Research has shown that 40-60 percent of individuals seen in treatment centers, such as the group home shown in the film, are dealing with Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) meaning that the disorders are clinically significant and still life threatening, yet individuals may not necessarily "look" sick.
When making an effort to spread awareness, it is important to make sure you don't cross into the territory of glamorizing the illness. Even if the film was created with good intent, the trailer makes eating disorders out to be a laughing matter, with comments about "calorie Asperger's" and sarcastic remarks about drinking diet soda.
Because of Collins' sickly appearance in the movie, the trailer appears to be turning into something that is indirectly promoting eating disorders with comments about how "beautiful" Collins looks malnourished and how people wish they looked like her. Honestly, the comments alone are enough to make me terrified of what is to come after the film is released July 14.
Knowing all of these things and going into it with a vague sense of what the film is going to hold, I still plan to watch "To The Bone." However, I will be watching through a critical lens. In the midst of my illness, I would have watched the film for all the wrong reasons but now, I'm watching to see if Netflix can get it right.
If "To The Bone" can tap into the complex nature of eating disorders and provide a story of hope, that would be fantastic. We need more things like that. However, if the movie is anything like the trailer, it may do more harm than good.