Netflix produces series and movies have become an entertainment source many people have come to look forward to. They’re gutsy and tell unique stories that you won’t find anywhere else. When I received the announcement to my email inbox that Netflix next slatted hit was a movie staring Lily Collins, about a women seeking treatment for anorexia, so many red flags were raised for me.As a trained therapist and researcher of eating disorders and their treatment, I’d like to add my professional observations to the current debate about this new Netflix feature. I, like many others, was riveted by ‘Stranger Things’, and countdown the days until the next season of ‘Orange is the New Black’, but ‘To the Bone’ raises significant concerns for me, someone who fights along side many clients trying to beat anorexia and other eating disorders.
Dangerous Lead Role
To the Bone follows a young woman’s journey through addressing her eating disorder and got no through treatment (or so I’ve heard, I’ve actually boycotted watching). Several months ago, the lead, played by Lily Collins, announced that she had suffered from an eating disorder during her teens. I’m always encouraged when celebrities share their experiences with various mental health issues because it shows e world that behind all the shiny surfaces we see in the media, they’re real people, with real problems like the rest of us. Mental health issues do not pick and choose who they impact, and I believe that celebrities speaking out serves to help reduce the stigma that still sadly exists.
Knowing this, however, as Collins takes the lead role of Ellen, who’s portrayed in the movie as clearly physically emaciated, is very concerning. While Collins has addressed media concern about her weight-loss for the role by claiming she had the support of a dietician throughout the process, I have two major concerns with this.
One, individuals with a history of an eating disorder have an increased susceptibility to relapse related to weight loss. Research conducted on soldiers during World War II revealed that when a body loses a significant amount of weight, below a healthy BMI, it has a bizarre tendency to trigger symptoms similar to anorexia nervosa. Without the intention of developing an eating disorder (they were testing how far the human body could be pushed), many of these male soldiers developed disordered eating behaviours and continued to suffer from unhealthy relationships with food for years to come. Given this information and Lily Collins’ history of an eating disorder, weight loss for this role seems like an incredibly risky decision.
Second, I’m concerned about the false and dangerous message this sends to individuals who may be at risk of developing an eating disorder. Lily Collins seeks to justify her weight-loss by suggesting the dietician monitored weight-loss is healthy. In reality, weight-loss to anorexic levels is unhealthy for anyone, regardless of the intended purpose, leading to significant physical health issues. This also sends the message that significant weight-loss can be healthily controlled. There is a misconception among individuals with eating disorders that they will be able to maintain control over their weight-loss and disorder when the disorder ends up being in control in the end. Overall, claiming that severe weight-loss is possible in a healthy manner is an irresponsible message to be sending. There is no “right” or “healthy” way to starve yourself.
Cheat Code to an Eating Disorder
Lily Collins has responded to the controversy ‘To the Bone’ has received by stating that she wanted to de-stigmatize eating disorders and tell her story through her portrayal of the lead character. While well-intentioned, it is reported that this movie quite graphically depicts eating disordered behaviours.
Many people believe that by exposing the nitty gritty aspects of a disorder the disorder will be demystified for the general public. Research has found that the opposite is actually true however. Early in the history of eating disorder prevention, youth would be educated on the symptoms and possible triggers to an eating disorder. Providing information on eating disorders, especially to adolescent audiences has been shown to actually increases disordered behaviour, rather than reducing it as intended. These findings have been replicated time and again. Since this time, prevention programs have vastly changed and no longer include the triggering information that is reportedly included in ‘To the Bone’.
If the intentions of ‘To the Bone’ were to educate and help the public in some way, I would have hoped that the writers, producers and all other creative individuals involved in the process would have researched and been aware of this phenomenon. Again, the production of this movie seems to have been incredibly and irresponsibly short-sighted.
Glamourizing the UnGlamourous
Another argument put forth by the creators of ‘To the Bone’, is that the movie doesn’t glamourize eating disorders, but instead reveals the dark side of the disorder.
However, eating disorders are not well understood by the general public, making them mysterious and intriguing. Mysterious and intriguing = glamorous in my experience, otherwise what would the interest be in creating a movie about eating disorders and broadcasting it for all Netflix users to view?
Secondly, almost any individual who’s suffered from an eating disorder can tell you, it doesn’t matter how dark the disorder becomes, and eating disorder has a way of sucking you in. Many clients initially believe that they are in control of their disorder and that they hype that erupts when they eventually arrive at a medical or mental health professional’s office is unnecessary. For many of those affected, and for a long time, the perceived benefits of an eating disorder outweigh the negatives. Don’t be fooled, there is a sense of glamour to be found in even the unglamourous parts.
So what can we do? Personally, as curious as I am to see this movie (see there’s intrigued created in even the most serious doubter), I’m boycotting this movie and refusing to watch. I will not allow the controversy that surrounds this film to add to its popularity. Netflix thrives on viewership, and they will not be able to add me to their list of viewers. Consider if this is a good choice for yourself as well. I strongly recommend that if you or someone you may be watching this film with experiences disordered eating or an eating disorder that you not watch.
Second, I have signed a petition to have the movie removed from Netflix. If you’d like to sign you can here.
Lastly, if you or someone you know is experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder, please reach out for help. There is a future without an eating disorder.
~ Meredith of Parallel Wellness