Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders, Eating Disorder Behaviours
I didn’t want to watch Netflix’s new movie, ‘To the Bone’. In fact, I told myself, and many others, that I wouldn’t watch it. The entire concept of the movie was triggering for me. Once again, a beautiful, privileged, white, skeletally-thin female was depicted as the face of an eating disorder (ED) and the little voice in my head tried to tell me I wasn’t “sick enough”. This stereotypical narrative is exactly what I used to convince myself that I didn’t have a problem. “I don’t look like them, so I must not have a problem” is what I told myself while I engaged in ED behaviours untreated for 3 years.
I also recognized that I have been feeling quite triggered lately, as I tend to feel during high times of stress, and so I thought it would be best for my self-care if I kept my distance from ‘To the Bone’.
This would have been the right decision for me.
Unfortunately, I think I was struggling even more than I realized because before I knew it, I was watching the movie and if I’m being honest, I was watching it for very unsafe reasons. Thankfully, I’ve come far enough in my recovery that about 25 minutes in, I was able to stop, take a 24-hour break to evaluate if I could safely push aside the ED part of my mind that wanted to use this movie as fuel for relapse. After seriously considering abandoning it (a completely valid option), I decided I wanted to continue and ensured I made the connections I needed to be safe.
Even still, parts of the movie were very difficult to watch. I heard thoughts I’d repeated to myself, I saw behaviours I’d done, I felt the pain I had caused my family. It was tremendously triggering. However, to my surprise and only very briefly, it was also faintly hopeful (in a very very cheesy dream sequence kind of way).
Okay, now’s probably a good time to mention * spoiler alert *
In my opinion, the first 100 minutes are only (somewhat) helpful to those who do not suffer from/ who are not triggered by ED behaviours. The last 5ish minutes felt a little different for me. Although it was VERY unrealistic (she probably should have died climbing that mountain), the fact that Ellen survived at the end gave me hope. She saw how close she was to dying and managed to pull herself out and get help again. Yes, it was completely cliché but to be honest, it helped me feel hope and I will take hope over the desire to spiral into old habits any day.
That being said, the initial 100 minutes of discomfort that I endured and the triggers I experienced were not at all worth the 5 minutes of hope I felt at the end (I could have watched a Disney movie instead). I recognize now that I wasn’t in a safe place initially and that I likely shouldn’t have watched the movie at all.
But I did, and I am trying to make positive on it by getting help and talking about it. For example, I want to talk about what wasn’t in the film:
- a lead character of non-stereotypical race/age/gender/sexual orientation, etc. (these were only represented in the background and through underdeveloped story lines),
- someone who did not have the privilege to access treatment (four times),
- the reality of in-patient treatment, including the notion that treatment can work
- representation of “non-traditional” eating disorders like orthorexia, EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), and body dysmorphia
- resources like the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and helplines
- a more accurate depiction of weight/ BMI in individuals suffering from EDs (in reality, very few individuals with EDs reach such a low weight)
To the last point, I really wish Lilly Collins didn’t lose 20lbs for the film given her history of EDs. She would have represented a much larger and marginalized population of ED suffers at a stable weight. By losing 20lbs, Collins reinforces the “not sick/thin enough to have an ED” mindset.
It sucks that so much of this story conforms to society’s expectations of eating disorders but I also recognize that this is reality for some individuals (like, the film director for example) and that these struggles are valid. I think the movie does a good job at depicting the internal struggles in the minds of people with EDs, the imminency of death, and the ways in which EDs affect the entire family. For these reasons, I think this film is better suited for those without an ED.
Luckily, this movie has indirectly sparked many conversations about the underrepresentation of eating disorders in the media and the ways in which it could have broken boundaries. In my opinion, this is the only true benefit ‘To the Bone’ has had for ED suffers.
So, with that said, for anyone considering watching the movie: please listen to your gut, read others’ perspectives, and be safe. If you think this movie is going to be triggering and harmful for you, it probably will be and it is SO not worth it. Ask yourself why you are considering watching the movie. Reflecting back, I was NOT safe and I should NOT have watched it. I am being honest about this because I suspect I am not alone in the way I chose to watch the movie and I am getting help to address that.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an ED, click here for resources/ support.