Following Up on To the Bone

Alright folks, let’s finally talk about “To the Bone.” Yes, there are a lot of spoilers ahead.

I wrote about the Netflix original movie on June 23 sharing my reservations and excitement. I was hopeful the movie wouldn’t glamorize eating disorders and would be respectful to millions in recovery. The trailer seemed promising and I identified with it as someone who has suffered from anorexia for years.

I didn’t watch the movie immediately when it came out on July 14 because I ultimately took my own advice: don’t watch the movie unless you are certain you are in a strong spot in your recovery.

That week I wasn’t. Recovery is an ebb and a flow; some weeks I’m fine and others it’s like day one. I struggled with my mental health and knew the movie would not make any of that better, so I held off until just a few days ago.

Boy, am I glad I did. Particularly at the beginning of the movie my heart was in my stomach. It was so easy to recognize myself in Lily Collins’ character, Ellen, for the same reasons I saw it in the trailer.

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While I will say that overall I did not like the movie, I do not think anorexia or eating disorders were glorified, as others have argued since the movie came out. For me it was a stark reminder of what I had come from and how hard I had fought to be in recovery, but I of course recognize everyone was different.

I thought the movie did a good job at exploring some issues with eating disorders, like the difficulty in developing and maintaining relationships with others while you are suffering from an eating disorder. I saw this in Ellen’s strained relationship with her stepmother and her biological mother, in her relationship with her sister and her near-romantic relationship with a boy she meets in recovery.

Anorexia and bulimia are often portrayed the same: a skinny, beautiful white girl.

I also thought the movie did well with talking about the complexity of reasons behind one suffering from an eating disorder. Those who have a loved one who suffers from an eating disorder are constantly searching for reasons or asking why, and so are the people with an eating disorder.

When Ellen’s mom tries to pinpoint the reasons why her step daughter is doing this, the counselor played by Keanu Reeves explains to her that searching for a reason will just drive her mad. Ellen’s sister asks her why she does it and Ellen simply looks back confused because it’s often impossible to name why.

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To be completely honest with you all, I still don’t know what exactly set my eating disorder off or why it continued. To try to pick one single reason would be untruthful, because there’s a myriad of them. Eventually, I even think those reasons melt away and you end up continuing because it becomes comforting, in a way, to starve yourself or overeat or purge. The actions become safety blankets.

Finally, the movie explored the toxic eating disorder internet communities and some of the bad that can come from them *cough* looking at you, Tumblr *cough*. In the movie Ellen’s artwork becomes popular on the Tumblr “thinspo” community, ultimately resulting in a girl taking her life and sending her a suicide note.

The toxicity of the online eating disorder community isn’t something new; it was one of the first places I turned to when I was struggling with my eating disorder. It’s comforting to find others who are battling the same illness, but it quickly becomes a cycle of people comparing themselves to other disordered people and using those comparisons to fuel an unhealthy path.

There were certain things the movie could have done differently, in my opinion, and the first and greatest of those is DIVERSITY.

I appreciated there was a male in the inpatient program, and there was one black woman suffering from an eating disorder (I assume from a single comment the girl made in the movie that it was a binge-type disorder) but there is where the diversity stops.

Anorexia and bulimia are often portrayed the same: a skinny, beautiful white girl. Rarely do we explore how those mental disorders manifest in minority communities, how different cultures deal with the diseases and the unique challenges minority men and women may face in recovery.

Additionally, I would have liked to have seen the different types of eating disorders discussed in further detail. As I mentioned, at one point two of the girls staying in the inpatient program with Ellen are shown briefly discussing bulimia and binge eating disorders, but the conversation is incredibly limited (if I recall correctly, two to three sentences). There is little exploration of other types of eating disorders outside of anorexia.

I know the point of the movie was to explore anorexia, but by including a slightly diverse group of eating disordered individuals in the movie I think an opportunity was missed in not exploring those disorders as well. There are some common misconceptions, particularly with binge-type eating disorders, and those eating disorders are often brushed to the side and not taken as seriously by the greater population as well as the eating disordered community itself (we see this briefly when Ellen’s friend Luke chastises the other girls for trying to understand what the “rexies” are going through).

Finally, I appreciated the way the director and writers attempted to throw in some dark humor to the movie. Eating disorders are a very serious, very depressing topic, and I think the humor that was occasionally in the movie related to the topic without cheapening it, in most cases.

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However, there were some points where the movie just got ridiculous, to the point where I became angered and wondered if the director did think the entire thing a joke. The point I most distinctly remember this is when Ellen’s mother bottle fed her in some strange attempt to bond. What on earth was that? And how did that very strange exercise somehow magically heal Ellen’s disordered mind and convince her to return to the inpatient program? I thought that whole scene was distastefully done (and was just weird, regardless of the type of movie).

My biggest takeaway from the movie remains the point I made in my first post about it: do not watch this movie unless you feel safe doing so. Do not watch this movie if you are currently struggling with your eating disorder or if you are not in a strong place in your recovery.

The topic is triggering, as are the scenes where you can see how thin Collins really got for the role (a topic I won’t touch in-depth here because so many others have, but a focus on losing weight for ANY anorexia survivor, actress or not, is incredibly unhealthy). Despite my waiting until I was certain I was in a strong state of mind, the movie was difficult for me to watch. Do so with caution.

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  1. Cynthia Hiebert

    I loved the scene with the mother feeding her as though she were a baby. It was deeply moving and made me love the movie.

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