A premature reflection on the movie, “To The Bone” (from someone that's been there)
July 14, 2017
Since the release of the trailer for the new Netflix movie, To the Bone, I’ve seen and read my fill of warnings and negativity in my social media feed and decided it was time to share a different perspective.
I was going to wait until after I saw the movie (probably the more responsible thing to do because it’s kind of hard to just watch the trailer and speak intelligently on an entire movie) but since so many medical professionals were already doing it, I thought I would jump in and share my perspective from someone who’s experienced an eating disorder and not someone who studies them.
Will I watch this movie? Yes
Do I feel like it’s appropriate and safe for everyone who’s ever suffered from an eating disorder? No
This year marks my 10th year recovered from an eating disorder. I’m in a place where I have the ability to be an observer, practice empathy and understand where someone struggling is coming from while steering clear from relapse. The competition of being “the best” at my eating disorder faded a long time ago. The lure of obsessively counting calories to control my weight has been replaced with positive life goals and responsibilities. I have so many other ways to cope with life’s struggles that starving myself to numb out serves no purpose anymore. I’ve made it to the other side. But with that said, recovery comes in stages and it took me a long time to get here. The eating disorder can remain attractive for years into the recovery process, which is why relapse is so common. At the end of the day it comes down to personal responsibility and the reasons behind deciding to watch this movie.
What’s my honest reason? Because as strange as it may seem, some of my life’s most ground breaking moments happened while in treatment and during my darkest hours of life. Because I celebrate the woman I’ve become through all my trails and tribulations brought about by my eating disorder. Because I had the honor to meet and make friends with some of the most authentic, smart and bright people I’ve ever known while going through the trudges of recovery. Because if I can’t look back and find gratitude for my eating disorder, then all my suffering and hard work to recover feels void of meaning and purpose. Because experiencing an authentic laugh for the first time in over a decade while in treatment and discovering that my true self was not completely lost were some of the most beautiful moments of my life.
The Truth About Triggers
The sad fact about recovering from an eating disorder is that most things in our 24 hour social media feed, female body objectifying, size discrimination masked as health conscious world is indeed triggering. It sucks but it’s true. Triggers are everywhere and unless you’ve experienced an eating disorder first hand, it is difficult to understand the amount of work it takes to navigate the world we live in in order to steer clear of all of them. It’s nearly impossible. The first thing I did when I returned from treatment was cancel my cable TV along with all of my magazine subscriptions. Later in my recovery with the rise of social media I realized that taking and posting a lot of selfies only amplified my eating disorder voice so I limit the amount of self photos online. I listen to a lot of talk radio and podcasts centered around recovery and read books and blogs on empowerment and self help. I don’t look at nutrition labels or eat at restaurants that publically display their calorie counts like a badge of honor. I learned how to protect myself from anything that might give my eating disorder ammunition for a sneak attack. It was (and still is) A LOT of work. And you know what? It’s worked. If someone is committed to their recovery, they will do what it takes to protect themselves from anything they can perceive as a possible trigger. It’s important to remember to be patient with recovery. It is a long spiral down and it’s a hell of a climb back up.
Am I excited about this movie and glad it was made? Yes
Am I excited to know the lead actress had to lose weight in order to portray her character? No
Learning that the lead actress, Lily Collins, had to lose weight for this film was saddening. She has openly shared how she suffered from an eating disorder as did the creator of the film and it’s this fact that the weight loss piece is so disturbing. A statement was recently put out saying she lost weight in a “healthy” way (what ever means for someone with a history of anorexia) and that dieticians and doctors strictly monitored her. Here is the part that is saddening; a film that claims to have so much insight and knowledge about eating disorders and wants to be an advocate for awareness and progress cannot also honestly believe there is a “healthy” way for a former anorexic to lose weight. There is no “healthy” or safe way for a former anorexic to lose weight. Period. It’s scary to think of the impact it may have had on Lily Collin’s recovery. Which, to be honest, I have no remote idea of the impact it had, I can only speculate.
On the other hand, at the end of the day this is a film and a choice for all who were involved. Lily Collins made a choice to accept the role when she could have said no. She was not forced to be in this film. If she felt like she couldn’t take this on safely and her doctors felt like it was dangerous for her health then it was her responsibility to step away from the project. But if she felt like she was in a place where she could handle it then who am I to talk? As far as her weight loss triggering those who watch the movie, please refer to my opinion on triggers earlier.
Does this movie perpetuate the “white privileged girls get eating disorders” stereotype? I’m not sure.
Is the main character in the film a female? Yes. Is she white? Yes. There is no denying these two things are true. However, for all the people getting upset over this fact, I feel like they’ve failed to notice all the other people in the treatment facility with her. Many of them are different sizes and shapes and yes, there is a male with an eating disorder portrayed in this film. Of all the films done on eating disorders so far, I cannot recall any of them having a male in treatment (so why is everyone ignoring this part of the trailer). Yes, I understand that the lead is still the stereotypical eating disorder patient but could we please acknowledge steps in the right direction? Regardless of what stereotypes it perpetuates or not, this movie will create more discussion, awareness and compassion to those struggling. Ending the stigma surrounding eating disorders and all mental illnesses remains the biggest and most important hurdle we face. The more these are normalized and talked about, the closer we get to jumping over that hurdle.
Does this movie glorify eating disorders? Possibly, but if you have not experienced an eating disorder, please do not tell me my eating disorder is something that should always be seen as a dark, sad, trauma filled experience (unless you want me on antidepressants for all eternity).
Like I mentioned earlier, I experienced many life-changing moments while in treatment and trudging through my eating disorder recovery. As I’ve moved from in recovery to now recovered, I choose to see more of the positive changes the eating disorder has created for my life rather than what it’s robbed me of. I choose to see the person I am so proud to have become because of my struggle. Yes, it was scary, yes it was life threatening and yes it’s something that I do not wish upon anyone, but I must find the good in my struggle in order to make peace with myself, forgive myself and rise up from where I once was in order to keep moving forward instead of living in overwhelming regret for a past life I know I will never ever get back. I see the healing of my entire family during my recovery process. I feel the empowerment I now have as a result of my eating disorder and I am grateful. Is this glorifying my eating disorder? I don’t know. But I do know that choosing gratitude rather than shame when talking about and remembering my eating disorder is what keeps me strong in my recovery and fierce about advocating awareness and compassion.
At the end of the day this movie, like every movie, is a choice. It was a choice by the creator, director, actors and actresses to create and produce and it is also a choice of the public whether or not they will view it. Eating disorders are not choices but recovery is and so are our own personal actions. One of the most empowering aspects of my recovery is the knowledge that each and every day I have the power of choice and have the courage and strength to make the choice that best honors my recovery. One must consider their own personal awareness and responsibility when deciding on whether or not to view this film.