EDIT: I recently wrote a new piece reviewing To The Bone for Fashion Fix Daily, with quite a different reaction. You can read it here:
What Life is Really Like In An Eating Disorder Hospital
Find out why I loved 13 Reasons Why, and why I’m terrified about To The Bone.The images in this post are embroidered artworks by the incredible Ana Teresa Barboza.
*TRIGGER WARSPOILER SPOLIER ALERTS*
13 Reasons Why is Netflix’s teen drama series based around a girl in high school who ends up comitting suicide and then telling her story ‘beyond the grave’ via 13 audio tapes. It has been highly controversial amongst viewers and reviewers, but I personally found the series incredibly powerful and poignant.
Yes it has it’s flaws – the kitsch, indie nature of using audio tapes in the 21st century is just one that got on my nerves for sure. A more serious one is perhaps the extremely graphic suicide scene that came without a trigger warning (although as a doctor once told me – real life doesn’t come with trigger warnings, but I did pop one in at the start of this post to avoid criticism from the other school of thought).
But the one highly contested “flaw” – the fact that the word ‘depression’ was not used at all- I contest with. For me, that was a relief. Less focus on the diagnosis and the official terminology, more focus on the real effects on the sufferer and those around her, that’s the way to go. Normalising the idea that so many people we know are going through this thing but may not necessarily be able to put a name, like ‘depression’ on it.
Personally I was never officially diagnosed with depression, because other problems, namely eating disorders, took priority. But years on, I still take a very high dose of anti-depressants daily, and I still have days where I feel that emptiness. And yet, I wouldn’t stick a label on that called depression. Many people have commented that, as shown in 13 Reasons Why, broken friendships, boy problems and high school popularity bullshit ‘don’t cause mental health problems’, but for me, these things really were a huge part of mine. Of course looking back to high school, the problems seem so petty and small, but at the time, they were everything.
Overall, I liked 13 Reasons Why a lot, although I fully understand that others find it problematic. The plot was logical, the acting was brilliant, the issues were realistic, and I truly believe that it allowed people to re-open up the conversation about how the mental health of teenagers can be so gravely affected by the issues adults may brush off as meaningless, and how we can prevent horrible situations like suicide before they become an option.
Now, onto Netflix’s new movie ‘To The Bone’, about a young woman with anorexia. The trailer has been circulating on Facebook lately, and is now llive on Netflix for the world to see. It has caused me to stay up late researching, arguing with strangers and imagining the very worst. I cannot even put into words how physically sick I felt after watching that trailer for the first time, and how deeply terrified I am for the release. And I know I’m not the only one, here are some comments I exchanged with other eating disorder sufferers with similar feelings:
- ‘I really hope they show the grim, insane reality not just “Oh I want to look pretty so I will count some calories and oh look how I’m underweight and oh look now I’m better”.’
- ‘Everything from the therapy to the hospital to the fainting and calories and all that shit- it is too relatable in a really uncomfortable way’
- ‘I found this really upsetting which came as a real shock. I don’t understand why it was necessary to make this film. I feel like in reality it will be watched by a lot of young impressionable people and people already struggling’
- ‘Despite anorexia being behind me, this also immensely upset me. I don’t believe it has been made for the right reasons. Instead, donating the money used to create the film into ED help services, mental health wards, true awareness projects etc would be 100x more worthwhile. Especially considering how little support is offered to the majority of cases due to lack of funding. I can imagine this will trigger those already suffering; upset families involved, or who have previously been involved with an ill son/daughter; and aid to the growth of horrid ‘pro ana’ ideas. When will people learn?’
‘I honestly can’t express how triggering this trailer is as someone who has suffered from this illness. I’m 100% certain my recovery from anorexia didn’t involve a romantic relationship, an uplifting soundtrack, and family jokes. More like screams, crying daily, ward lock downs and friends dying from the same illness that no 19 year old has to deal with.’
The trailer and movie just emphasis more the stereotype that anorexics have to be on the brink of death to be considered for inpatient treatment. I know I can speak for a lot of sufferers that the emphasis on weight makes People feel that unless you reach a low body weight you cannot have this illness when In fact EDNOS is more dangerous than anorexia. The thing with anorexia is that the illness is a sickness of the mind that is why it is a mental illness and weight loss is a side effect. I know I was at my worst when I was a healthy weight and it is like that for many.’
‘The thing that annoys me the most about shows and movies portraying this kind of illness is that it seems to show the person suddenly getting better in a matter of months when this isn’t the case it takes years to undo behaviors and thought patterns. When I first heard about this movie I was actually going to watch it as I felt because Lilly Collins and the director had been through the same thing they would do it justice but after watching the 3 minute video I feel like I’m not ready in my own recovery to watch it as it brings back so many disturbing memories from 3/4 years and like I’ve said it just emphasises the low body weight people associated with anorexia .’
These comments say it all. But, basically, for me ‘To The Bone’ is just far too close to home. It feels very wrong to be glamorizing anorexia, a life threatening and horrific disease, and creating a romantic comedy out of it (the trailer has all the cliches of this- but let me tell you that there is zero potential for romance when all you care about is how many calories you’ve eaten that day, both mentally and physically.
Plus how anti-feminist and old-fashioned is the idea that the love of a gorgeous boy can save the day? And to threaten the life of the actress to get ready for the role? Who apparently has suffered in the past from eating disorders? Absolutely irresponsible and insensitive, and I call total bullshit on ‘healthy weight loss monitored by a doctor’ – the long term effects are undeniable.
I do understand the aim is partly to raise awareness – but I can predict that the people who will be watching this film are already connected to the disorder and will feel deeply competitive – it’s the wrong audience. I know from personal experience than in the depths of anorexia, all I wanted to do was consume every film, tv show, book EVERYTHING about it, and use these as an excuse to both normalize and glamourize my behaviors.
Here is an official reaction video from Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity:
And here are some insightful articles about the film posted by The Guardian for a deeper exploration of the surrounding issues:
Overall, I really hope that the film been properly informed, because right now, just from the trailer, I am deeply concerned. What do you think?
Ruth @ Urbanity xxx