I think it goes without saying that any TV show or film based around a mental health problem will be in some way controversial. There will never be one that everyone is 100% happy with. This is of course understandable considering mental health is a very sensitive and personal subject for the majority of the population.
When I first heard about ‘To The Bone’ it was only natural that I be curious and want to watch it myself. As someone who is now in a good place mentally and mostly recovered from anorexia I am always intrigued by any form of media that portrays the disorder. I’m a full supporter of anything that can help raise more awareness of eating disorders and anything that can help remove the stigma that is still seen today.
For me, ‘To The Bone’ was a mixed bag. There were a few things that they got right and a fair amount that maybe weren’t so right.
Essentially the film is about a young girl called Ellen (who then changes her name to Eli half way through) with anorexia who is sent to a ‘facility’ which is run by apparently one of the best doctors. This place isn’t like your typical inpatient facility. It’s a house where 6 other patients also live. This is set in the US and I’m not overly knowledgeable on inpatient treatment since I was lucky enough to not have to go through that but I feel like this is a tad bit shady. This is easily overlooked though as the general plot is decent and has the potential to shed a few tears (I counted at least 5 times where I cried but that could mostly be because I could relate). The film does an alright job at showing that not everyone with an eating disorder looks like they have one. A range of different characters resided in the house showing that the stereotypical visual of someone with eating problems is not true for everyone. However, the main character definitely portrays that visual and I feel as though it would have raised more awareness around this issue if the main character had ‘looked healthy.’ I can see why the director would want the main character this way though. It’s more visually effective and harrowing.
Something that I really did not agree with was the doctor’s approach to recovery. He states that he doesn’t want focus on food and numbers. The numbers is a fair point as someone with an eating disorder is typically obsessed with their weight, number of calories, fat etc. and that is something that you want to stop. The food part however I was very unimpressed. When I started the recovery process the very first thing my therapist was focused on was getting me to start eating more. It was done gradually, just small increases at a time. This is key in recovery. Food is key. In the film they are told that they can eat/not eat what they want as long as their all at the table at meal times. It is especially important that anyone that is underweight and/or not at their body’s set weight that they gain and you’re not going to gain unless you eat. Each patient should have an individual meal plan suited to where they are at in recovery. Their not going to get better mentally if their bodies are still malnourished. I was also not impressed by the way the doctor seemed to be quite harsh at times. There is one scene where he basically just makes Ellen feel more guilty than she already does. People with eating disorders aren’t stupid. We know that what we’re doing is wrong. We know that what we’re doing not only effects us but the people around us. We know that we are essentially killing ourselves but when you’re mentally ill you find it almost impossible to stop. What we do not need is to be made to feel even more guilty and feel even more to blame. This can potentially worsen the situation as it is common for people with eating disorders to further punish themselves when they feel negative emotions. That could be skipping an extra meal or pushing themselves to exercise for another hour both of which can be incredibly dangerous and even more detrimental to both their physical and mental state.
Finally, something that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable was the fact that Lily Collins who portrayed Ellen actually lost weight for the role. Now, I know that actors change their appearance all the time for different roles but this seemed incredibly stupid and dangerous. Lily herself has been open to her struggles with an eating disorder and despite being in a good place mentally you can still trigger old thoughts and behaviours. I even found myself at points wishing that I was thinner again while watching it before telling myself not to be so stupid and eating a snack bar. Even though Lily wanted to lose the weight in order to capture the true visual of what her younger self was like when struggling with the disorder, she should have been told no. I also don’t think it sets a good example for those younger viewers who are watching it and may be struggling.
Overall the film itself was a good watch and I enjoyed it. It holds the potential to make you both laugh and cry. There were just a few details that I think could have been taken on a little better. I felt as if I could relate to the characters and that shows that the portrayal of these patients was right in some ways. If you know that you will not find it triggering, it’s definitely worth watching.