Does “To the Bone” hit too close to home for eating disorder survivors?

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Source: Netflix/”To the Bone”

When Netflix’s latest upcoming original movie “To the Bone” premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, it was hailed as a “deeply personal” story about the dangers of anorexia. However, some experts and eating disorder survivors suggest the film may hit dangerously close to home in its portrayal of eating disorders.

The movie stars Lily Collins as a young woman with anorexia struggling to recover from the eating disorder with the help of her doctor played by Keanu Reeves. It also parallels the real lives of both Collins and writer, producer, and director of the film, Marti Noxon.

The following trailer may be triggering to people living with or recovering from eating disorders

While the cast and crew of the film say they are attempting to educate the public about the struggles of living with anorexia, those who have watched the recently released trailer say it is potentially triggering and glamorizing the mental illness.

As eating disorder specialist Jennifer Rollin explained in an article for Huffington Post, “the problem with depicting a story that details someone’s struggle with an eating disorder is that it can quickly become a ‘how to’ manual for those who are already struggling or have the underlying genetic predisposition towards an eating disorder.”

The trailer includes a number of potentially triggering images and behaviors such as discussing the specific calorie counts of food, showing a dangerously emaciated lead actress, and highlighting behaviors characteristic of eating disorders like compulsive exercise, food restriction, and underplaying the severity of the disorder with messages like “I’ve got it under control.”

The film’s visceral depiction of anorexia has led some groups like Project Heal to release “Frequently Asked Questions” ahead of their screenings which recommend “carefully evaluating where you are in recovery before deciding to view this film.”

Co-founder of Project Heal, Kristina Saffran, explained the decision to show the film with these warnings by telling The Chicago Tribune, “Triggers are everywhere in eating disorder recovery. In many ways, it would have been impossible to make any sort of film that didn’t have the potential to trigger somebody who is struggling.”

Though some say the film could be dangerous by realistically portraying anorexia, others have criticized the trailer for presenting a “stereotypical” view of the eating disorder.

“The trailer reinforces stereotypes and myths about people who have anorexia,” says Rollins. “It’s depiction of someone with anorexia as an emaciated, Caucasian, young female, who is starving herself to ‘feel in control,’ is not representative of the variety of people impacted who struggle with this disease.”

It is true that the trailer focuses largely on Collins, a young, female who embodies the typical view of eating disorders in the film. However, early reviews note that the full film also includes people of color and other body sizes with other forms of eating disorders like bulimia and binge eating disorder.

In response to the wave of backlash against some elements of the trailer, director Marti Noxon explained she attempted to take great care to present a realistic portrayal of eating disorders in a safe way.

“I know firsthand the struggle, isolation and shame a person feels when they are in the grips of this illness,” she explained on Twitter. “In an effort to tell this story as responsibly as we could, we spoke with other survivors and worked with Project Heal throughout the production in the hopes of being truthful in a way that wasn’t explosive.”

“To the Bone is just one of the millions of ED stories that could be told in the US at this very moment,” she added. “My goal with the film was not to glamorize EDs, but to serve as a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions.”

Until the film is released Friday, it is too early to say whether Noxon succeeds with her goals with “To the Bone”. Largely positive early reviews suggest the finished product may deliver a more nuanced take on eating disorders than the trailer, with a more enduring message encouraging those living with eating disorders to remain hopeful that they too can recover.

“To the Bone” features many signs and symptoms of disordered eating and eating disorders. If you recognize these signs in yourself or a loved you, our Pathway program may be able to help. Call us 888-298-4673 to speak to a professional who can answer any questions you have and see if treatment is the right path for you. 

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