15 Aug The Trouble with Netflix’s New Movie “To The Bone”
Netflix’s latest film “To The Bone” features 20-year-old Ellen who suffers from Anorexia Nervosa. It was created as an attempt to demonstrate to the viewer the complexities of the disorder and the struggles and suffering Ellen experiences. However, this comes with extreme complications, ones that do not create understanding of the disorder, but rather that perpetuate stigma.
In short, Anorexia Nervosa is a mental disorder in which an individual practices unhealthy ways of losing weight, and has an intense fear of gaining weight. Does Ellen portray this? Yes, indeed she does, but is it in a way that is effective in ending the stigma of the mental disorder? Not really.
There are a few things I’ve struggled to understand while watching the film. Firstly, I find the lack of diversity amongst the lead roles unfair. By Ellen being a white female, it gives a false assumption that Anorexia Nervosa is only ever experienced by this kind (which is far from the truth). Ellen is also extremely thin, which does not account for many of the people with Anorexia who aren’t necessarily thin but still struggle with the eating disorder.
Secondly, the use of language in the film alone perpetuates stigma. “Calorie Asperger’s” was used in an attempt to show how people with Anorexia know their calorie content. Not only does this phrase depict that all people with Anorexia count calories (not always the case) but it also uses another disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) as an adjective to describe “Anorexic Tendencies”. This doesn’t make sense because even though “To The Bone” was aimed at portraying the struggle of Anorexia, it still continues the stigma of another disorder.
Finally, I feel uncomfortable about the fact that Lily Collins, who has a history with an eating disorder, played the role of Ellen because she was made to lose weight for the film. I don’t think it’s acceptable to make a person like Lily lose weight in an unhealthy way (because we all know how quickly these actors lose weight for films). This could put extreme strain on her recovery.
Besides the complications watching the film, it also creates problems on the Internet. “Pro-ana” are blogs online, generally on Tumblr, that encourage weight loss in extreme forms, and seemingly glorify Anorexia. These bloggers often use images of emaciated people in order to be motivated to lose weight. Ellen has become one of these “thinspo” images and has become a role model for most of Pro-ana blog owners. This is dangerous and can really impact the view of Anorexia as something you can “achieve” rather than a disorder that you can develop.
I think there has to be great care when dealing with films that portray mental disorders. Similarly to Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”, there is a major risk in reinforcing stigma and misunderstanding of the disorders or mental health issues when creating these films or series. I’m not saying we shouldn’t create films that depict mental disorder experiences. I think this can be really helpful. Rather, I’m saying that we have to be so careful in how we demonstrate certain mental disorder perspectives so that we don’t create triggering content for sensitive viewers.