When pictures and trailer clips of a disturbingly thin Lily Collins began to show up in my news feed the other week, I resolved to avoid the movie To The Bone and all discussions about it. I wasn't going to watch the trailer, read about the movie, comment about it on social media, or write a blog post about To The Bone, the first motion picture about eating disorders due out in the US on July 14 on Netflix. I was determined to sit this one out and wait for the buzz to pass.
Collins plays a severely anorexic teenager named Ellen, and when I say "severely anorexic," I am not exaggerating. She's a haunting figure, barely there. She is painfully ill and her body is painful to take in. Even now, writing about her, I feel a pit in my stomach--a raw visceral reaction that comes from a sincere concern for the actress, the memory of and deep care for the women with whom I have been in treatment, and from an honest and personal knowing about the life she portrays in the film. Also unsettling for me is the fact that Lilly has a history of anorexia and bulimia. And now, here she is, as sick as can be again, reliving anorexia. For all these reasons, I was set on not getting caught up in To The Bone. I just couldn't see how this movie and the hype around it would support me in my life.
Low and behold, the very next day after explaining all of this to a friend, I received an email from The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia, asking me to appear as an alumna on a local news station with Samantha DeCaro, PsyD, Assistant Clinical Director at Renfrew to discuss my reaction to the 3-minute trailer for the film. Of course, I was excited (exhilarated really) and quite touched Renfrew invited me to do this. How could I not be? And I am grateful they did, because it turns out I do have some important things to say about the trailer, and I am actually a better woman, mother, yoga therapist, and member of the eating disorder recovery community for speaking out.
In the less than 48 hours I had to prepare for my 3-minute interview on Fox29, I watched the trailer several times, read articles about the film and its director and lead actress, had a heart to heart with my husband, and put out an inquiry on social media, asking people to tell me about their thoughts, opinions, and concerns about the trailer for To The Bone.
After hearing back from so many people, I felt secure in my initial reaction to avoid the film. Many people had similar responses to Collins' physical appearance. More than that, they were deeply disturbed that the actress has a history of anorexia and bulimia and reported she lost weight in a "healthy" way for the film. Like the others who wrote to me, I am very worried about the message this sends to the recovery community as well as teens and others who are vulnerable to messages about weight loss and the connection between one's self-worth and jean size. After more than 20 years of healing from anorexia, I can say with confidence, that it is highly not possible to lose weight in a "healthy" way. And there is clearly nothing healthy about Collins' body, and I am worried about the state of her mind after embodying this role in such a dramatic way.
Based on the trailer, anorexia is clearly front and center. I am concerned that anorexia has become the face of eating disorders in the media. The "thin ideal" has glamorized the disease, making it a one-dimensional disease about weight and food. I am hopeful (fingers and toes crossed) that To The Bone will give voice and attention to other types of eating disorders and that other bodies, genders, races, and a spread of ages will be represented. To exclude these bodies and voices would be a severe shortcoming on the part of the film and an enormous disservice to the eating disorder community, including the families and supports of those who struggle.
I am also hopeful that the movie will portray the complexity of eating disorders as well as capture the resiliency that is possible with proper treatment and dedication to one's healing. The joke in the trailer about "calorie Aspergers" is offensive, and not one appreciated by several of the people I corresponded with on social media. In the context of the movie, it may work. But as a one off, it makes me wonder if the complexity of anorexia will be brought to light.
Another concern is that the movie's ending will suggest that Ellen gets to go home cured. This just isn't the case in real life, and to give families and supports such false hope could be devastating for all parties involved. Let's hope that recovery isn't itself glamorized as a mountain that is conquered after a few weeks or months away at treatment.
Although I value Collins' lived experience and dedication to her career and mission to , I am concerned that To The Bone will fall short in its efforts to accurately educate. I worry it will trigger many and even set off a desire to be "sicker" in others. Still, I am hopeful that this film will initiate important conversations about eating disorders and their prevention and treatment. I am hopeful that the recovery community will come together with honest feedback about whether or not a motion picture in the first place is helpful. As my husband shared with me, a documentary is much more humane and real; let the individuals who are living it share in real time about their experiences.
There are many more concerns and hopes I have about To The Bone, but I want to turn this blog post over to you now. I'd like to hear your thoughts and opinions about the trailer. Please share in the comments or email me. It's only from learning from one another that we can grow stronger in our voice and more confident in our right to use it!
Sadly, the video clip of my interview is currently unavailable. Should it become available, I will be sure to update this post and share the interview with you.