‘To The Bone’ sheds light on bone-chilling realities of eating disorders

Photo courtesy of Digital Spy

Story by Kristen Brothers / Contributing Writer

It’s no secret that Netflix has little fear in tackling difficult topics across the board, as has been showcased recently with their popular original series, “13 Reasons Why,” the story of a high school girl’s decision to take her own life. The issue of creating entertainment for teenagers and young adults centered on difficult topics has stimulated quite a bit of controversy and raises a serious question: How do you bring awareness to real topics without glorifying them? As realistic as shows may be, they can never represent the true reality that those who suffer from eating disorders go through. If you would like more information on anorexia nervosa or a lesser-known eating disorder, ARFID, common in young children and adolescents, the Oliver-Pyatt Centers have plenty of professional help.

Recently, Netflix teamed up with director Marti Noxon to shed light on another serious topic for young people. “To the Bone,” a Netflix original, focuses on eating disorders and stars Lily Collins, Carrie Preston, Lili Taylor and Keanu Reeves.

Released for viewing July 14th, this Netflix original holds a very special place in Noxon’s heart, as the movie is actually based on her own battle with anorexia nervosa. And while many of the extra details are added for the overall flow of the plot, the details of the disorders are too true to her experience and eerily realistic. Collins convincingly stars in the role of twenty-year-old Ellen who is battling severe anorexia nervosa. The film raises awareness surrounding eating disorders in teenagers as well as eating disorders in general, providing viewers with necessary information.

Completely consumed with her disease, Ellen can spout off how many calories are in any dish, which is referred to as “Calorie Asperger’s” by the cast.

Ellen’s home life is less than perfect, and her family’s concerns for her stem rather selfishly around their own problems and disagreements with one another, only pushing Ellen further into a downward spiral with her disease. Ellen finds the one place that she can truly embrace who she is in her artwork where she draws anorexic portraits and posts them to Tumblr. However, her drawings have caused much controversy, and the parents of one of her fans has attributed their daughter’s suicide to her drawings. Ellen has tried rehab program after rehab program and doctor after doctor, and still she lacks the motivation and willpower to get better. That is until Ellen’s perfectionist stepmom miraculously gets her in with one of the most prestigious doctors and therapists in the country, giving her one last shot.

Ellen is required to live in the rehab home with a handful of other patients who are also battling severe disorders ranging from anorexia nervosa to bulimia and binge eating. The producers do not shy away from showing the bone-chilling details from any of the disorders. Ellen’s bone thin body is graphically shown as she is weighed at doctor after doctor. She is literally wasting away. The patients of the home discuss their secrets and habits, and one of the patients has a feeding tube because she refuses to eat and has a breakdown if she is forced to do so. The detail involved in bringing light to the disorder is intense, but the rest of the plot is yours to discover.

“To the Bone” has obviously sparked conversation, and raises the question: Is this something that teenagers, particularly young girls, should watch? Does it romanticize the idea of an eating disorder or does it bring awareness to the disorder? Of course, you’ll have to form your own opinion, but from the eyes of a college-aged female, I’ll give you my take.

In the society that we live in today, there is so much pressure from the media and entertainment industry for young girls to be perfect. “Skinny is pretty, and that’s all there is to it” is the message that seems to be conveyed. Girls especially are creatures of comparison, and that begins to flirt with some dangerous waters when everyone who is considered to be “pretty” is bone-thin. We can’t change the pressure that young girls face today because people are mean and are so quick to say something before they realize what they’ve said. In my opinion, the word fat has no place in the English dictionary unless you are frying bacon, but the removal of that word from our vocabulary is impossible, so we here we are with eating disorders. It’s not a fun topic to talk about, but they are real, and I think it’s safe to say that in many girls’ lives at some point or another she will struggle with her weight, whether it’s in high school or after her third baby. Society does not care; “fat” is still “fat,” no matter the circumstance. This is why it’s not surprising that there are plenty of people who are having to deal with their eating disorder by getting as much help as they can. No wonder things like eating disorder recovery treatments are so important to help try and keep people on the right track and help them cope with their eating disorder in a healthy way.

Eating disorders are on the curriculum for required high school and college health classes and are discussed at as much length as possible in the classroom setting. However, particularly in high school, I think sometimes the idea is just skimmed over because it is awkward and seemingly irrelevant. I have taken both high school and college health classes and thought that I understood eating disorders, but I can honestly say that I didn’t really understand until I watched “To the Bone.” It’s one thing to take notes on anorexia nervosa, and it’s completely another thing to watch its devastating effects. To be able to see what the disease does to her body and her mind and the people around her that love her will leave you speechless. It’s so real because it comes from the heart of someone who has been there and knows all the dirty details and understands that isn’t glamorous in the slightest. And I believe that it does raise awareness about the severity of it all, and that is exactly what director Marti Noxon sets out to do.

I would recommend that older teenagers, both women and men, do watch the movie because in my opinion, no one would want to do endure all that Ellen does. However, I don’t find it suitable for an audience younger than 16 or 17. I think it would be best for high school girls to watch it with an adult female and discuss the effects after viewing to make sure the intended purpose of the movie was accurately communicated. I even think showing it in a health class and then following it up with discussion would not be a bad option, although the discussion element is crucial. There is a little language to watch out for, though. All in all, I think “To the Bone” accomplishes its purpose of shedding light on the seriousness of eating disorders, and I would recommend it, which is definitely not something I thought I would think when first pressing play.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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