Content warning: This post deals with eating disorders, and may be triggering for some readers.
On last week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud, we discussed Marti Nixon’s Netflix film ‘To The Bone’, which explores the eating disorder of 20-year-old Ellen played by Lily Collins. The film has attracted significant backlash, particularly by organisations like The Butterfly Foundation, who argue that vivid representations of eating disorders are instructive, and serve as a manual for people who are already struggling.
We received an email following the discussion, from a woman who has lived with anorexia nervosa for 14 years.
This is her story.
I’ve been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa since I was 13. I’m now 27.
I actually just came out of another one month stint in hospital for refeeding last Friday. I’ve had upwards of 20 hospital inpatient stays and been involved in multiple outpatient treatment programs, including a two year intensive residential program (which looked something like the treatment program Lily Collins’ character goes to in the film).
Most of the later part of high school for me was spent at home with my mum because she couldn’t leave me to my own devices. I had to sleep in my parents bedroom and they would lock the doors so I couldn’t sneak outside in the middle of the night to go for a run. None of this is something I am at all proud of, but I guess it just gives you an idea of the type of life experience I have had in relation to this topic.
LISTEN: Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss To The Bone on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
The moment I heard about this film I got a really sick feeling deep in my stomach. I haven’t watched the entire film, I’ve actually been explicitly advised against it by my treatment team, but what I have seen has completely appalled me and honestly made me want to scream in frustration at my laptop screen. I strongly believe this film should never have been made. I am of the belief that a film about anorexia simply cannot be made responsibly. For someone who is genetically vulnerable to an eating disorder, or in a high risk group (teenagers, female, athletes) this film could be the trigger point that sends them down a rabbit hole of dealing with an often chronic, completely destructive and devastating illness.
In the early stages of the illness, I would seek out absolutely anything eating disorder related. I would seek it out to fuel my desire to become sicker and sicker. When I was young, I thankfully only had access to YouTube videos of American documentaries and daytime movies made in the ’90s, but I would watch them on repeat because it was a way for me to feel closer to my ED (eating disorder) voice…which is what I wanted. I wanted to be ill. I wanted people to look at me and be shocked. Anorexia for me has nothing to do with food or weight or “looking good”, but that’s not to say that making a movie that demonstrates the way the illness can dictate these parts of a sufferers life isn’t still damaging.
I just don’t believe anything good can come from a film like this. If anything, it only perpetuates the stereotype that someone suffering from an eating disorder is sickly thin, white and female, when actually the statistics show that someone is much more likely to suffer from EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified, usually a mix of symptoms that don’t quite fit into the DSM criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa) or binge eating disorder. You don’t have to be underweight in order to be terribly mentally unwell and physically compromised. Research also shows that eating disorders equally affect people from all walks of life and do not discriminate by race, sexuality or gender. I personally know of several women and men that I have been in treatment with that have died from complications from this disease. Not all of them were underweight when they died, but all of them suffered immensely and died a premature death.