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To The Bone
courtesy of Netflix

Why To The Bone is dangerous for anorexia sufferers like me

The upcoming Lily Collins-fronted Netflix drama represents a dangerous bloodlust for the beautiful, broken girl, doing much more harm than good

This article contains discussion of eating disorders.

The trailer for upcoming Netflix drama To The Bone opens with 20-year-old Ellen (Lily Collins) counting the calories on her plate, before looking up and smiling triumphantly. Cut to a shot of Collins’ emaciated spine, covered in bruises as her defiant and gaunt face stares at the doctor with little care for what will happen next. 

For many viewers this will seem like a dramatised example of a young girl acting completely out of the ordinary. But for anorexia sufferers like me, this is a stark reminder of reality. It is a reminder of a world in which calorie counting is part of your every waking moment, and gaunt faces have not been painted on with makeup, but simply cannot be disgusted anymore. 

The film and its trailer, written and directed by Marti Noxon, is a chilling attempt at grasping an audience with the all too common tactic of ‘mental illness porn’. A few months previous to this release, Netflix came under fire following the series 13 Reasons Why which was demonised as a romanticised view of suicide and was even blamed for rises in teen suicide rates and a copycat. This however, doesn’t seem to have stopped Netflix from creating yet another potentially dangerous representation of a serious mental illness, which holds the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Collins herself has recovered from an eating disorder – and lost weight again for this role – while the writer and director Marti Noxon is a fellow survivor too. Yet there still doesn’t seem to be an awareness of how dangerous this kind of representation can be. As a beautiful young woman, Collins represents a very specific type of eating disorder. The young, white, beautiful anorexic who has already been held up as pro-anorexia inspiration on twitter since the trailer’s release. Eating disorders are deadly illnesses which come in many shapes and sizes, and it is these narrow representations which counter that idea.

Since the dramatisation of anorexic character Cassie in Channel 4’s Skins back in 2007, the mainstream media has come a long way in trying to tackle mental illnesses with sensitivity and responsibility. But the trailer for To The Bone left me feeling hollow and confused in a world which I thought was trying to take better care of vulnerable people. The progress of the last ten years feels in jeopardy.

I watched the trailer and found myself staring at my legs with dismay and anger. Why had I let myself gain weight? I could look like that again. I SHOULD look like that again. A minute in I found my mind running away with how I could skip meals and what I could cut out this week to reach that goal. All of this before looking up from my screen and realising just how far my head had taken me.

The trailer talks about ‘the voice’. A voice which during my treatment I learned to separate from myself – anorexia – something which wanted me to hurt myself, made me lie to people that I loved, made me sneaky and angry. As the trailer rolled through in front of my eyes, the voice got louder and louder in my head. And as the closing title ran, the wave of emotions about what I had just seen flew over me and I wasn’t sure if I needed to scream or cry.

Many people may demonise this thought process, suggesting that as someone still recovering from anorexia it is inevitable that it will make me feel this way. But the trailer for To The Bone made me think about others too. About my 13-year-old cousin watching and picking up ideas about losing weight, or my mother seeing the trailer and being reminded of those dark afternoons staring at walls in waiting rooms, terrified about what would happen next.

I can commend the work of the creators of To The Bone for the bravery that it takes to begin a project this big and with such heavy subject matter, but the way in which the trailer has been delivered does not suggest a story of a girl overcoming a terrifying illness – it suggests a film which highlights the ins and outs of an eating disorder in a way reminiscent of pro-anorexia websites.

Ultimately, an account of an illness so close to home is always going to have an impact on my health and mind – and that is not always a bad thing. But when we create the kind of media which sensationalises the realities of an eating disorder, no matter how hard it tries to show the downsides, we are simply creating material to trigger and create a whole host of new sufferers. We must never stop preaching awareness and understanding when it comes to mental health, but we need to get our bloodlust for the beautiful, broken girl under control before it comes back to bite us all.

For any advice, guidance and support for anyone suffering from eating disorders, or difficulties with food, weight, shape and body image, please contact BEAT