I convinced myself that I was not going to watch To the Bone… but since I am in the eating disorder community, I wanted to be knowledgeable of the hot topic at hand. It is not every day that your disorder that is normally shamed and shunned is on the trend list of Netflix!
I was and still am opposed to having a former anorexia sufferer/survivor lose weight for a role – no one can convince me that that is a good idea.
I could not casually participate in any of my old behaviors or try to lose weight at this point of my recovery. That wouldn’t be possible to do in a healthy manner. However, I cannot speak for anyone but myself.
What I can say is this- maybe this is Lilly Collins way, vision, and purpose in giving back to the community. I write to connect with people that have suffered and to educate those who have not, and she acts.
If I try to tell her that she is “wrong”, I’m just being hypocritical. I have had people tell me that my openness and purpose is wrong as well. So, instead of judging the movie, I want to give my thoughts on it.
First of all…
I want to address the chatter that I have been hearing from the body positive community (which I respect and love dearly)- here is another thin, privileged, white female in a starring role… And yes, that is a non-negotiable argument.
I agree that the movie doesn’t touch on the fact that eating disorders affect all color, shapes, and socio-economic statuses. Nevertheless, it hit home for me. But maybe not in the ways you may think.
The main character, Ellen (later renamed Eli), had a messed up family. She had an absent father, an over apologetic and overcompensating step-mother, and a lesbian mother who put herself and her wants and needs of her partner before her child.
She was bounced around, told how to feel and saturated with excuses. I can relate to that.
When a family is in turmoil, unable to provide a stable and safe place for a child to thrive, the child has to develop coping mechanisms to survive. This is exactly what I saw Ellen doing- numbing out to not feel the pain of rejection.
Although my family is a beautiful and amazing entity, I can relate to having broken and unstable conditions in childhood contribute to escaping through ED behaviors.
Although I don’t think the love story between Ellen and Lucas is realistic I think that they did a great job portraying the connections and love that one in treatment develops for their peers/housemates.
Although I did not romantically fall in love while in treatment, I still tear up, thank God, rejoice in triumph, and cry in pain for my friends that I grew to love in treatment. Sam, Liz, Austin, Simon, Rosie, Diana, Pammy, Page, Valerie, Megan… They are all a part of my heart forever.
The connections, love and care of those who get in the trenches of the battle for recovery are real. So real. When one person in the house suffers, everyone is affected. When one person triumphs, everyone rejoices.
In treatment, you all become a family. That is one aspect that To the Bone depicted well for a 1:45 minute time slot.
Eli fights the professionals tooth and nail in recovery. Likewise, I can’t tell you how many arguments I had with my dietitians and therapists.
I told Dr. Genie Burnett that she was straight up wrong about her diagnosis of me. She told me I would die if I continued on the path of over exercising and under eating. But I said, “bump that”, and went on my downward spiral. Even though deep down I knew she was right.
The film does a great job at showing how hard it is for someone who is sick to trust the professionals that are trying to help them get well. Eli’s brain is telling her to do the opposite.
It is a terrifying battle that is too confusing and aggravating to express in words. Compare it to being in class, working out the math problem, KNOWING you got the right answer, and watching the teacher tell you that you are way, WAY off.
It takes a leap of faith to follow the wisdom of professionals when your brain tells you to do otherwise. I feel you, Eli…
The hope that Ellen gets by watching Lucas thrive in the later part of his time in the recovery process is so valuable. When I entered the Carolina House, there were other women that had been there for some time.
I remember watching one woman in particular speak of her soul. She said it used to have holes in it that she would try to fill with unhealthy ED symptoms. During treatment, she realized that she had to allow her holes to heal. She had to fill them with God, not the world. She realized she had to fill herself first to give love and joy to others. Eli sees she can’t emptying herself until there was nothing left for anyone.
Wow. What a lesson she taught me.
And by looking at her at week nine of her journey in treatment, it gave me great hope at week one of mine. I am glad they showed this aspect of the treatment process and why it is valuable to place beginners with veterans. Hope is invaluable.
Consider this –
Anyone can be triggered when facing a past trauma. I went by a beautiful friend’s the other day to give her a hug because her home had just burned to the ground.
As I pulled up to the rubble, the familiar smell of wet, soggy, char filled my nose. Tears immediately filled my eyes and a muffled sob crept from my chest. 20 years ago I smelled the same smell as I worked through the rubble of my own home searching for anything that could be salvaged after it burned to the ground. I had no idea that the same scent would affect me 20 years later. Once your house has burned down, the memory may fade, but it will never be forgotten.
When you watch Marley and Me and you remember your favorite pet that has passed. The movie Enough can bring back memories of fighting an abuser. 13 Reasons Why can bring up a past of being bullied or experiencing suicidal thoughts – or even lost someone you love to suicide. All these movies will trigger someone.
My advice- know where you are in your recovery process and/or in your disorder before you view this film.
My final thoughts…
If you do view it, have someone to talk to about it. I talked to my husband until midnight discussing my feelings about the film the night I watched it. It helped me to process it, let it in, and then let go and not hold on to what I didn’t need to.
All in all, as a writer, I think this would have made an amazing book. Like any movie, the thoughts of the character are missed greatly, and especially in this subject matter.
Watch it with caution, and talk about it with a trusted support person. And know that there is NO cookie cutter, black/white, dictionary mold for eating disorders. Healthy is relative, and so is this disease.
I pray that Lilly Collins is emotionally and physically well after her very tough performance. I hope this film springboards others to shed light on the more marginalized bodies and all people who suffer… regardless of their color, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation. People are people.