REVIEW: ‘To The Bone’ opens conversation but needs improvement

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A new Netflix original movie, “To the Bone,” hit the digital streaming site July 14. Before the film even hit the website, some spheres of the news began discussions about how the film might be triggering, controversial or simply in poor taste.

“To the Bone” follows Ellen, played by Lily Collins, as she moves through revolving door experiences, in and out of multiple inpatient treatment facilities to try to “fix” or “resolve” her eating disorder, anorexia nervosa.

“To the Bone” is a Netflix original movie written by Marti Noxon, who wanted to write an individual, accurate portrayal of eating disorders from the experience of someone who had experienced eating disorders firsthand.

Something I realized about “To the Bone” before I even watched it was that no matter who wrote it or starred in it or worked behind the scenes on it, the film was going to cause controversy.

The film begins to tackle conversations of eating disorders and disordered eating. But since eating disorders and disordered eating are such individualized experiences, there is no “one way” to portray this or a “perfect example” of how these experiences manifest. No matter what Netflix and those affiliated with the film would have done, they would have experienced criticism, critique and backlash.

Those who have lived with eating disorders and study disordered eating habits, such as Melissa Fabello, have greatly critiqued the film. Fabello has written and published on her own experiences with eating disorders on various occasions including in a July 21, 2015 Ravishly article.

Fabello cited how eating disorder narratives center around stick-thin individuals who restrict their eating intake or purge become the only narrative due to the glorified desire our society places on thinness. She argues in a July 6 Establishment article about the lack of diversity in representation and narratives within the film. And I completely agree with her.

There is a complete lack of well-developed and diverse experiences in the film not only within the various types of eating disorders and disordered eating that exists, but also a lack of diversity across genders, racial identities, socioeconomic statuses and sexualities of characters.

While this is an important critique of the film, this film was also based off one individual’s experience. Should Noxon have altered the characters from her own experience to create a more inclusive cast within the film? Or was the intent to stay true to her own individual experiences?

We live in a day and age where diversity is at the forefront of conversations to intentionally include within films and other forms of media. I do not personally have answers to the questions I posed above. But Noxon made the decision to more closely align the characters with those she experienced within treatment facilities rather than adapting the screenplay to better accommodate diverse voices, narratives and experiences.

In a digital age where anyone can comment about anything at any time on multiple platforms, when diversity is not “perfectly” represented, the production is brutally critiqued and scrutinized for not being good enough. But is anything we ever watch ever going to be “good enough?” I highly doubt it. This goes back to no matter how the film would have portrayed experiences of eating disorders and disordered eating, it would have been heavily critiqued.

While it is so important to critique what we watch, it is also important to celebrate the wins. This film opens the door to hopefully having more productive conversations about eating disorders and disordered eating.

“To the Bone” supports the notion that treatment and management of an eating disorder is possible. The film also addresses multiple components of this issue often overlooked in other representations of eating disorders including, but not limited to, the prevalence of social media sites like Tumblr providing spaces for unsafe behaviors by harboring pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia sites, the revolving door of experiences in treatment facilities since eating disorders are never “cured” and how treatment and recovery are not linear experiences.

The film creates a space to have dialogue about eating disorders, which needs to happen. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, approximately 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically severe eating disorder during their lifetimes. With the United States population estimated at about 321.4 million people in 2015, about 10 percent of the total population of the United States will need to seek clinical treatment for eating disorders. This information of course does not include those who do not seek help or treatment or simply go undiagnosed.

While the film has some areas it could improve upon, there is also plenty to celebrate. It is important to have diverse representation in eating disorder narratives, but it is also important to begin the conversation.

Jakki Forester is a graduate student in communication studies. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to [email protected]

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