Content Warning: this is a blog where I will be addressing Eating Disorders and their associated behaviours, as well as the treatment of these conditions. If you find that sort of thing triggering, please stop reading.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear.
Anorexics do not watch movies about Anorexia or read books about Eating Disorders because they want to understand their condition. They don’t do it to feel less alone or find the strength to recover. They look at those films and those autobiographies and novels, and they see instruction manuals. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the importance of raising awareness. I just feel that there is a way to do it without either glamourising Eating Disorders or making sufferers feel like lazy frauds who should be working harder. (All of them could get skinny and be totally fine, why can’t you, you weakling?)
To The Bone, a film that is currently on Netflix, is gaining a lot of publicity. Some of it good. Some of it bad. Is it, as the Director argues, a way of starting a conversation? Or is it just deeply unethical and faintly ridiculous?
The film follows Ellen, a sardonic twenty-year old with Anorexia, who falls under the treatment of the apparently unconventional Dr. Beckham, and her journey to accepting that life is worth living. Most of the cast and crew have had experience with Eating Disorders in one form or another and it portrays at least one male and one POC with Anorexia and Bulimia. So in that regard it’s ahead of most of the other films about Anorexia. These other films were made in the early eighties, but we’ll gloss over that for now.
As a former Anorexic, I was morbidly curious about this film. So I watched it. And now I have some thoughts.
-DR. BECKHAM IS NOT VERY GOOD AT HIS JOB.
I am still confused by Dr. Beckham (played by Keane Reeves). Is he really that unconvential? His methods revolve around Healthy Eating and Talking Therapy. Like every other treatment centre on the planet. Except here he swears a lot, and patients are allowed to choose how much or how little they eat. I am not making this up. The patients at his treatment centre are given the option of not eating, and are then allowed to move around and are made to do chores afterwards. What the actual fuck? Did I fall asleep? Are we actually on some sort of malnourished dude ranch now? Is this some twisted way of keeping a group of vulnerable young women under his thrall for as long as he can?
-LUKE IS A GARBAGE PERSON
Luke (Alex Sharp) is a young man with Anorexia. He is a dancer. He is a pretentious bully who, in between quoting Raymond Chandler, taunts his fellow patients with food under the guise of emotional support. He allows and encourages Ellen to exercise because he wants to go on a date with her. He acts in such a way that would get him kicked out of any halfway responsible treatment centre, or at least punched in the face, but since this is Dr. Beckham’s House of Fun he is allowed to go around being as whimsical as he bloody pleases. Of course, as he is a male, he is presented as one of the strongest forces for change in Ellen’s life. Her love for him ends up saving her. Yay?
-THE OTHER PATIENTS ARE CARICATURES
White? Check. Financially stable? Check. Completely dependent on Dr. Beckham and Luke for emotional support? Check and check. There is one POC who is almost an afterthought. That’s it. This thing affects everyone. Remember.
-AT ONE POINT, ELLEN’S MOTHER FEEDS HER WITH A BOTTLE IN ORDER TO REESTABLISH A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP.
-TREATMENT IS READILY AND ALWAYS AVAILABLE.
Near the end of the film, Ellen runs away to Phoenix for a week. She eventually comes back and everything’s fine. She’s not at the bottom of a waiting list, she hasn’t lost her place due to being uncooperative, and she doesn’t have to jump through literally hundreds of metaphorical hoops to go back to treatment. That must be nice.
When it comes to Anorexia, I know that I have been relatively lucky. I was only ever hospitalised once, and on a ward that offered a lot more licence than most. I met people who had been in and out of treatment on wards where you had no privacy, no trust, nothing to distract you from the Herculean task of getting better. You want to start a conversation about Anorexia treatment? Show that. Show someone going to the toilet in front of a Nurse with the door open. Show someone actually getting a tube in their stomach. Show someone screaming and clawing at their arms if their brand of yogurt changes. Show someone crying and curling up in a ball when their portions get bigger. Show how few friends they have left. Show how decidedly un-witty and dull and tearful it makes a person.
Then we’ll talk.