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“To The Bone” Netflix’s New (Triggering) Eating Disorder Movie

By July 10, 2017November 29th, 2018Child Therapy, Dr. Samantha Winton

After recently processing and working through the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” with many of my clients, we are set to open up a another mental health can of worms with the new Netflix movie “To the Bone.  Set to be released July 14th, this drama highlights the struggles and life of Ellen, a young woman battling with Anorexia Nervosa.  Played by actress Lily Collins, Ellen experiences the psychological, physical, and emotional turmoil of having an eating disorder and the difficult task of working towards recovery. After multiple hospitalizations and treatment centers she enters a residential group home led by an eccentric doctor played by Keanu Reeves.

Director Marti Noxon and leading actress Lily Collins have both shared publicly about their personal battles with eating disorders, resulting in (hopefully) a more authentic and realistic depiction of the mental and physical struggle. Noxon also made a point to include roles within the movie to challenge the mainstream view of eating disorders being a “rich white girl” disorder, by including black and male actresses and actors, as well as a range of body types in an effort to more appropriately represent the diversity within the illness that we see in the general population.

To The Bone Netflix’s New (Triggering) Eating Disorder Movie

The trailer released by Netflix identifies a frail young woman who is engaging in common eating disorder behaviors including excessive exercise, calorie counting, compulsive weighing, restricting, and obsession with weight and shape.

(Trigger Warning) Click Here to See the Trailer

According to the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) tips for responsible media coverage, it is important to understand how those vulnerable to or actively experiencing an eating disorder can be triggered by the images within the movie “To the Bone”. According to research,

  1. Viewing depictions of graphically thin or malnourished bodies in media can spark competition, rationalization that they can be that thin and survive or “be healthy”, or a ‘race to the bottom’ of being sicker than someone else.
  2. Depiction or discussion of weights, calories, daily intake, and numbers related to eating disorder behavior can be intensely triggering and lead to an increase in eating disorder behaviors and should be avoided as to decrease competition and comparison.
  3. Lastly, glamorizing eating disorder characteristics as being ‘positive traits’ that others can aspire to such as perfectionism, intense will-power, and self-control can be dangerous and may promote eating disorders as ‘anorexic chic’.

What can you do as a parent of a child or adolescent vulnerable to these messages?

Your teen is most likely going to have access to viewing “To the Bone”. Telling them not to watch it isn’t going to work.  Instead I encourage you to watch it with them and have a thoughtful and open discussion about the movie.

Here are some questions to start the discussion:

  1. How do you feel about the way Ellen portrayed eating disorders in the film?
  2. Was there anything surprising to you in the film?
  3. What did you like most about Ellen’s story of recovery? What did you dislike?
  4. Which character did you identify to the most and why?
  5. Was there anything particularly triggering in the film that has stuck with you?
  6. What did you dislike about the film?
  7. What do you wish the director would have done differently?
  8. How can I support you further in your recovery?

Parents and loved ones, it is important to be aware that there are triggers, images, and messages that may influence someone struggling with an eating disorder at every turn.  Your goal is not to shelter and isolate your child from these images, because let’s face it…that would be impossible.  Instead let us have open and responsible discussions about the accuracy of the language, images, viewpoints, and messages within the movie and within our own lives.

National Eating Disorder Association Referral Hotline: (800) 931-2237
National Eating Disorder Association Website

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Dr. Winton is the owner and clinical director at Integrated Care Clinic. She is a licensed psychologist that specializes in eating disorders, body dysmorphia, food anxiety, body image, intuitive eating, and perfectionism.

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