To The Bone is an American drama film recently released on Netflix. It explores the daily struggles of Ellen, a 20 year old college drop out who is struggling with Anorexia. Ellen is referred to inpatient therapy after seeing a specialist. The film goes through and explores many features such as eating disorders, abandonment, mental illness, interpersonal relationships and gives you a great insight into how hard it actually is to recover from an acute mental illness. I wanted to write about the film and how important it is for us as a society to take it on board, as it received backlash from critics, labelling it as 'dangerous', a similar response that 13 Reasons Why received.
For myself, I had battled with minor eating disorder symptoms when I was first diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I was around 20 at the time, suffering a mental health issue at the time which was short lived. I was bulimic for a few months (not to anyones knowledge). I would end up bringing my food up as I was so ill mentally I felt uncomfortable when food would sit in my stomach. Riddled with anxiety, the eating disorder wasn't driven to be skinny. The main trigger for me was feeling psychically sick to the stomach from the amount of pain and agony I had at that time of my life. What I like about the film is that it explores the complexity of eating disorders. Its not as simple as 'wanting to look perfect'. There are so many psychological factors they dive into. One impatient doesn't look like a stereotypical person with an eating disorder- it showed a range of diversity through out the film. It showed anyone can suffer from the mental illness, no matter what shape or size you may be.
Not only is the main character struggling with the illness, the most underlining factor for Ellen through out the movie is the relationship she has with herself. She doesn't like who she is deep down, and had developed the disorder as a coping mechanism to mask the pain she was feeling internally. She flinches at any close interaction with another human being as she feels she isn't worthy of the love and care. Her mother abandoned her after a break down in her parents relationship, which deeply effected her in her teen years. As someone who has been abandoned in countless situations, this really resonated with me. Abandonment can really interfere with developing and nurturing healthy relationships. All we know is the rejection and hurt that comes with abandonment. So I was pleased to know that they explored how those factors can play a huge part into recovery process.
When she stayed in the inpatient facility, I think they capture the realness of ward stays accurately. It showed how people with mental illnesses are monitored. How people are still so sick and will find ways to cope, even though they are in their for the recovery of getting better. It isn't as simple as just staying in a ward and a click of the fingers, you are cured. It takes copious amounts of effort, strength, support and trial and error before someone can learn how to manage with their illness. It takes years and years of blood, sweat and tears to be able to function in societies high demands of what is 'normality'.
It also exampled stigma. When they were in a restaurant, they had to say they were cancer patients rather than eating disorder patients. Saying any other illness will get a more gentle response from majority of society. Say you are in a restaurant wanting food when you have an eating disorder seems like it would take more energy trying to explain and justify yourself. So we got more of an insight on how difficult it really is fro someone with an diagnosed eating disorder to just 'eat'.
Throughout the rest of the movie, they would explore the rawness of the illness. How people will purge, what methods they use to stay on top of their BMI, how they avoid putting weight on and most importantly, how they stay in control. Eating disorders are a form of self harm, just like people with BPD resort to cutting and other self harm methods. They restrict to stay control of their own emotions. They try to filter out the negative emotions via control, for it to only manifest.
While I still feel there is a lot more depth to eating disorders and probably more subject matters they missed out in the film, over all I thought it was a very important film to be shared with the world. While it may be triggering for people who are in the very depth of an eating disorder, to me the movie conveyed a message of hope. That anyone who is suffering a detrimental mental illness has to dive to the very core to find the utter strength and resilience to want to stay alive. You cannot fault people for doing the best they can, when all they have been familiar with is the worst.