If you’re not already familiar with the film, ‘To The Bone‘ is revolved around the story of one young woman’s experience with battling anorexia nervosa. It explores the journey of the main character as she’s thrown into yet another inpatient program, only this time the program takes a different approach. If you’ve watched the film or taken a look at the screenshots of it, you’re probably aware of the fact that it includes Lily Collins looking very thin and very unwell.
As somebody currently struggling with the disorder itself, it was a tough thing to watch. I compared myself, I doubted myself, and sometimes I did feel invalidated, but not through the fault of the film. My disorder made me feel invalidated because I didn’t feel like I was fitting into the mould that was being created. I’m told this isn’t true but, then again, I wouldn’t know because I’m really not one to say.
However, that’s not what I want this post to focus on. Instead, I want to address the controversial question; should Lily Collins have lost weight for the role of Eli, the young woman with anorexia? This is a largely debated topic which is made even more of a big issue because Lily Collins herself has suffered from anorexia and bulimia. I’m currently reading her book Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me and one thing that she’s careful to do is to not mention that she’s ‘recovered’ in any way. In fact, she confirms that she’s going to be battling with her disorders for the rest of her life, which made me want to address this question even more.
Do I think that Lily Collins should’ve lost weight for the role? No, I don’t. But do I understand her willingness to do so as an actor? Of course – it’s what they’re told they need to be able to do. They need to be able to morph themselves into a different person – a different character – and that oftentimes means changing their physical appearance. I don’t agree with the fact that Hollywood is so revolved around weight, but it is, and I know that actors will adhere to the rules that the film industry sets for them. One of these rules is the fact that they have to be ready to, usually, lose weight for a role.
The thing is – a person of any weight can suffer from anorexia. Not a lot of people without the disorder like to admit this, because there’s a certain stigma around how people with anorexia should look and how we should behave. People think ‘anorexia’ and they think of being underweight, which isn’t the case for a lot of people. In fact, this idea the illness makes sufferers feel like their disorders are invalidated. They don’t feel like they meet the criteria and so, clearly, they don’t feel ‘sick enough’. Unfortunately, in my case, I do fit the criteria, but I constantly still experience these feelings of invalidation.
Personally, I think the film would’ve been more hard-hitting if she hadn’t lost the weight, because it would’ve done well to highlight the fact that people of a healthy weight can also suffer from the disorder. The movie does well to portray that men can also suffer from the mental illness and it does showcase people of different weights, but having an underweight main character is somewhat harmful and predictable.
One thing I will say is that I wish they had portrayed being underweight more accurately. The main character seemed to feel fine carrying out daily tasks, when this isn’t the case. Being underweight for a long time, even if you’ve maintained your weight for a while, takes a big toll on your health. It makes you feel weak, shaky, your hair falls out, your body starts to shut down, and you’re not able to do all the things that the character does in the film. Yes, she had bruises on her back and lanugo, but where’s the constant dizziness, the palpitations, the shakiness? Being underweight is not as simple as the weight itself, and it’s important that it’s not glorified because the damage it can do is immense.
However, something that concerns me more is the fact that the process of her losing weight wouldn’t have been easy, or safe. She notes that she was monitored by health professionals and by other people in her personal life, but it still wouldn’t have been a safe process to lose that much weight. The weight loss could’ve had a massive impact on her physical health but, more importantly, I’m sure it messed with her mind a lot. As I said earlier, Lily Collins explains in her book that she will be battling her disorders for the rest of her life, which means that it’s safe to assume she still suffers from disordered thoughts. Her losing weight for the role and to fit into the ‘criteria’ of being seen to have anorexia would’ve fuelled her disordered thinking and could’ve made her spiral backwards.
I actually wish I could sit down and talk to Lily Collins about how she was mentally after the role. Not only did she lose the weight and would’ve had to restrict her diet and exercise more – which are two of her main disordered behaviours – she would’ve also have had to gain that weight back, which I’m sure wasn’t easy mentally either. The process of losing weight and gaining it back takes its toll on actors without eating disorders, so I can only imagine how tough it might’ve been for her.
I applaud her for taking on such a role and for dedicating herself to it in such a way, but it concerns me nonetheless. I don’t think she needed to lose weight to play the character, but, above all else, I hope that it didn’t negatively effect her mental health to the extent I presume it would’ve.