I got my hair cut the other day, which was a big deal for me, but as I was, my Mom was sat reading an interview with Lily Collins about her book and her eating disorder. My Mom didn’t know that it was Lily Collins at the time, though she took a note of the book they were discussing as she thought it might be something worth reading myself. When I reminded her who Lily Collins was, we entered a conversation about how she thought it was wrong that she was made to lose weight to play an anorexia sufferer in To The Bone.
This morning, I was left thinking about our conversation as I needed to kill some time, so what did I do? I decided to finally watch the film To The Bone itself. Now, this is a movie that I’ve heard a lot about, and I know that there are very mixed opinions about some of the content of the film itself – such as the scene where her mother bottle feeds her. Everything that I had heard about the film put me off watching it, which is one of the reasons why I’ve avoided it until now. The other reason is simply the fact that I was scared I would be sitting there comparing myself to how Lily Collins looked the entire time. I, obviously, didn’t want to put myself in the position where I would feel even worse about myself, and I was worried the film would make me feel like I wasn’t ‘sick’ enough. However, I went ahead this morning and decided to face up to it and watch it all.
To The Bone gave me anxiety – that’s the main thing I’m still struggling with while writing this. I probably shouldn’t have watched it alone, because it’s something that’s obviously very personal to me and it’s something that I’m currently really struggling with. But, all in all, apart from the anxiety and the element of comparing myself to the character (which, admittedly, I did do during the whole 2 hours), it wasn’t half as bad as I initially thought it would be.
The first thing that stuck out to me was the character’s mentality and just how similar it was to my own. Before this, characters with anorexia used to be portrayed as ‘dainty’ (like Cassie from Skins) or ‘innocent’. Skinny white girls complaining about the burdens that they’ve experienced in life and putting the fault on something else. Even though To The Bone is largely also about a skinny white girl, I thought that her mentality was a better look at how some of us actually think. A lot of the time, people believe that we’re trying to get attention or pity when we’re really not. We have these illnesses, but we’re also trying to deal with them and cope with them without making them somebody else’s problem. But that’s just the thing that the film highlights – we can’t cope with them. We don’t have them under control at all, and it affects so many other people around us that we sometimes fail to notice the toll that it takes on those close to us.
That’s one thing that I think the film does particularly well – showing how it effects the people around her. As somebody with an eating disorder that has, very much, ruined my life, I think it’s often hard to actually remember that it doesn’t just affect us. We’re so consumed by our disorders that we’re sometimes blind sighted to the implications that it has on other people and the burden that other people feel because of it. I felt her mother’s pain, and I felt her sister’s pain, and I couldn’t help but think of my mother and my sister at the same time. So often, we brush off thinking that it alters the way that other people live, and we tend not to believe them when they tell us how they feel. This film does a good job of showcasing that, even though the main character is the one who’s mainly suffering, other people are suffering too.
One thing I liked about the beginning of To The Bone is that she says she doesn’t think it’s beautiful. Again, so many people have the misconception that all people with eating disorders think that being thin is the ideal or that being underweight is beautiful. I, for one, have been asked numerous times if I think that being how I am is something to ‘aspire to’ and I honestly don’t. Just because we may be like this doesn’t mean that we condone it. It doesn’t mean that we want to be like this, or look like this. Logically, I know how better I would look if I was healthy, and I know that being underweight is not an achievement, but it’s not as easy to just snap my fingers and say that I’m going to get better. Generally, a lot of people do believe that we think it’s ‘beautiful’ when this really isn’t the case. I know my body is not beautiful, and I know it would be better if it was healthier, but I’m struggling to walk that line. The character in the film – Eli – is obviously also conflicted in the same way and she’s handling it evidently quite badly, but that’s a true representation as well.
One of the biggest elements of the film that I could relate to was the first body check scene. The one where she tries to put her fingers around her arm. It wasn’t so much the action that she was doing or the intentional behind the action that I was able to relate to – it was the look on her face. You can just see that she’s conflicted. There’s a part of her that’s striving to be able to wrap her hand around her arm and that part of her keeps telling her that she needs to lose more weight, but there’s also another part of her that’s afraid. She’s afraid of how deep in the illness that she is, and she knows that she can’t achieve getting better if she keeps up with the behaviours that bring her comfort. I relate to that a lot – I want a life and I want to manage this better, but there’s a lot of comfort in sticking with the eating disorder that it means I’m very conflicted about what to do. It makes it really hard at times, but it’s good to see that the film captures that accurately.
However, To The Bone doesn’t represent everything. It doesn’t represent the constant light headedness or anxiety of collapsing wherever you go – even if that’s within your own home. It doesn’t represent the hair loss or the osteopenia. There are a lot of things that aren’t represented in the film that are very much big burdens of having an eating disorder. Though, I know that having an eating disorder is different for every single person who suffers from one, and, therefore, their symptoms and experiences aren’t going to at all be the same. It would be foolish to think that the film would be an accurate representation of all sufferers, but it does do well to give those who don’t suffer an insight into the mind of somebody dealing with anorexia.
I understand how difficult it must’ve been for Lily Collins to take on the role, especially given her background with eating disorders, but I’m rather glad that she did. I think she does a good job of showcasing the reality of anorexia for some people, and it also helps combat the stigma and the stereotype surrounding the illness as well. Watching it gave me a hell of a lot of anxiety and it made me feel quite unwell at times, but I don’t regret finally seeing the film.
All that being said – this film is not an accurate representation of all eating disorders or the experiences that all eating disorder sufferers go through. I don’t believe that it was intended to be, either. Instead, To The Bone is an insight into one person’s experience with the hopes that other people will be able to somewhat relate and find comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone. There are so many different types of eating disorders and each person experiences their own differently, so this film is not meant to be an entire overview. Instead, it’s just a glimpse into the mindset of an anorexia sufferer, which some will be able to relate to.
If you do want to watch To The Bone, whether you have an eating disorder or not, I urge you to actually watch it with somebody. I wish I had because, not only would it make me feel better, but there are also a lot of important things that the viewer should talk about. The best way of fighting the stigma is to simply start a conversation, and watching the film with somebody gives you the ground to do just that.
Have you seen the film? What do you think? Let me know!
If you suffer from an eating disorder, I urge you to seek help. We are stronger than our illnesses and we deserve so much more than what they’re promising us. They lie, they deceive, and they steal. I say this as somebody who doesn’t know if they’ll ever be ready for recovery or ever in recovery, but I do know that I want more than this, and you should too. You can find some resources to help here.