To The Bone
My social media newsfeed on Facebook and Instagram have been inundated with posts warning about the triggers, dangers, and how “horrible” this movie could be for those in an active eating disorder and those in recovery. I, too, jumped on the bandwagon and wrote a few posts about this eating disorder community hot-button issue before I found myself in a place of emotional upheaval.
All these posts about the movie are, in themselves, triggering for someone who is trying to protect herself from seeing the movie prematurely. The posts are unintentionally promoting the film and creating a mass of curiosity.
While many organizations within the eating disorder community actively oppose the movie’s narrative–the emaciation of the actress, and the triggers by featuring eating disordered behaviors–the countless blog posts about the movie, how to identify red-flags, and determining whether or not you should see To The Bone are only further promoting the film. In essence, these organizations that are trying to protect their supporters from seeing the film are actually luring them in to watch it. For anyone with a Netflix account that is trying not to watch this movie until they are in an emotionally healthy place, it is already very difficult to resist the temptation to view it; let alone seeing live discussions on Facebook regarding the film. This has been my situation.
Every night while my husband is away for work, I watch a show or two on Netflix before I go to bed. It is a habit I developed to help draw my focus away from our boat bobbing up and down; causing me to worry endlessly about popping a line again (thanks, anxiety). The film came out while he was still home but we were so busy preparing for his departure that we didn’t get time to watch it together. So, for two nights I managed to avoid the film, despite it showing up on my Netflix feed as something I might want to watch. Um…heck yes I want to watch it…but I know I shouldn’t right now. For two nights I would sigh and resign myself to watching Hawaii Five-0 instead. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and, while Vivienne was spending the night with my in-laws, I decided to watch To The Bone while I was home alone.
I can honestly say I wasn’t triggered by the somewhat graphic images of emaciated bodies on the screen. This is definitely a first for me, as I once used eating disorder movies as “inspiration” to spur me onward in my self-destruction. The film displays a “trigger warning” before the movie even starts, which made me question whether or not I was prepared to watch. My stomach felt heavy, like I had eaten rocks for dinner. There has been so much hype surrounding this movie that I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be triggering? Would it bring up unpleasant memories? I had no idea how I would react.
Several times throughout the film I felt a little apprehensive about how it would play out and what my reactions might be. In all reality, nothing about seeing eating disorders displayed on the screen, or hearing talk about behaviors, made me long for that life again. It made me sad that I was once like that–completely consumed by this mental illness. The movie did, however, bring up a lot of memories that I needed to process. After the movie ended, I sat motionless in our guest room, my head a cascade of thoughts. I ended up taking a long walk around the marina docks to sort through was was happening in my head. It was so much that I struggled to process it and, after returning to the boat to check on the dogs and write a little bit, I went back out for a second walk.
So many thoughts about the person I was when I was living in the eating disorder flooded my brain. The times I was so dehydrated lifting a glass of water felt like I was picking up a 10 pound dumbbell; the hip injury I suffered from being malnourished and exercising too much; going through the Wendy’s drive thru late at night to get the two things I allowed myself to eat, only to stop on the way home and purge in a random farmer’s field. The amount of lies I told, the secrets I kept, and the behaviors that waxed and waned with life events were in the forefront of my mind following the film. Memories from treatment were ever-present, as well. That drop in my stomach before weigh-in on Saturday mornings, having my food checked to make sure it satisfied my meal plan, wanting to throw up so badly following a meal that it almost made me go crazy…but I survived. Sixteen years living in an eating disorder, using it as a means of control–a standard of perfection, and some of it still haunts me.
Okay, back to the point…
Overall, I don’t think To The Bone is really all that different from every other eating disorder based movie…ever. The narrative is the same as it always has been–anorexia: emaciated, near-death, white, and female–which does not fit the majority of eating disorders. It certainly didn’t fit mine for most of those 16 years. This movie shows me how important BBA and other blogs like it are in order to bring life to eating disorders other than anorexia. This movie inspires me to keep sharing my story and being open about what it was like to go to treatment at a time when I wasn’t extremely thin; knowing I was still incredibly sick and killing myself for perceived control. It was hard and, as much as I appreciate any movie that brings awareness to eating disorders, it concerns me that someone who watches it and who is struggling may not see his/her struggle as valid. That individual may not believe s/he is “sick enough” for treatment based on the severity of the character in the movie.
That is where I get to keep working. I get to keep promoting the truth: eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ages, etc. Eating disorders do not discriminate and not everyone who needs treatment is going to be emaciated. No matter your size, eating disorders are deadly; the deadliest of all mental illnesses.
Each narrative is valid.
Every individual struggling with an eating disorder deserves treatment, regardless of what the disease is telling you.
If you watched the film and feel triggered, I encourage you to reach out to a friend, therapist, or someone in your support network. In the last 48 hours I have received messages from roughly three people wanting to talk about the movie, so feel free to reach out to me, too. If you watched the film and have never struggled with an eating disorder, I’m glad you took the time to watch it, and I hope you gained some insight.
With Body Love,