A THIN LINE

Should Hol­ly­wood con­tinue to make films about eat­ing dis­or­ders?

Cosmopolitan (Philippines) - - Contents -

We need to talk about how Hol­ly­wood por­trays eat­ing dis­or­ders.

T he first time I sat down to watch Net­flix’s new dra­ma­com­edy To The Bone, I couldn’t make it through the first 30 min­utes. Two bu­limic char­ac­ters ex­change tips on how best to ex­punge the day’s din­ner from their bod­ies as the cam­era pans to Ellen’s (Lily Collins) ema­ci­ated frame. I couldn’t help but re­call the on­line com­mu­nity I once sub­scribed to at the height of my own eat­ing dis- or­der—one that in­ten­tion­ally mis­spells its hash­tags so Tum­blr watch­dogs can’t track them down. To­day, those hash­tags are pep­pered with stills of Ellen’s hairy arms, a bod­ily de­fense mech­a­nism that kicks in once your nu­tri­ent lev­els have dropped dra­mat­i­cally. “The furry” has be­come, against all odds, an en­vi­able goal in this com­mu­nity. It’s not as if the film­mak­ers’ im­me­di­ate goal was to im­plore girls to dam­age their own bod­ies; it’s that when films like th­ese crop up, they fun­da­men­tally and in­evitably trig­ger those with eat­ing dis­or­ders and po­ten­tially en­cour­age those who don’t.

Ex­treme weight loss mea­sures have long been fetishized in pop­u­lar cul­ture, from Blair Wal­dorf’s quiet purges on Gos­sip Girl to Rachel Fred­er­ick­son’s controversial loss of a stag­ger­ing 155 pounds on The Big

gest­loser to Cassie Ainsworth’s ec­cen- tric di­ets on Skins. Be­cause th­ese shows and movies are as­pi­ra­tional by na­ture, it’s not un­com­mon to find girls who have de­vel­oped body dys­mor­phic be­hav­iors as a di­rect response. The core of this cul­tural de­sire to align one­self with a cer­tain body type has its roots in me­dia be­cause it’s the stan­dard to which girls have com­pared them­selves since early child­hood. Once that feel­ing of dis­sat­is­fac­tion with one’s own body in­ter­nal­izes over time, it be­comes dif­fi­cult to shake off un­healthy “goals” set forth by such char­ac­ters, fic­tional or oth­er­wise.

What we’re deal­ing with here is a dou­ble-edged sword—while de­pict­ing eat­ing dis­or­ders al­most al­ways runs the risk of glo­ri­fy­ing un­healthy habits, it’s also a chance for film­mak­ers to do two things: show au­di­ences that th­ese dis­or­ders ex­ist and are se­ri­ous, and guide suf­fer­ers to seek help. Plenty of skep­tics fail to un­der­stand the men­tal mech­a­nisms that keep girls from eat­ing prop­erly, the same way de­pres­sion and bipo­lar dis­or­der are mis­un­der­stood. “I just [don’t get it],” mut­ters Ellen’s half­sis­ter. “Just eat.” But for anorex­ics and bu­lim­ics, even chew­ing and swal­low­ing can feel like a sin. For all their flaws, films like

To The Bone help bring th­ese re­al­i­ties to light.

Body image is­sues are in­ex­tri­ca­bly tied with crit­i­cism heard from the out­side, whether it’s com­ments from fam­ily mem­bers or taunts by on­line bul­lies. That’s why they need to be re­solved from the out­side as well. When Logic re­leased the pow­er­ful an­them “1-800-273-8255” in April this year, the Na­tional Suicide Preven­tion Life­line got a record num­ber of calls. Hol­ly­wood needs to bring a sim­i­lar level of at­ten­tion to fa­tal eat­ing dis­or­ders by punc­tu­at­ing their films with real-life so­lu­tions and av­enues for re­cov­ery. The Philip­pine hot­line for suicide preven­tion and emo­tional crises is (02) 804-HOPE (4673). You may also visit na­tionaleat­ingdis­or­ders.org for more in­for­ma­tion.

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