A THIN LINE
Should Hollywood continue to make films about eating disorders?
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.