Recently Netflix released the trailer for its intense new movie that follows the realistic struggles of a 20-year-old woman suffering from anorexia. And there’s already been a lot of backlash on social media slamming the movie for promoting eating disorders. The fear is that this film (which also stars Keanu Reeves) is going to glamorize anorexia and potentially trigger viewers with similar issues – for instance, you see some of the calorie counting and other “techniques” used to control eating in the trailer. But Lily Collins, the actress who stars in the movie, actually has a history of dealing with her own eating disorders, and she responds that she’s striving “to start conversations about taboo subjects with young women.” Similarly, the movie’s producer Marti Noxon fought with anorexia and bulimia in her 20s, and she hopes to tell the story responsibly, by shedding light on something that’s “often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions.” If this whole dialogue sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because Netflix just dealt with similar backlash, mental health controversy, and trigger-warning issues from its release of 13 Reasons Why, which covered teenage suicide without much of a forewarning for its viewers.
So what’s my take? Well, as they say, art imitates life. And eating disorders are a real life issue – one that tends to creep into people’s lives during their childhood and teenage years. So education and conversations with our girls are definitely important when it comes to something that affects 30 million Americans. As long as Netflix warns viewers ahead of time about potential issues and triggers, and so long as parents are willing to speak with their kids about the show, then I’m okay with anything that sparks a real dialogue with our girls. Psychologists say that To The Bone should come with trigger warnings so that at-risk viewers can make the informed decision to avoid it. They also worry that it could spur eating disorders in those who haven’t yet developed one. But many psychologists also agree that it’s an important topic that needs to be addressed.
Of course, as Hollywood tends to do, there’s going to be some glamorizing and romanticizing of this serious and potentially fatal subject. And the movie does expose some of the “tricks” that people with eating disorders use to control their food intake. But since this is real life, it’s not a subject that should be scrapped from conversations with our kids just because it’s distressing or hard. This movie could indeed be used for good – by starting those important, productive talks with our girls, so long as we all “consume with caution.”
Spark the Conversation: Kinda like 13RW, if your girl has any interest in watching To The Bone, offer to watch it with her and talk about it afterwards. As the producer of the movie says, it’s important to remember this is just one person’s struggle with an eating disorder, but it could just as easily have been any one of the millions of stories happening in the U.S. today. Does your girl ever have thoughts or feelings like those of the main character? Do you have any experiences you could share? Since the point of the movie is to discuss, bring up what you find worrisome, believable, or upsetting about the movie then sharing and honesty is going to be important. Then listen more and talk less and see what your girl thinks.