I stumbled upon the trailer for Netflix’s movie To the Bone this morning. It will be aired in July, and it details a young woman’s struggle with and recovery from Anorexia. My stomach leapt to my throat as I viewed the two-minute long preview. I felt a deep panic, sorrow, and indignation as I watched the dramatization of something so devastating. Later, I was greatly disturbed to discover an article circulating about how the main actress Lily Collins was able to “lose the weight” for her anorexic role in the movie. I will not cite this article, because I believe that it offers horrendously unhealthy subject matter. I was further distressed by the fact that she has struggled with an eating disorder of her own.
I desperately pray that this movie will simply open up healthy discussion about an often shameful and misunderstood illness. I suspect, however, that the motives behind this film are more sinister and self-serving, as money-hungry producers choose to make movies about sensationalized topics that will ultimately bring in the most revenue possible. They will do this even at the expense of the lives that will, in fact, be lost because of the ideas that are propagandized as a result of the deadly behaviors that are presented in this film. I am sure that To the Bone will open up conversations. Some might be enlightening and helpful to those who are in mentally and emotionally stable places. Other conversations will be tragic, and those who are vulnerable and broken will cling to the behaviors and strategies presented in this film, following the main actress into deadly patterns of self-destruction. Profit for this film will, without a doubt, cost many susceptible individuals their lives.
Twenty-one years ago, I viewed a movie that served as one of the catalysts of my own self-destruction. As an impressionable ninth grader, I watched a movie on TV. I was alone, in a dysfunctional family, being tormented by bullies at school, and I absolutely despised everything about my body. I was entrenched in eating disordered thoughts and desperate to lose weight. I watched the movie A Secret Between Friends (Contnor, James, 1996), and my broken mind clung to every disordered behavior presented in this movie. I watched the main actress, Kate, engage in the “secret” behaviors of anorexia, and I took notes. The movie assisted me in developing strategies to further my weight loss, and it set an unattainable standard of the “anorexic appearance” to emulate. Throughout the following 17 years, I pursued this goal. I was hospitalized at least 12 times (honestly, I lost count, and for some of the hospitalizations, I was too sick to remember even being admitted). Medically, I brushed shoulders with death more times than I will ever know.
I am not solely blaming media on my eating disorder, but it served to perpetuate my cycle of self-destruction. The fact that I clearly remember scenes from that film 20 years after viewing it says that it influenced the trajectory of my life. It’s influence was not helpful, enlightening, or “educational”. It did not “open up healthy conversations about destructive behaviors” for me. It spurred me on in my pursuit of an unattainable ideal. It hung a standard in front of my face like a carrot, dangling, just out of my reach. That movie was indeed one of the catalysts in my own personal implosion.
I am confident that Netflix’s To the Bone will be wildly popular. I am confident that it will enhance Netflix’s profit margin and bring in a massive amount of revenue. I am also confident that the media will continue to capitalize on the tenuous relationship that western women have with our bodies and publish more articles about how main actress Lily Collins lost weight for the part. If, heaven forbid, playing this part propels this hopefully well-meaning actress back into her deadly eating disorder, I am also sure that the media will cover this as well, clinging like hungry leaches to her deadly illness to bring in the big bucks. I hope that she got a truck-load of therapy throughout the making of this film and follows up with professional help in the aftermath.
The trailer draws the viewer into the story. Those who are not susceptible may watch it with open and rational eyes and be better educated on the world of eating disorders. It will bring tears and heartache for those suffering from these deadly illnesses. Some good may come out of this film. Hopefully, those who suffer in silence will not feel alone and seek help.
My heart breaks for those who are susceptible, however, and my stomach leaps to my throat as I remember myself as a horribly sick ninth grader, ravenously clinging to every scene and behavior presented in A Secret Between Friends, as I watched Lexi Archer’s body waste away, praying that I could someday be that thin.
Friends, I was not rational when I was in the depths of my brokenness. I was further broken by the movie, A Secret Between Friends, and I went on to further destroy my life. That was 1996. Ten percent of the US population, including males and females, struggle with some form of an eating disorder. What this means is that there are a lot of very vulnerable individuals who will view this movie and potentially dive deeper into their eating disorders as a result. I pray that this film does not further sky-rocket the prevalence of Eating Disorders in the Western World. I am grieved. My heart feels like it will burst with the brokenness that is represented in these statistics and the effects of media capitalizing on the disordered chaos of our culture.
I know that there are a lot of opinions, positive and negative, out there regarding the dramatization of mental illness in the media, especially on Netflix’s daring and potentially dangerous new shows and movies. I only speak from experience regarding the role of the media and movies in the furthering and developing of my severe and deadly eating disorder. From my perspective and based on my personal testimony, I am beyond brokenhearted for the state of our society and our relationships with our bodies, and I am physically sickened by the media’s role in perpetuating our distorted belief systems.
I believe that the moral dilemma of the TV and film industry is larger than we realize. Those in the media produce what sells. They pursue to create films that will get the most views possible. I fear that they disregard the possible casualties that can follow the production of some of these hot releases. In my opinion, if the production of a film involves even one life lost, it is a morally bankrupt pursuit. How far will media go in order to entice viewers? Are they willing to sacrifice the vulnerable, broken individuals that might fall victim to the ideas presented in the industry’s pursuit of sensationalism? It is a slippery slope, and I am afraid that we are careening headlong into a dangerous place where certain lives stop mattering.
Lord, have mercy. I pray that our minds may be wrapped in supernatural teflon as we navigate existence in a world that is backwards and inside out.