“To the Bone” – An Honest Review from the Recovery Perspective

From the moment the official trailer was released, discussions of Netflix’s new feature film, “To the Bone,” have been plentiful in the eating disorder community. Should we be flattered that these illnesses are finally being brought to the forefront, or should we be scared that the film is going to glamorize the issue and be filled with triggering content? Will it enlighten our society to the devastation of these illnesses, or will it serve as thinspo for those teetering on the edge of an eating disorder? As someone in recovery from anorexia, I wanted to share with you my honest, raw review of “To the Bone”.

First of all, the movie features Ellen, a 20 year old girl struggling with anorexia who is portrayed by actress Lily Collins. A huge red flag popped up for me when I learned that Collins lost a significant amount of weight under medical supervision to realistically play the part (Read the article here). For one, as Collins shared in her book last year, she formerly struggled with anorexia herself. In my opinion, regardless of how strong or stable one’s recovery is, no one should be subjected to extreme weight loss because there is no guarantee that it will not spark a relapse. If I was in her shoes, I can 110% promise I would end up in a very dark place and would need help getting out, especially with my recovery background. Additionally, eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, and by having Lily lose weight to resemble the stereotypical, emaciated anorexic, the film lost out on the fantastic opportunity to debunk the misconception that all of those who struggle with anorexia are emaciated. Not only does this perpetuate the myth among society, it also gives the idea to those who struggle with the disorder that they have to be “sick enough” to be anorexic and to deserve the treatments necessary to recover.

Moving into the actual film itself, the portrayal of how it’s like to live with anorexia is highly accurate. Most of Ellen’s actions were things I used to partake in while in my sickness: excessive diet coke consumption, knowing the calories in everything, overexercising and cutting my food up into tiny pieces. The movie captured how anorexia enslaves its victim and has ultimate control over their every thought and action and how it is not possible for those in the depths of their illness to “just eat”. Because “To the Bone,” is truly the first movie of this nature, I believe this is a good first step to starting a conversation about disordered eating and the relationship young girls have with their bodies in our society; however, due to how accurate these behaviors were portrayed, there is the potential for those in recovery to become triggered and for young girls to adopt these behaviors in hopes of becoming thinner or achieving the status of “sick enough”. Despite being in a pretty solid recovery since my last admission in 2014-15, I found myself highly triggered by this and had to split my viewing session into two segments.

The hardest parts for me to watch occurred mainly during the first half hour of the film, especially when Susan, Ellen’s step mother, weighs Ellen for the first time since returning home from a failed inpatient treatment stay. Ellen removed her over-sized, fuzzy sweater to reveal her emaciated body while just wearing a sports bra. The image took my breath away. I can’t even picture what I looked like when I was considered emaciated, and to see an emaciated body brought a rush of emotions and a very vague image of what my life was like when I was at my lowest. People remind me time and time again of how horrible my illness was, and seeing this body was a reminder of that, despite my inability to truly remember what it was like. Additionally, when Ellen first met with Dr. Beckham, an eating disorder specialist, he examined her spine to find several bruises from doing too many sit-ups, and it was very triggering to see. I don’t remember what I looked like, but I do know how much pain I was in from the bruises on my spine and hips. Did all of these scenes trigger me? ABSOLUTELY! Even though I’m triggered and experiencing some negative thoughts, I’ve decided to look at this in a positive light: it served as a reminder of how far I’ve come. So despite how triggered I may be to resort back to that lifestyle, I am reminded that I am strong enough to keep fighting.

Let’s talk about Threshold, the treatment center Ellen was admitted to by Dr.Beckham after her initial assessment. All I can say is this was, by far, the worst and most inaccurate depiction of a treatment facility I have ever seen! I know quite a bit about how these places work, considering I’ve collectively spent over eight months in one, so let’s break this down. The patients at Threshold were highly unsupervised and got away with just about every trick in the book. One of the patients hid her purges in a bag under her bed and exercised every spare minute she had. Ellen was able to run up and down the stairs all night and do sit ups in her bed. The patients were not required to eat anything, but they were required to sit at the table. Ellen continuously lost weight throughout her stay, and absolutely no medical intervention was being done. This place literally enabled her to remain in her illness and made no effort to help her! My personal experience in inpatient treatment was 24/7 supervision. The bathroom doors remained open during bathroom breaks and showers to prevent purging and exercising. At night, we were checked on every 15 minutes by a staff member to make sure we were not exercising and to ensure we were getting good amounts of sleep. Our meals were 100% supervised, and the supervisor watched our every move to make sure we didn’t use table rituals or hide food. If we refused to eat a meal or were caught having any other sort of symptom, we were typically threatened to be admitted to an even higher level of care with a feeding tube. While I know not every treatment center is the same, I do know that all programs are hard, strict and demanding. Recovery is not an easy process, and this treatment center doesn’t even come close to showing the pain and challenges that are inevitable when in an inpatient facility. It slightly angers me to see the process depicted in this way because I had to fight like crazy in inpatient to make progress, and the world needs to see that struggle for recovery to truly understand the complexity of both the eating disorder and the recovery process.

I enjoyed seeing the vast differences between the patients at Threshold because I used to be in treatment with the most amazing, unique girls, but I think the different eating disorder diagnoses among the patients could have been presented much more tastefully. By having one patient struggle with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) who constantly ate an entire jar of peanut butter and one struggle with Bulimia who shared purging techniques with the group, it seemed to me that the producer decided at the last minute that she should probably include other eating disorders within the film to emphasize that eating disorders, again, come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. In my opinion, if we are going to educate our society about these disorders, we need to provide a fair and accurate depiction of all eating disorders rather than focus solely on anorexia, especially since the most common eating disorder is Eating Disorder Not-Otherwise-Specified (EDNOS). I know this is only one film, but here again there was a missed opportunity to bring light to all eating disorders.

Another thing that concerned me about the treatment facility was the relationship that developed between Luke and Ellen. While it’s quite common to be in treatment with patients of the opposite sex, most, if not all, treatment centers have a strict policy that restricts romantic relationships between patients. This is because a relationship between two people suffering with an eating disorder can be highly toxic and detrimental to the recovery process. Personally, I think the facility was highly unaware of their relationship because there was absolutely no supervision, especially when they were outdoors on their own, and Luke decided he wanted to go down on Ellen. Watching this made me extra grateful for the supervision I had while in treatment because without it I would not be where I am today, and it really kept anything super crazy from happening! Additionally, their relationship referred back to the misogynistic idea that a woman can only be saved by a man, and I definitely wanted Ellen to find the strength and motivation within herself to give recovery a try. From my own experience, the only person who can save you is yourself, and I wish they would have emphasized this reality.

When Ellen left Threshold due to hitting rock bottom with her weight, the scene where she passed out in the bus station to head back to be with her mother was extremely triggering. She was so frail with sunken eyes and bright blue lips. Again, it’s hard for me to remember how things were when I hit rock bottom, but I wonder if that’s how I looked. If that’s how it was, then wow! They weren’t kidding when they said I looked lifeless. It brought back a lot of negative thoughts and images in my head, so I would consider skipping this scene if these images would trigger you.

The scene where Ellen’s mother finally sits her down to discuss her concerns really got to me. Notably, when her mother said, “I don’t have much more of you to lose,” “you’re dying in front of me,” and “you are almost dead,” is when I saw a huge parallel between Ellen and my struggle with anorexia, although with my head in a better place, I understand it more. My mom said these exact same things and then some to try to get her point across as to how sick I was and how I was going to die without eating or changing my ways, and it felt like it would never happen to me. This scene made me relive several of my darkest hours, tearful nights at the dinner table and fights with my mom over food: something that hasn’t been the easiest thing to think about. It hurts my heart knowing that I caused that much pain and struggle within my family, and I am glad that this movie depicts just how much these disorders can truly pull a family apart. This conversation between Ellen and her mom made a very quick turn for the worse when her mother suggests feeding Ellen with a baby bottle while rocking her. This was just down right uncomfortable and disturbing to watch, and to be quite honest, it made no sense at all.

Following this scene, Ellen wakes up in the middle of the night to climb the mountains near her house and ends up passing due to the complications of anorexia. She goes into the “light” and has a revelation about how she is about to die from her eating disorder. While sitting in a tree, she looks down to see her naked, emaciated body lying lifeless on the ground and realizes how bad it truly is, and she sees Luke coming to comfort her. This is another one of the most triggering scenes in the movie because it gives you a thorough look at an emaciated body, and for me, it brought back some negative thoughts surrounding recovery. Definitely skip this scene if you’re not wanting to deal with intense triggers. What angers me about this is that Ellen instantaneously changed her mindset on recovery to a more positive one, but the reality is that this transformation takes time. Trust me, if I could change in a moment, I probably wouldn’t have hit rock bottom in the first place or spent over eight months in a treatment facility. I wish they showed a very gradual transformation of Ellen throughout the film rather than the two minute, unrealistic journey at the end. The ending of the film seriously leaves something to be desired.

In my opinion, the overall plot of the film unfortunately shed light on how to remain in an eating disorder rather than how to take steps towards recovery. While it is important to shed light on the darkness that these illnesses bring, I think it is of higher importance to show that it is possible to overcome an eating disorder. As I stated previously, a gradual transformation of Ellen’s progression through treatment during the film would have left the viewers with a much greater message than this particular plot provided. Maybe if Collins hadn’t lost the weight for the film and the producers instead used special effects to obtain the realistic portrayal of an anorexic, they could have achieved Ellen’s progression in recovery and documented all of the triumphs and hardships of recovery. The entire tone of the movie was dark and in a way glamorized the eating disorder lifestyle. Again, I believe there was far too much emphasis on Ellen getting sicker and thinner throughout the movie, and it definitely triggered me a great deal. In the future, I hope movies like this really consider the message that they’re sending to viewers. Do I think that the hearts of the producers of, “To the Bone,” are in the right place? Most definitely! I just think their message is hidden in a depressing, trigger-filled movie that honestly has the potential to be a playbook for anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder.

Overall, I give this film 2 out of 5 stars. One star for attempting to tackle this complex issue and another star for Lily Collins’ outstanding acting skills. To all of my recovery warriors, PLEASE TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND TAKE CAUTION WHILE VIEWING THIS FILM! You have all come so far, and I would hate to see you face any setbacks by exposing yourself to the intense triggers found throughout the film. Please see this¬†guide to the most triggering moments so you can skip through those scenes:

  • 3:58 – Calorie Counting
  • 6:04 – Emaciated Body
  • 14:00 – Doctor’s Office and Medical Talk
  • 24:25 – Feeding Tube Talk/Calories
  • 33:15 – Weight Talk
  • 49:53 – Weigh In/Emaciated Body
  • 1:37:40 – Emaciated Body

What did you think of this movie? Leave a comment down below, and let’s talk about it!

I love you all<3

~Madison

7 comments

Add Yours
  1. Raya Lasiewski

    I totally agree with you in how the treatment place was dealing with eating disorders. Being in treatment means being watched when you get and them not letting you use behaviors. That was triggering for me to watch. Then the part of when they said they don’t talk about food or calories, well they were doing what they weren’t supposed to do. I believed they should have been supervised 24/7 and know where the residents are at all times. I believe they should have handled Ellen weight loss better and that they should have let her to continue on the path. They should have at least made her a supplement after weigh in if they didn’t watch them eat.

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  2. Rosa Cleary

    Wow! So incredibly well written. Very insightful. I think this is a pretty fair assessment from things I have read about the movie. I have not seen it and don’t intend on viewing it any time soon considering my current state in my own recovery. Thank you for writing this. Also, you sound so empowered as you discuss these difficult topics. Your honesty is refreshing and I am inspired by your ability to be so thoughtful about your reactions to triggers. Keep it up!

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  3. Britts Amelia

    I couldn’t agree more! I understand what they were trying to achieve but they really missed the mark unfortunately. Also, the treatment facility was such a joke! I was only op and I was had stricter requirements than them.
    Fantastic post xx

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  4. Nickole Hunt

    My 17 year old daughter just spent 21/2 months in inpatient treatment in Utah. It was like watching her story. Those of us who are new to understanding eating disorders, myself as her mother, this was truly enlightening and led to deep conversations. I am understanding how triggering this can be to those in the midst of the disease but those of us who are just trying to grasp the concepts, it was so helpful. I have a doctorate degree in healthcare and still learned so much from this film.

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  5. Kara

    I agree with your review of the movie, it is very triggering, but it does give the public who have no clue what eating disorders actually look like an accurate view of them. I also hope that with the way they left the ending open they make a second movie more focused on recovery and showing that it is possible and the struggle of that. Although with the way the treatment center they’re at is, realistically no one would really recover there. All in all I agree with what you said about it, it was an accurate representation of what it’s like to have an eating disorder, but very Inaccurate as to showing what treatment is like.

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