80 (Mostly Sarcastic) Thoughts I Had Watching “To The Bone”

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  1. Movie starts off with Ellen writing “Suck my skinny balls” in art therapy. Love the way things are getting off to a brooding, angsty start already.
  2. Ellen and her sister are literally playing something called the “calorie game,” in which Ellen counts the calories of everything. Not sure why her sister is enabling such a weird fucked up game. Also most people with ED’s who count calories don’t play public games about it.
  3. Why is Ellen’s stepmom taking a “skinny” picture of her to attempt to show her how thin she is? When does that ever work? And what kind of weird parent takes pictures of her emaciated child to show someone probably with body dysmorphia she is too skinny?
  4. This movie is HEAVY in stereotypes here- the big clothes, the body hair (lanugo), someone asking Ellen about her emaciated self, “Do you think this is beautiful?” UGH.
  5. Dr. Beckham, Keanu Reeves, aka KR, is super hot and exchanging a weirdly flirty look with Ellen. On a human level, KR and Lily Collins are both super attractive and I get the sexual tension. In the context of this movie this is really weird and unethical, and I feel super uncomfortable.
  6. Now KR is checking out Ellen’s back bones while she’s in a hospital gown. So… he’s a psychiatrist who is doing a physical exam? What kind of doctor is this dude? I’ll tell you- it’s a doctor who doesn’t exist. No doctor does psychiatry with a little internal medicine on the side. But for now let’s go with it I guess.
  7. Why are there so many views of spines and protruding bones?? Like we get it she is skinny. Like scarily emaciated. Can we stop seeing pictures of this girl’s bones now??
  8. KR is saying some weird ass stuff: “I’m not going to treat you if you’re not interested in living.” Pretty sure doctors have ethical obligations to help people not die. Tbh sometimes people are treated for their own benefit without necessarily wanting to live. Also many people go back and forth about whether they want to get better, and they go through the motions of recovery anyway.
  9. I do appreciate the portrayal of the stepmom’s stupid comments, such as a cake in the shape of a hamburger that says, “Eat Up, Ellen.” Something similar happened to me and it was mortifying.tothebone
  10. There is so much dark brooding music in this movie. Why so much unnecessary angst? We get it. Ellen’s angsty.
  11. Now Ellen is entering treatment. I have a lot of questions about this treatment center, but I’ll start with this one- who is paying for this?? No discussion of money or insurance, which is always part of the picture unless someone is seriously loaded (ED tx is $$$$$$).
  12. Interesting how many people are seeking the “best” “unconventional” doctor and somehow have access to that level of care… No discussion of how many people DON’T have any treatment coverage whatsoever. The movie is clear: We are talking about people with serious privilege. Not just Ellen… anybody who is at this treatment center.
  13. Also this doctor is the “best” presumably because he is unconventional… where is the discourse around evidence-based treatment and actual treatment methods that WORK? Flirty, waterfall-going, existentially-empty doctors who run unsupervised programs are not generally go-to treatment options for young adults who are pretty much dying.
  14. Ellen meets a British guy named Lucas, and he is giving her a tour around the treatment center because apparently in this treatment center there is no staff (begging the question of why any normal human being or insurance company would pay for this).
  15. Note the fact that everyone is really preppy looking and white minus Lucas and one black girl. Talk about playing into the lack of diversity eating disorder stereotype….
  16. This group therapy session… just, ugh. Ellen traumatizes a poor girl by telling her how many calories are in her tube feed. There is so much wrong with this whole scene. Also in real life no one would EVER be allowed to talk about something like that in an eating disorder group therapy session. EVER. There are things called group guidelines.
  17. Did the therapist just tell a client matter-of-factly, “Now you’re thinking about how to burn it off,” in the middle of group IN FRONT OF EVERYONE?? Unspoken rule #15 for eating disorder therapists: Don’t suggest or infer the presence of ED thoughts/ behaviors in front of other people. If I learned I just gained weight at my dietitian’s office and she said, “Now you’re thinking about how to lose that weight,” I would tell her to fuck off. Then I would leave the session and never come back.
  18. No one here seems to be struggling with anything besides starving, purging, and being underweight… with the exception of the poor black girl who was probably thrown into this movie without any character context for the sake of artificially promoting diversity.
  19. At this treatment center people eat whatever they want apparently. You just need to gain weight and they don’t care how you get there?? What the actual fuck. Who cares how you get there? Everyone does!! What the hell, that’s why you’re in TREATMENT. I guess someone could binge to a normal weight (been there), but that is NOT normal.
  20. I kind of want to slap Ellen. She’s being really annoying. Not because she has an eating disorder but because her over-the-top brooding angst and smug superiority is just pissing me off.
  21. Also I’ve never seen anyone so smug and superior on day #1 of treatment. On day #1 of one of my treatment stays I was having panic attacks left and right. This is so unrealistic.
  22. For a movie that’s supposed to be about recovery and not food, there are sure a lot of food scenes in this movie….
  23. People can’t just leave the table in the middle of mealtime. Why is there no supervision for these clients??
  24. The black girl is just sitting at the table eating peanut butter. Not exactly normal eating, but she is also sitting there looking like she wants to stab everyone in the room. Same, girl, same.
  25. All they talk about is getting each other laxatives, purging, weight, and people being fat. What a waste of allocated resources. Who the fuck would pay for this IRL??
  26. KR shows up at Ellen’s bedroom at night to make a house call. What is even happening right now? What psychiatrist-turned-internist-turned makes a night house call just cuz???? My psychiatrist sees me for 15 minutes every 3 months. This is sketchy AF.
  27. This facility is everyone just feeding off of each other’s disorders. “Unconventional” is one way of putting it. Another way is super fucked up, disordered, or a facility that needs to be shut down. They are legit giving each other tips, triggering each other, and calling Emma Stone fat. How is there nobody calling them on this?
  28. KR is now a family therapist. And he’s a HORRIBLE family therapist. Like seriously awful.
  29. THERE IS SO MUCH WRONG WITH THIS FAMILY THERAPY SESSION. I literally can’t.
  30. KR lets Ellen’s family talk over each other while Ellen is sitting there looking like a romantic, tragic ghost *I take my 415th eye roll of the movie.*
  31. Kelly, the sister, is the only normal person in this entire movie besides the black girl. Actress who plays Kelly, props for showing actual emotion and having a 3D character.
  32. No one says “rexy” for anorexic. Right?? Please let’s not start saying that. I can’t take it.
  33. Ellen uses family therapy as an excuse not to eat and everyone exchanges a knowing glance. The undertone being that people with ED’s have messed up families. Playing on stereotypes again….
  34. Question: Is anyone getting medically monitored in this place? I’ve seen no blood draws, no IV’s, and these clients are acting out like crazy.
  35. Trying to scare people into eating to avoid dying is a huge part of this movie, and that just doesn’t work.
  36. The whole scene with Lucas kinda sexually trying to get Ellen to eat a chocolate bar is weirding me out. It sounds like chocolate is getting them to semi-orgasm. Has anyone who created this movie ever seen someone with an eating disorder try to eat????? It’s not like that. It may involve tears or panic attacks but certainly no orgasmic expressions of how good food tastes.
  37. Lucas is trying to force Ellen to eat, which I guess is good because no staff is ever there, and no one else seems to care she’s not eating.
  38. KR just says, “We’re never doing family therapy again. That was a shit show.” I saw that family therapy session and tbh, I think part of the shit-show nature of the family therapy has to do with the fact that KR is an AWFUL family therapist. AWFUL.
  39. KR literally just told Ellen her name seems old fashioned and that she should change it. Um WHAT??!!?? What psychiatrist/ internist/ family therapist tells a client to change her name????
  40. Ellen is Eli now. Just… whatever.
  41. Eli and Lucas pretend to have cancer and be in hospice to get free alcohol. In the meantime, Lucas tells the waitress she is chewing and spitting because of her chemo. I don’t even know what to say here… Is this supposed to be this coming of age moment that they’re out in the community and free and shit? This is a really sick way of doing that.
  42. A client mentioned her mother took her to a Holocaust museum to feel guilty about starving. That’s what you got out of seeing the Holocaust museum??
  43. KR is taking the clients to a waterfall in the dark, and they all start dancing in it. It becomes some artsy music video of dancing in a waterfall being alive. What is happening right now….
  44. Also why would a psychiatrist/ internist/ family therapist/ individual therapist would taking a bunch of teens to a waterfall in the dark alone….
  45. Is this guy still getting billed $200/ hour for dancing in a waterfall?
  46. Asking for a friend.
  47. This waterfall scene is weird as hell and I have no idea how this has to do with anything. Is the indication that waterfalls and knowing you’re alive heals eating disorders? Because that’s just not true. At all.
  48. Eli decides to eat a chocolate bar in the most eating disordered way ever by cutting it into small pieces and eating one small piece. People are giving her props though?
  49. Lucas: “Did somebody touch you as a kid or something?” That’s a great way to bring up past trauma.
  50. Lucas and Eli can’t be making out right now.
  51. Wait they’re making out right now.
  52. Are you fucking kidding me??
  53. Who falls in love in eating disorder treatment? I’m sorry, but I know a lot of people with ED’s, and that’s not really an option usually. HIGHLY unrealistic. Also Lucas is possibly in love with Eli after they’ve known each other for what, 2 days??
  54. I will say, the scene about the miscarriage is sad. Followed by the ridiculous comment by another unsupervised client, “Can you push a baby out by throwing up too hard?” Face palm.
  55. Eli keeps getting weighed in this dramatic way, and the staff is letting her see her weight. When does that ever happen in treatment? Treatment weight is almost always done facing away. I still don’t look at my weight years after my last treatment stay- it’s not something I need to know.
  56. Eli amping up her empathy about Megan’s miscarriage: “That baby was never going to make it.” Eli, stfu. For the record, at least Megan has eaten more than one bite of chocolate this entire movie.
  57. KR is now Eli’s individual therapist as well- so we have 4 disciplines going on here. Regardless of this alone being professionally irresponsible, Eli starts asking about KR’s life like all healthy therapy relationships start… and KR answers. KR says he is practically married to his work. Eli tells him, “Sounds like you’re avoiding intimacy doctor.” I just can’t right now. I think I said that earlier but I really can’t now.
  58. KR is saying some bullshit about how there is no point of life and Eli knows what to do and “stop waiting for life to be easy.” KR is the kind of therapist who gets training by watching Dr. Phil one time. He is also the kind of therapist who nobody ever sees because glib sayings and boundary-less, unethical therapy doesn’t happen in the real world.
  59. Eli runs away from treatment, ditching her friend Lucas, who says he needs her and just professed his love for her last night. To be fair, I’d run away from that treatment center too, but for different reasons.
  60. KR, being the super ethical and great doctor he is, let’s Eli run off saying, “For Eli the bottom is critical.” Tbh, for many the bottom is death. But guess he’s cool with her taking that chance?
  61. Eli ends up staying with her mom, who thinks she should feed Eli with a bottle and rock and cradle her because Eli’s mom had postpartum depression when she was born, and Eli missed out??
  62. This is hilarious, her mom is crazy.
  63. But wait, hold on, Eli wants to be fed with the bottle. The mom pulls out the baby bottle, full of rice milk.
  64. Holy shit this is happening.
  65. The camera fades out as Eli is in her mom’s arms being fed by a bottle.
  66. I feel like I’m on drugs. What is happening??
  67. Eli walks in the moonlight and starts a trippy dream sequence that I don’t understand. I guess the point of this is that Eli finally realizes she’s dying because she sees herself below the tree with all her bones sticking out. I understand this is supposed to be a formative scene in the movie, but all I can’t take it seriously. This movie is so strange. It lacks substance, depth, any semblance of professional respect, and Eli just got fed with a baby bottle. No, I’m not over that.
  68. Also the “baby feeding” thing NEVER happens. Okay, there was the Peggy Claude-Pierre book that terrified me as a freshman in college, but nobody does that anymore (I hope).
  69. What is with this movie and bones?? I know, I know you’re skinny!! I know, it’s called, “To The Bone.” I don’t know how the movie producers can realize that not everyone with anorexia has visible bones! In fact, most don’t. The constant protruding bone imagery is not only inaccurate but triggering and frustrating.
  70. Then all of a sudden Eli wakes up from the moon/ tree sequence. Eli proceeds to hug everyone in her family, and she goes back to treatment… I guess ready to get better suddenly?
  71. Wait, so last night you got fed by your mom in a baby bottle, passed out while hiking, and had a trippy dream sequence and got healed??
  72. Please don’t tell me the movie ended.
  73. The movie ended.
  74. Are you kidding me?
  75. What did I just watch for the last hour and a half?
  76. Dear God, I hope nobody thinks having an eating disorder is anything like that, or that treatment is anything like that.
  77. This movie has gotten a lot of positive press through reviews and feedback from Sundance. WHYYYYYYY??????
  78. *screams into the abyss*
  79. Breathe. It’s okay. You’re okay. People are hopefully going to realize that this is not what the normative eating disorder experience is like. Even though there are some attributes of truth, “To The Bone” has so much gross inaccuracy, as well as triggering imagery and trite, unrealistic therapeutic discourse.
  80. This is so sad. Guys, we really need to make a good movie about eating disorders. 

To The Bone: Proceed With Caution

My fascination with eating disorder movies developed suddenly one day years ago, when I had a free afternoon and access to YouTube. For example, Growing Pains actress and anorexia survivor Tracey Gold played someone named Nancy in a Lifetime movie that is one of the most cinematically horrendous things I’ve seen.

Did these stories perpetuate my already severe eating disorder symptoms by including numbers, behavior details, and images of thinness? Yes, probably. However, I watched movie after movie, memoir followed by documentary, for another separate reason: I wanted to feel understood.

In the isolated pain of anorexia, I had shut out all my friends. I had stopped going to treatment appointments. Cold and alone in a prison that became unmanageable, I wanted someone to take my hand. I wanted someone to tell me, “I get it.” I wanted to connect with stories that made me feel safe and validated.

So, I turned to YouTube.

These films did not “heal” me. They did not constitute treatment. However, years later, these narratives stick with me. Nowadays, I am not seeking “tips” or numbers; I seek understanding.

I want eating disorders to be understood.

So many films have broached the difficult subjects of schizophrenia, addiction, and bipolar disorder, to name a few. But eating disorders? People are primarily directed to Lifetime movies and documentaries so corny, outdated, and ridiculous they can barely be taken seriously.

Cue my excitement when I learned about To The Bone months ago. Perhaps this would be a good movie about eating disorders. My high hopes were based on the fact that lead actress Lily Collins and director Marti Noxon struggled with eating disorders in the past. In addition, Project HEAL, a recovery organization I respect very much, provided consultation during filming and has endorsed the movie.

The conversation began to shift when the trailer premiered last week. Controversy spread across the opinion spectrum. Many eating disorder sufferers are infuriated (understandably) that the already small lead actress lost weight for the movie, as well as the trailer’s triggering images of empty plates and protruding collarbones. Project HEAL founder Liana Rosenman released this statement:

It’s a challenge to make a truthful movie about eating disorders that sheds light on their severity and complexity — capturing the patient and family experience of this real mental disorder — without glamorizing the disease ‘To the Bone’ tows this line beautifully. While the movie has the possibility to be triggering to some, I strongly believe that it will make a huge difference of raising public awareness of this silenced disorder.

In this post, I will be giving a layered critique of To The Bone by highlighting some key issues at play.

While I have not watched the movie, both the trailer and my understanding of the social and psychological factors of eating disorders will equip me to preemptively raise some questions and critique aspects of the upcoming film.

The Power of Eating Disorder Narrative (For Good and Bad)

Let me preface what I am about to say by noting that I will be watching To The Bone when it premiers.

I believe in the power of narrative.

When harnessed for good, the power of story can bring peace, hope, and understanding to the weary. Eating disorders are complex, misunderstood illnesses that have not captured adequately in film. Dozens of movies embrace plot lines surrounding alcohol and drug addiction, but eating disorder themes are often swept under the rug.

Historically, movies that cover eating disorders are truly awful.

I cannot say that more emphatically.

The level of cinematic creativity and diversity can be represented by me describing one scene that is inevitably in all these movies: Brooding teenage girl staring at the mirror with a bra on feeling like she is fat.

Is that the best we can do?

Elementary school-aged children have body image issues, dorm bathrooms have clogged drains from vomit, and the American diet industry is worth billions, but let’s look at a white, upper-class girl looking in the mirror with disdain?

American film is better than that. Eating disorder research is farther along than that.

It’s treacherous territory making a movie about an eating disorder. To accurately depict the hell and pain of these clusters of symptoms, while promoting recovery versus the pro ana/ mia communities, is like tiptoeing on a cliff.

“Honest” depictions of eating disorders such as Wasted and Thin have done much harm in inadvertently exacerbating a pro-eating disorder mindset. Included in these films are details that have served as “how to” tips for those who are very much embedded in an eating disorder mindset.

What can be most triggering for eating disorder sufferers in film is mention of numbers, images of grotesquely thin people, and vivid descriptions of ED behaviors.

This brings us to To The Bone.

To The Bone is advertised to be a movie that doesn’t “hold back,” in terms of showing a woman out of control in her life, with a sunken face and empty plate. Lily Collins is emaciated in the movie, a role for which she lost weight from her already small frame, despite having an eating disorder history.

I have no doubt that the movie will promote full recovery for Collins’ character, nor do I doubt the film’s intentions. I also believe it will be a great conversation-starter for the general public surrounding the secrecy of eating disorders.

However, the trailer is disturbing. 

Upbeat music and triggering imagery are paired with colorful sayings like, “I am in control,” and, “I am strong.” There is a scene of a friend joking that Collins has “calorie Asperger’s.” Snap shots of group therapy and psychiatrist Keanu Reeves indicate that the movie will have a “happy ending.” The treatment center is led by a cool, hot, “unconventional” doctor (Keanu Reeves) who takes the residents to a waterfall, I guess. Sunken faced Collins asked a fellow sufferer, “How do you just eat?” The boy replies, “I’m not going to lie. I’m really f%&#ing hungry.” Cue the upbeat music and bold colors.

Let’s start with the obvious emotional disconnect between the cheerleader music that could as easily introduce Bring It On, paired with disturbing words, phrases, and images. It’s obvious the movie is trying to promote an upbeat, “pro recovery” vibe in the weirdest way.

I’m also fixated on the hot doctor thing. There is nothing realistic about a doctor somehow going on treatment outings with clients. Sorry, been to treatment, and they have mental health techs do that kind of stuff. Usually people are lucky if they see psychiatrists once every 90 days. They’re billed at way too high of a rate to take treatment residents to waterfalls. In real life, that treatment center would cost at least $100,000 per month.

I get that the upbeat attitude of the trailer intends to foreshadow a happy ending, but it doesn’t fit. There is nothing sexy or upbeat about an emaciated girl with a protruding spine in a doctor’s office, or having “calorie Asperger’s,” whatever that means. How do any of these movie clips warrant the musical equivalent of high fives and bubble gum?

This trailer had me shaking my head as a once-enthusiast of this movie. I will still be watching To The Bone, but my concerns about this narrative are seismic, especially after the trailer. If this movie opens up the conversation about eating disorders and helps sufferers feel understood, I will celebrate. At the same time, this trailer depicts the sad reality of the lack of eating disorder education to the larger public and highlights persisting stereotypes.

Oh Look, Another Young, Upper Class White Girl With Anorexia

It’s a tale that is unfortunately the plot line of almost every eating disorder movie. A white, cisgender, upper-class, long-haired, intelligent, already-thin girl who needs control develops an eating disorder. She has issues with her family, probably. At the end, she gets better or dies.

To The Bone uses these same demographics with the main character.

Groundbreaking.

The reality is that eating disorders affect those in any ethnic group, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, age, and geographic location. Moreover, the rates of eating disorders are rising in other key demographic areas: males (especially gay males), younger children, and middle aged women.

Director Marti Noxon defended this story choice, “It’s important to remember EDs is unique and To The Bone is just one of the millions of ED stories that could be told in the US at this very moment.”

Noxon is correct in that millions of ED stories could be told, but this is the one being told in the film. This cinematic choice has broad implications. Many who watch this movie might not be familiar with eating disorders, so the choice to feature a thin, white, young female will shape the way others view what an eating disorder looks like.

The problem with a white, emaciated woman of privilege being the heroine of this movie is two-fold:

  1. It does not represent the reality of eating disorders, nor does it accurately portray the significant crossover between disorders across a lifetime (e.g. shift from bulimia to anorexia to binge eating back to anorexia). I’m not going to lie, Lily Collin’s emaciated frame and overdone sunken-eye makeup makes me roll my eyes. Many people with eating disorders are not underweight. It certainly doesn’t represent the physical “norm” of someone with an eating disorder.
  2. These demographic choices of the main character highlight existing stigma. Sadly, Lily Collins’ emaciated frame will draw in viewers. I wonder what would happen if Lily Collins had gained 50 pounds for the role rather than losing weight, or if the heroine of the film was another beautiful, but overweight, actress, such as Melissa McCarthy or Queen Latifah. What about James Corden? I don’t think a film like this would be popular. Starving is the most culturally sanctioned eating disorder behavior. Do I think a story needs to be told of someone who binges and is obese as a result, for instance? Absolutely!! But it won’t be, for a long time, anyway. I’m not surprised that the dominant narrative of this movie plays into societal fascination with anorexia and the cultural thinness ideal.  I have been disgusted by interviews discussing Collins’ weight loss. “How Did an Already Thin Girl with an Anorexia History Lose More Weight to Play Someone with Anorexia?” might be a popular headline, but it’s nonsensical for those in recovery.

The problem with this one story fitting the predominant cultural narrative is that it makes us more likely to miss someone who doesn’t fit the physical “type” of Lily Collins but is displaying eating disorder behaviors. We are more likely to overlook an older female who is always in the gym or a young male who sneaks off to his car and comes back hours later smelling of food and vomit.

Moreover, those who don’t fit the mold To The Bone sets forth might feel even more shame. These are things I’ve heard or said dozens of times:

“Someone like me shouldn’t have an eating disorder.”

“I don’t look like I have an eating disorder.”

“My insurance company denied me treatment because my symptoms weren’t severe enough. I think if I lose weight they’d pay for it.”

“What if my church/ friend group/ school/ ethnic community found out I have an eating disorder? I’ll disappoint everyone.”

I am not knocking stories of women in privilege. In fact, my story is in some respects that story– white, small girl in a seemingly normal, upper-middle class environment with straight A’s develops anorexia. I had access to health care, even when my insurance refused to authorize treatment. This is not to say that I fit the standard mold entirely. There is no “normal” eating disorder story. People are dimensional, complex beings. Those of any religion, race, cultural group, age, and sexual orientation can develop an eating disorder.

My concern is that To The Bone will fall into a category of story of a woman in privilege, stifling and silencing other narratives. To the third grader chewing gum instead of eating popcorn with her friends as an attempt to reduce “baby fat,” to the male model who drinks and smokes to avoid daytime meals, and to the middle-aged housewife who finds herself needing inpatient treatment, I say this: Your story is valid. Just because To The Bone features an unrealistic, seriously emaciated young actress doesn’t mean your pain is less valid.

Eating disorders are eating disorders. They don’t discriminate.

The Mundane Reality of Eating Disorder Recovery

Keanu Reeves apparently plays an “unconventional psychiatrist” in the movie and seems both hot and cool. I worry that these unconventional methods will serve as the vehicle of healing in the movie. As if meeting a cool doctor and coming to a profound understanding of the “why” of symptoms leads to recovery.

For years, I expected when I found out the “why,” perhaps through lots and lots of digging during therapy, I would stop my eating disorder. Maybe would no longer be necessary. I was trying to find the elusive “it,” which often doesn’t come. 

I never found out why I have an eating disorder.

Does it matter, at the end of the day? To really, truly know why I developed an eating disorder, I would have to dissect my brain with the science of 200 years from now and look at every single circumstance in my first 13 years of life. I would have to look at my family history, get data from my mom’s pregnancy and my prenatal care, etc. It is impossible to know exactly why. 

I did not find recovery from talking about my family background for years or going to restaurants with my therapist in treatment. Yes, I have done these things, and to an extent, they helped, but they never got me “there,” to the elusive “it.” 

The reality of eating disorder recovery is a secret, but I’m going to tell you it anyway:

It is boring.

There, I said it. Eating disorder recovery is choosing to sneak a mid-day snack between meetings because my stomach is grumbling. It is paying the damn $100 every few weeks to check in with my dietitian. It is filling my medication on time. It is grocery shopping on Sunday night because I am tired.

It is ongoing, and it is not fun. Well, sometimes recovery is fun. Eating ice cream on a warm night is a fun part of recovery. Most parts are not fun. I hate having to wake up, knowing that the extent to which I restrict will guide my body’s well-worn path of switching to starvation mode. I hate forcing myself to eat lunch when my stomach is in turn due to anxiety, knowing that I have to eat anyway.

Boring is not Hollywood. Boring will not gain ratings. And so, I assume To The Bone will be filled with exaggerated moments of truth and insight, as well as dramatic sensational images and numbers. Showing a protruding spine is extreme, so it’s better for ratings. Getting weighed when you’re bloated and haven’t taken a shit in 2 weeks is gross and not sexy, so it will not be included.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of having a hot, cool psychiatrist taking us to waterfalls in treatment.

Real eating disorder recovery is boring and regular. It isn’t sexy or worthy of a red-carpet Netflix debut, but it is so worth it. 

Proceed with Caution

As I said before, I will be watching To The Bone on July 14th. I hope my concerns will be unfounded and that others will benefit greatly from this film. I hope I’m not going to be on the couch eating sour candy rolling my eyes because of unrealistic “aha” moments, too many protruding spines, and calorie-counting.

I know the film will open up conversation about what eating disorders are like.

I just hope it opens up good, informed conversation, conversation that heals rather than shames and stigmatizes.

The 44-Pound Woman Story

FYI I will NOT be posting any thinspo images in this article, this is Rachael in a healthier place (my assumption)

It’s all over the media. It is trending on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Go Fund Me: Rachael Farrokh, only 37 years old, made a social media plea to help her get treatment for anorexia, and her video went viral.

The media followed soon after, printing article after article with names like, 44 Pound Woman Dying of Anorexia Seeks Desperate Help. The world responded to this viral video and the subsequent news coverage, and Rachael’s Go Fund Me page raised over $120,000.

I am glad that  as a result of this, she is going to get help at Denver ACUTE, an eating disorder treatment center in Denver that helps with medical stabilization. I believe that Rachael Farrokh deserves and does desperately need treatment.

As an honest caveat to what will follow, I do not know extensive details on this story, so I cannot say I know much about this woman’s case. I have not watched her Youtube video plea, nor will I. I will not look at the ultra-thin pictures that pop up on my Facebook.

However, I will say this: the media coverage on this story has highly disturbed me.

In my opinion, the media coverage of Rachael Farrokh’s struggle for treatment does a disservice to all of us in:

1. Inaccurately portraying the reality of most eating disorders

2. Perpetuating the glamorization of anorexia and the exploitation of extremely sick individuals

3. Failing to address the systemic issues at play

****

1. I want to take a step back.

Around 20 million women and 10 million men will struggle with an eating disorder in their lives. Currently, there are four major types of eating disorders (per the DSM-V): anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and otherwise specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED).

One of the changes to anorexia in the new DSM is the removal of the criteria that people with the disorder must be 15% under their ideal body weight, because that is sometimes not the case. In fact, people with restrictive eating patterns or anorexia can appear of “normal” weights to others. 

Further, the most common eating disorder is NOT anorexia, it is binge eating disorder. Around 1-5% of people have this disorder, and it is associated with recurrent episodes of binge eating. Most people with this disorder, as well as bulimia, are of normal weight.

The point I’m making is this: people with life-threatening, treatment-meriting eating disorders do NOT necessarily have to be underweight to warrant immediate treatment.

You do not have to be 44 pounds to have an eating disorder… or 54, or 104, or 154, or 204.

Eating disorders are life-threatening and should be treated seriously at their earliest signs and symptoms. Purging can be life-threatening at ANY weight. Binge eating disorder and restrictive eating can be life threatening-too. People with eating disorders are usually required to get medical supervision because electrolyte levels, potassium, hormones, etc. must be monitored, thus reaffirming the point that regardless of the diagnosis eating disorders are serious.

This woman is not the norm of people with an eating disorder. Some or most of the time, eating disorders are not visible to the outside eye. At my “sickest” (binging, overexercising, restricting, whatever) people have been completely unable to tell that I was close to breaking down.

I worry about this media coverage. I know the way my brain used to think. I wanted to lose x pounds or get to x weight to feel like I was “worthy” of treatment. For people with eating disorders, this viral story can be triggering and harmful.

2. In a Communication class, I learned this point: “The media is the message.” I want to look at the message that comes through the articles.

In the news articles I saw, I viewed many pictures of Rachael looking severely emaciated and vulnerable, and media articles used words like “desperate” and “shockingly thin.” I’m glad that donations poured in, but why did this story become so popular in the first place?

The media has a strange, glamor-tinted fascination with anorexia. The more severe the story, the more people are interested. In a country full of “obesity epidemic” lingo and sayings like, “You can never be too rich or too thin,” culture is fascinated with people who maybe “went too far” by developing severe anorexia. They receive our sympathy points, and we read the articles. Oh yes, we read those articles about Rachael Farrokh. We saw the pictures, the many pictures.

The pictures that accompanied many of these articles (and the Youtube clip) are nothing short of what Kelsey Osgood coined, eating disorder porn. These images aren’t healthy to anyone. They are triggering to ED sufferers, exploitative of a woman who is clearly dying or is at extreme medical risk, and they falsely portrays what an eating disorder is like in most cases.

Rachael Farrokh is sick. Her body and mind are deprived of nourishment they need to survive. And in the midst of that the media is fascinated with how she looks, and these constant pictures seem exploitative, as if she is being show off in some theater of the grotesque and public pity.

Anorexia and other eating disorders are not sexy or glamorous, as media messages might indicate.

They are severe psychosocial disorders, and those suffering from them need treatment, rather than being exploited by their pictures being blown up on the internet.

3. Even as I write this, I think that deep down, this whole story is a farce to the real story. The real story is this: Stories like this should not be happening in the first place.

Why can’t all people with eating disorders receive affordable eating disorder treatment?

Why does there need to be a Go Fund Me page not only for Rachael but for anyone with an eating disorder?

Well, that’s an easy answer: because the American health care system is not conducive to helping people get eating disorder treatment. 

ED sufferers have a high mortality and relapse rate, and insurance companies (in my experience historically) do not like to cover full, comprehensive treatment for treating the disorder.

A few years ago, I was at a point in my life in which I was looking at doing IOP (intensive outpatient) treatment. My insurance company denied my claim for services, even though I was out of control and in desperate need for help. I flat-out asked this question: “If I weighed 5 pounds less, would you authorize me to go to treatment?” Whoever I was talking to at the ever wonderful Blue Cross didn’t directly answer that question but did say this, “You might have a better case.”

You might have a better case.

As if I have to plead the right to receive eating disorder services, that my insurance company is all but telling me: Lose 5 pounds and you can get the help that you need.

How fucked up is that.

As I’ve said in this blog post several times, eating disorders are severe, and weight is often not a good indicator of how much someone needs or “deserves” treatment.

Everyone deserves treatment. NO ONE deserves to go through the living hell of an eating disorder. While we heard about Rachael’s extreme story in the news, there are countless people who are unable to afford treatment and are dying as a result.

The American health care system needs to understand ALL eating disorders for what they are and be able to offer treatment for those who need it.

***

In sum, the media has done a disservice to others with eating disorders. The articles full of glamour-tinted images of someone dying of anorexia do not accurately describe the experience of most people with eating disorders. In addition, no articles I’ve read mention the systemic injustices having to do with lack of insurance coverage for eating disorder treatment.

I have nothing against Rachael Farrokh. I hope she recovers fully and goes on to live a full, meaningful life. But the media, society, and we as individuals need to think critically about this story and how we understand anorexia and eating disorders in general.

Bikini Season, Body Shaming, and Other Stupidities

Bikini season is coming!

We know what that means… Lots of bikini/ fitness/ diet Pinterest boards leaving people feeling horrible about themselves. Article titles like, “How to get ‘bikini ready”. Or, articles about kale smoothies and how good they taste and while you’re at it,you should exercise like 18,000 calories a day. Pictures of “best/ worst” celeb bikini bodies. It’s already begun with “shocking” pictures of Tara Reid in a bikini and talk show hosts telling Kelly Clarkson she “could stay off the deep dish pizza” after she… gained weight (WHAT!!!!) after having a baby (um, you’re supposed to lose that weight in 2 weeks, maybe less, everyone knows that *heavy sarcasm*).

I don’t know what is more sad: 1) That a bunch of tabloid dipshits judge and mock people’s bodies, how much they eat, and their weight struggles/ triumphs/ how they’re “letting themselves go,” or 2) That somehow these magazines are selling! People are reading articles by said dipshits.

I just have to ask: What is this world?

What kind of weird society do we live in that deems terms like “fat,” “dessert,” “seconds,” and “full” shameful? What is so disgusting about women’s bodies? Side note: my focus for this post will be about body shaming women because I am one and have more to say on the topic, but men are also victims of body shaming.

All of the mean twitter posts… the cyber bullying… the incessant fat shaming… WHY? The stigmatizing body shaming comments casually zinged about, they hurt. We may not acknowledge that body shaming comments hurt inside, but they do.

Body shaming hurts.

There is endless interpersonal and internalized shame about what we look like– that number on the scale what we eat what we don’t.

Culture tells us appearance defines our worth.

People are ashamed of their own bodies, and then collectively, we shame the body of others. With all this body shaming going around, it is no wonder that the diet industry is so prominent. And here’s where things get more disturbing. In 2014, the U.S. diet industry raked in $60.5 billion. More disturbing yet: that astronomical number is a DECLINE from the year before.

This video is a good visual of how much $1 billion really is. So take that video’s visual and try to wrap your mind around $60.5 billion. This is, by any standard, a lot of money. How many social ills that much money could solve in the world? Water sanitation, poverty, racial, sexual, policy to promote gender equality, and so much more! Maybe we could even put a dent in the United States’ massive debt.

Let’s just sit here for a moment and realize how fucked up this all us.

People are spending more money than the GDP of many countries on diets that become popular and unpopular as fast as hashtags or the latest in social media… Atkins is old school (the N’Sync of diets), but kale is in (the Taylor Swift of food). People are going Paleo, organic, and gluten free. Egg white omelettes are the new black. Diet pills remain comparable to the quirky and questionable relative at many family gatherings. Constantly changing options for people who are essentially wasting their money considering that DIETS DON’T WORK!!

Body insecurity is a given in today’s culture. Between 40 and 60% of young girls ages 6-12 are already expressing concern about their weight or are worried about being fat. The body-shame cycle starts so young. The same girls memorizing Let It Go and wearing Elsa costumes around the house might be considering going on their first diet. Maybe they already have.

In our culture, we are not at peace with our bodies, and how can we be with all this propaganda and equating body size and looks to worthiness? We think, maybe that next fad diet will make us enough. Maybe, then, we can feel okay and good about ourselves. Maybe, then, we’ll be worthy.

I follow an Instagram page called “Bye Felipe” which was created to call “out dudes who turn hostile when rejected or ignored.” The site usually focuses on people who are interacting on dating web sites. You can see for yourself the number of fat-shaming comments doled out to girls on this page. It is horrifying to open up my Instagram and seeing how guys degrade women by playing on body insecurities and playing the “fat” card.

These comments hurt, and they are dangerous.

So here is my message, and I wish I could put this in size 200 font:

LET’S PUT DOWN THE SWORDS.

Let’s stop shaming ourselves and others about the way they look.

Let’s treat our bodies with acceptance and compassion.

Let’s humanize each other’s bodies. Let’s humanize our own bodies.

Do we have body flaws and faults? Do some people need to gain or lose weight? A resounding yes. But can that be okay? Are we still worthy? An equal and resounding yes. It is possible to take care of our body struggles with a posture of love and self-care.

When people talk about how so-and-so is too thin/ skinny/ fat; what’s with her butt/ boobs/ nose/ ears/ mouth/ teeth/ hair, they don’t know who they’re affecting. Little girls (AND little boys) see the disgusting way people are body-shamed, and we’re breeding new generations of body-shamers.

An app exists in which you can “fit the fat girl crown”, and there was an app (thankfully it was TAKEN DOWN) that was designed to “rescue the anorexic girl.” All this when some reports suggest that incidences of eating disorders may be on the rise.

Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting.

You don’t know what the person across the street or next to you or in the cubicle over from you is dealing with, body-wise or life-wise. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Often you know nothing about it, and it is better to be KIND and COMPASSIONATE, rather than shaming and potentially triggering. This spring marks the 14th year of my eating disorder, and frankly, I think people have to mind their own fucking business. I realize this does not sound kind, but one negative comment can set off a slip or relapse or a passive-aggressive text to my therapist about how much I hate her guts. NO ONE wants to hear a passive aggressive, “Do you really need that slice of cake?”, or, “Wow you look huge in that picture!” And especially not someone who has struggled with an eating disorder.

PUT DOWN THE SWORD.

So in conjunction with this blog post’s title, I’m going to tell you a secret about bikini season. Here is how to have a bikini body:

People are at war with their own bodies and the bodies of others. It is a war that no one will win, but there will be many casualties.

So, in sum: be kind, compassionate, and please: