I've been debating on whether to push Publish on this post since last night. Vulnerability is not my strong suit and I suppose that, as a teacher, I wonder what my students will think of me when they know that I have things in my past that I am ashamed of. I'm not ashamed of my illness but I am sometimes ashamed of the person I was when I was a full-blown anorexic. Wow. There it is.... I typed it out and made it real.... I've struggled with anorexia since I was 12 and I often hesitate to say that to people that do not know me because I don't want to be clumped into some Lifetime movie stereotype : the self-absorbed, calorie counting, staring at the scale for hours girl you see in the majority of films about eating disorders.
And that's where we cue the latest controversial Netflix film/show about mental illness... Marti Noxon's new film To The Bone starring Lily Collins and Keanu Reaves. There have been many murmurs from the mental health community about the responsibility of films portrayals of mental illness. So, being the overly-analytical, incredibly opinionated person I am, I decided to watch it and take copious amounts of notes. So here is one anorexic's perspective on this film... take it or leave it.
I'll admit I found parts hysterical. The bizarre field trip scene channeling Singin' In the Rain made me giggle uncontrollably. The terrible eating disorder jokes such as the "rexie-olympics" and Collin's one liners like "she refused to chew" were a bit too Lifetime Movie Network for me. I also immediately cringed when I started to feel that Luke, the eccentric British dancer, would ultimately swoop in and "save the day." Please - gag me with a silver spoon!
But that's enough bitching! Ultimately, after watching the entire movie, and ignoring the little moments that felt too stereotypical to fit my narrative, I realized that there are some moments of pure gold in this movie. Noxon captures what's at the heart of an eating disorder. She shows us that not just one type of woman (or man) can struggle with food. I mean, don't we all struggle with food in some way or another? She stripped away most of the cliches... When Reeves character refuses to talk about food, I rejoiced because food is only a side effect of an eating disorder. Food is a means of control, a way to numb other pains you're too fearful to deal with. The regimental, obsessive habits related to food and weight just suppress something deeper, something bigger... and that's never really been captured on film before.
In the end, we see, through a slightly off-putting dream sequence, that ultimately, you, the person with the illness can choose to work towards a better life. No one can make you or tell you how to do it because you already know. In that image of Collins swallowing her "courage" I saw myself 8 years ago finally realizing that I ultimately had all the power. I could choose to remain a victim or become a survivor... and it would be absolute bullshit for me to tell you that it went smoothly from there on out. No way! It was hard as hell and occasionally still can be... but that is what I loved about this movie. She didn't just miraculously heal at the end. The movie wasn't wrapped up into a neat little package so that you could all sleep better at night. It was real and messy, funny and emotional. It spoke a truth that we don't always see on the screen and that's why I think this movie is important. We need movies like this to bring the dialogue to the general population that we, as survivors, have known all along. That life is messy. That sometimes we become people we didn't want to be as a way to cope with something we didn't want to face.
I'll always be an anorexic. It doesn't just mysteriously vanish as soon as you reach a certain weight. I will always have to face food as I ultimately need it to survive... but I will not always be a victim of my anorexia because ultimately, I have the power and the tools to choose not to actively live that life. Eating disorders are not a choice. They are a mental illness... but recovery is a choice. Not an easy one, but a choice nonetheless.
Note: If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, listen to your body and your mind before you watch this movie. It doesn't deal with numbers a lot but it could still be triggering and bring up emotions you aren't quite ready to face. Make sure you can assure yourself that you are healthy enough to see it. If not, don't watch it but rest assured that this movie is moving in the right direction of telling our stories...