Jul 14

“To the Bone”: Intensive Treatment of Anorexia

Today is the Netflix opening of Marti Noxon‘s To the Bone, which focuses on anorexia. Both Noxon and lead actress Lily Collins have dealt with eating disorders in their own lives.

Responding to those who’ve criticized the film in advance, Melanie McFarland, Salon, states that To the Bone “is an admirable and empathetic work that does not romanticize anorexia or the young woman being ground into nothingness by the disease, as some have feared.”

Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter, sets up the plot and main characters:

Gaunt and expressionless, Ellen (Collins) is first seen making a humorous but also offensive sign at what turns out to be her fourth in-patient treatment, which leads to her being kicked out again. A few quick scenes establish the situation back home in Los Angeles, where her father is never present; her occasionally borderline inappropriate, endlessly talkative but also somewhat frosty step-mom, Susan (Carrie Preston), tries to overcompensate; and Ellen’s half-sister, Kelly (Liana Liberato), is kinder but has secretly been suffering, too, from having to deal with having a ‘freak sister’ with a disorder. Her real mom, Judy (Lili Taylor), ‘a lesbian with bipolar disorder,’ as per Susan, has moved to Arizona to be with her no-nonsense girlfriend, Olive (Brooke Smith).

The Trailer

Depiction of Treatment Program

For her fifth intensive treatment stint, Ellen winds up in a program run by Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves). States Nick Allen, rogerebert.com:

…Noxon’s narrative gets its main focus when she is brought to the house, where the rules start to take place. There are no doors in the house, no cell phones, and points are earned by doing chores, which can be used to have time away from the house. We also meet other residents of various conditions, like Pearl (Maya Eshet), who is often in bed with a tube in her nose, former dancer Luke (Alex Sharp), who lost a great deal of weight after an injury, and even a character played by Leslie Bibb, who is pregnant despite the thinness of her body, and is working hard to safely deliver the baby. Ellen wrestles with whether she wants to be better, facing her self-hatred, due in part to a disturbing past.

Chuck Bowen, Slant: “Beckham is seen only sparingly, in the sidelines as a paternal ghost who suggests a nicer version of Ellen’s unseen father, who can’t be bothered to attend her family therapy session, which devolves into a litany of accusations.”

Hadley Freeman, The Guardian, is one of those who’s less than impressed:

…[Dr. Beckham] proves his unconventionality by swearing occasionally and insisting his methods are totally different from anyone else’s (they’re not: they rely on therapy and healthy eating, as almost all eating-disorder treatments do). He also clearly enjoys his power over his mainly female patients and a braver, less conventional film would have explored this more. Instead, To the Bone merely accepts the doctor’s version of himself as the brilliant, patriarchal medical professional who can fix women.

Selected Reviews

Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter: “…an occasionally harrowing but sometimes also surprisingly warm and funny tale that, while the characters focus a lot on eating (or, rather, not eating), is really more about finding the will and self-love necessary to live rather than about dealing with an eating disorder.”

Peter DeBruge, Variety: “While not downright irreverent, this is the kind of anorexia movie where characters crack jokes about not wanting to visit the Holocaust Museum, lest they feel guilty for starving themselves. ‘To the Bone’ would hardly qualify as a comedy, but it doesn’t take the kid-gloves approach either — in fact, its attitude seems almost ruthlessly pitiless at times…”

Hadley Freeman, The Guardian: “…(W)hen all a movie about anorexia tells you is that people with anorexia have issues with food, and that this makes them thin and unhappy, you have to wonder what the point of the movie is.”

Dec 03

“How to Disappear Completely”: Anorexia Memoir

In How to Disappear Completely, writer/blogger Kelsey Osgood chronicles her long-term attempt to starve herself. Several times she was hospitalized for anorexia, starting at age 15.

Osgood wanted How to Disappear Completely to be unlike those memoirs that come off as “how to’s” for people aspiring to have eating disorders. And thus, states Molly Fischer (The Cut): “She’s written an anorexia memoir that’s largely a critique of anorexia memoirs.”

She does of course describe her own struggles and goals; for example, how important it is, as an anorexic, to be great at self-deprivation and to feel special. The following is from Fischer’s article:

One early therapist calls Osgood a ‘mild case,’ and her response is a defiant determination to become severe. ‘To label an anorexic not that bad is to call him or her normal, which is to say not sick at all, which is to say fat,’ she explains. She describes hospital wards where there’s understood to be a resident ‘best’ anorexic, and regional hospital circuits where certain patients have become ‘famous.’

Today Osgood can report being recovered from anorexia. Recovered. Contrary to what many still believe, it is possible to fully recover from a severe eating disorder.

According to Osgood, the majority (up to 60%) do recover (HuffPost). She adds, referring to a certain persistent myth possibly attributable to 12-step program beliefs, “…I personally find the ‘forever recovering’ aphorism fatalistic and disempowering, and I worry that when a person believes it, he or she can continue to endow anorexia with an unnecessary amount of allure and influence. Ultimately, what I object to the most is the constant presentation of this ‘always in recovery’ idea as fact, when it really is in essence a cultural construct.”

This and several other misunderstandings about anorexia are listed by her in the above-cited article. What follows are five additional untrue statements:

  • Suffering from an eating disorder ultimately better prepares you to face hardships later in life. 
  • One cannot make oneself become anorexic.
  • In order to recover, an anorexic needs to find something that will take the place of his/her eating disorder.
  • Anorexics are, contrary to popular belief, not superficial wannabe models. They are very intelligent perfectionists.
  • It is more important to treat the mind than it is to treat the body.

Publishers Weekly: “Although Osgood avoids ‘prescriptive’ content such as her daily calorie count, from which she believes ‘wannarexics’ might ‘garner self-destructive inspiration,’ the narrative is still imbued with a pathos and tenderness that angst-ridden girls may find attractive. Only the single section proposing practical solutions fully succeeds in shedding the charged, tragic atmosphere that permeates the text, despite Osgood’s good intentions.”