ACA Pop Culture Connection Blog

Learn more about celebrities who use their platforms to spotlight mental health, as well as unique pop culture-inspired news and resources.


Aug 01, 2017

‘To the Bone’ on Netflix: A chance to help those with eating disorders?

Netflix returned in July to its exploration of mental health issues with “To the Bone,” a film that tells the story of Ellen, a 20-year-old entering her fifth treatment center in a battle against anorexia. This time, however, a controversial Netflix release faced some strong Facebook-based efforts created by mental health experts and the media to expand the related conversation and critical thinking opportunities.

“To the Bone” was written and directed by Marti Noxon, a producer of television programs such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men, Glee, and more. The film is informed by—and loosely based on—Noxon’s experiences with anorexia. 

Lily Collins, in the role of Ellen, also brings her own experience with an eating disorder to the role. Her background, however, increased the controversy surrounding the film when it was learned that she had lost weight to take on the part. Collins, daughter of 1980s pop singer Phil Collins, talked with Access Hollywood about her weight loss for the film. 

Facebook Live Events Offer Insight

Mental health professionals responded to “To the Bone” with a Facebook Live event in July presented by Mental Health America with participation from partners at the National Eating Disorders Association, the Human Rights Campaign, and Confessions of a Binge Eater. The event, which is available for continued viewing, featured a four-member panel discussing the film and eating disorders—and answering questions from Facebook Live session participants. At the time this blog post was written, the discussion had garnered 35,000 views, 384 likes, 241 comments, and 181 shares.

To view the MHA Facebook Live event, paste the following url into your browser: https://www.facebook.com/mentalhealthamerica/videos/10155235186094193/?fref=mentions/ .

The New York Times launched its first conversation on “To the Bone” and eating disorders with a request for reader experiences. Within 48 hours, more than 1,200 responses were received from readers around the world.   

The newspaper also offered a Facebook Live Q&A event, still available online, in partnership with Project HEAL, an organization that provides grant funding for those with eating disorders who are unable to afford treatment. To date, that July Facebook event, focused on the film and on eating disorders, has had 279,000 views, 710 likes, 225 comments, and 190 shares.

To view The New York Times Facebook Live event, paste the following into your browser: https://www.facebook.com/nytimes/videos/10151237390929999/ .

Big Business: Yes. Results: ?

Mental health issues clearly mean big business for the entertainment industry. Netflix spent $8 million to purchase “To the Bone.” The film’s trailer recorded 54 million views in its first week amid speculation that it glamorized extreme thinness, according to The New York Times

Despite the good intentions that may lie behind a film of this type and all of the educational information surrounding it, it’s not clear whether such a work helps or causes harm.

Many news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, put that question to experts and those affected by the consequences of eating disorders.

“There’s a very, very, very fine line between giving information about eating disorders and disclosing too much and being triggering for individuals who are currently struggling,” Johanna Kandel, CEO of the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, told the Los Angeles Times.

Finding Help for an Eating Disorder

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline is available Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Eastern time, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern time. Confidential help is available by phone at 800-931-2237, or through an online chat at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/helplinechat/ .

For crisis situations: Text NEDA to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at the NEDA Crisis Text Line (available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day).

Visit www.theprojectheal.org for stories of hope and inspiration. Full recovery is possible.

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1 Comment

  1. 1 Kristen 05 Aug
    After viewing this film, I was concerned with the repercussions it would have on adolescents as well as the adult population struggling with this disease. I found this film somewhat educational in regard to the portrayal of the obsession and constant "voice" those with eating disorders experience. It depicts the reality of the disease fairly accurately, however, it leaves a lot to be desired as far as a "true to life" portrayal. There are only small glimpses of the spectrum of eating concerns and by featuring this film on such a widely viewed format risks glamorizing eating disorders. Lastly, there is no closure to the film. They end the film simply by showing the main character returning to the residential facility, however, doesn't walk the viewer through the uncomfortable realities of the real recovery process. There is some educational value but on a scale of 1-5, I would only rate it 2.5 due to the lack of accurate depiction of the disorder. 


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