Complaints and compliments – To the Bone

Recently, Marti Noxon told her recovery story in film, To the Bone. It has stirred quite a lot of controversy from people saying it furthers old myths, doesn’t show appropriate treatment, is outdated, perpetuates stereotypes, and more.

OK. All these may have truth. AND I have some compliments for this Hollywood warrior who bravely told HER unique story. (I believe that we have got to stop denying stories that don’t match personal stories in the field. It’s just as black and white as the way the eating disorder works—black and white/wrong and right). Noxon set out to “start a conversation that’s a little less, um, judgy” (Variety Studio, n.d.). A conversation? YES! She has done that. Thousands of them. She has also done some outreach that probably only “celeb” can do as evidenced by the view count on the international academic version of Nine Truths that I produced (2,074 as of 7/21/17) as compared to the version by the cast of To the Bone (almost 191,000 views as of 7/21/17). 

Please note: If you are in a position where you can be or feel triggered, I do NOT recommend reading recovery memoirs or seeing any movies about eating disorders. There’s already so many triggering images and conversations in our daily lives, no need to jump into a whirlpool. 

Whether you see To the Bone as good or bad, we—people in the know in the field, from advocates to carers to those recovered to professionals to you who is reading this blog—have more opportunities to correct outdated info and/or myths in the public that possibly ever before. For example, the fact that the lead character can be seen as portrayed as the stereotypical eating disorder type and furthers a myth about who gets affected by eating disorders is, in actuality, an opportunity to talk about how eating disorders affect any race, socioeconomic status, size/weight, age, gender, ethnicity, cultural background, religion, etc. Portrayals of parent blaming can be corrected to accuracy–parents can be both awesome allies and can help to create more protective environments, too. Etc. See Truths below, please.

Truth #1: Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill.
Truth #2: Families are not to blame, and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment.
Truth #3: An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning.
Truth #4: Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.
Truth #5: Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.
Truth #6: Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and medical complications.
Truth #7: Genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders.
Truth #8: Genes alone do not predict who will develop eating disorders.
Truth #9: Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important.
Produced in collaboration with Dr. Cynthia Bulik, PhD, FAED, who serves as distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Professor of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “Nine Truths” is based on Dr. Bulik’s 2014 “9 Eating Disorders Myths Busted” talk at the National Institute of Mental Health Alliance for Research Progress meeting.

Now, if only we could also get “recovered” included in corrections and conversations (I know, it’s a big wish). I just saw an interview on local news by Troian Bellisario on her new piece about eating disorders. She corrected the “all about control” myth and made it more accurate as “complex” factors perpetuate/maintain an eating disorder. She also corrected cause to include “genetics” and “socio.” (Great work!) However, she states she’s still in a “daily battle,” which as a recovered clinician, it’s tough to hear.

For some who are in their eating disorders, the thought of a “daily battle” and daily “in recovery” can reduce motivation for change. So, if I could correct this to what feels most accurate to me as someone who has personal and professional background on this topic, I would say that various levels of freedom from the eating disorder are all possible—including TOTAL freedom.
Of interest, To the Bone actually emphasizes real life “recovered” in that Noxon speaks about her ED in the past as does Lily Collins, the lead actress. So that’s two influencers who are talking “recovered,” which (in my opinion) is a strong start to changing conversations towards including both perspectives after an eating disorder has messed with life: “in recovery” and “recovered.”
In conclusion, I still vote that any publicity is good publicity when it comes to such misunderstood disorders as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and the other feeding and eating disorders. If few are talking about them, there is limited opportunity to educate. When these pieces stir conversation in the public? Opportunities for strong outreach and education arise!

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