‘To the Bone’ [film] – Poor information at best, dangerous commodification of eating disorders at worst

For the last 3-4 years, I’ve been acutely aware of media that surrounds eating disorders. I struggle to skip past the metro articles about bulimia on the train, my ears prick up during the news on EDAW and my Facebook newsfeed is usually fairly full of ED-related topics. I see repeated problematic themes that haven’t ceased to run through eating disorder media coverage and awareness week: the focus on the skinny, white girl, the ‘comparison’ pictures that pepper the media and make you feel like you’re scrolling through pro-ana sites and the absolute lack of political awareness or knowledge of the social sphere in which eating disorders exist. I actually thought I’d seen it all when it comes to poor attempts to ‘raise awareness’, but nothing could quite prepare me for the thinly-veiled anorexia porn that is ‘To the Bone’. Poised as a film created to highlight the horrors of existing with an eating disorder, the actors released a fairly reasonable awareness video during EDAW, yet completely failed to take into account any of the points that they raised during the film.

At the heart of this film is Lilly Collins, who suffers from Anorexia Nervosa. The only eating disorder that Hollywood knows exists because of course, it is the most palatable. No one wants to see an ideal or overweight person binging and purging because that’d be too upsetting and distasteful, right? Nobody wants to see the transgender person, one of the highest risk identities for eating disorders, obese and suffering from binge eating disorder, because how could Hollywood ever mold such a role in a way that suits its glossy aesthetic. There’s money to be made, after all. No, even Collins, who previously suffered from Anorexia, had to lose a dangerous amount of weight for the role.

Watching the trailer I wince, with my hand across my face, ready to defend myself from this incredibly true-to-life depiction that ironically, cuts me to the bone. I’m incredulous, I have never before seen such an intimate and realistic portrayal of my life with an eating disorder, Lilly Collins could have been me two years ago. Which is painful ironically, as she was my ultimate ‘thinspiration’. It is pure agony watching the trailer alone. Before you criticise me for being overly sensitive, that the world needs to see a realistic portrait of this horrid disorder, that it will help people truly understand its immense magnetism and uncompromising dominance, I have something to say: You do. You see it everywhere.

You see it on the side of buses, you see it on BBC News, you can access it on the BEAT or NEDA website, you can ask me, you see it in films, you read it in Heat Magazine, you can Google it, you have it on Pro-Ana/Mia sites and you have YouTube Documentaries, Netflix, Hulu. This recurring interpretation already exists in so many forms but, like a porn addict, you need more. You need to watch the most intimate moments of one type of eating disorder suffered by the same type of person in the name of awareness, again and again. This isn’t awareness; this isn’t the untold stories of millions of people worldwide that suffer from eating disorders of other types, which are different from the stereotype. This is the same shtick, made by the same people that ask their actors to reach shockingly low BMI’s to be considered for a part, that employs underweight people all the time and that encourages – and gets rich off of – fad diets.

Imagine the immense amount of money spent on this film (Netflix bought it for $8 Million) and imagine if that money was poured into resources to actually help people who suffer from disordered eating instead of the endless austerity that is literally killing us. God forbid you ever make eating disorders political, because then you pull away the curtain and expose the people who sit behind it and engineer self-hatred and the poverty and pain that leads us to harm ourselves in a myriad of ways. God forbid we ever talk about the true and horrific reality of our disordered eating and the people that suffer from them because we might get angry enough to take control and force those in power to do something about it, or even take the power for ourselves.

A Vote for Labour is a Vote for Better Mental Health

It’s not just about the funding that will go directly to the NHS and into mental health services. It’s not just about the funding to education that will enable us to better research mental wellbeing. It’s not just about the protection of the welfare state. It’s about so much more than that.

Whilst May pays lip service to mental health, she and the Conservative government have overseen:

–         Almost 19,000 teenagers admitted to hospital for self-harm in 2015/16, an increase of 14 per cent since 2013/4 and 68 percent across the last decade

–           Annual cuts to mental health services of £598 million between 2010 and 2015, so 8.25% in real terms.

–           Last year, The Guardian reported waiting lists of up to three years in eating disorder services

–         In 2016, 19.7 per cent of British people reported experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, up from 18.3 percent the previous year

–          ¼ of all people who require mental health services have access to them

 
A Labour vote is a vital step towards better mental health and away from the devastating effects of Tory rule, and here’s why:

Anti-Austerity Policies

Increasingly, there are calls from Psychologists to recognise the absolutely devastating impact that austerity and poverty are having on our mental health. Recently, the British Psychological Society issued a statement that begged the government to ‘suspend its benefits sanctions system’. In 2015, counsellors, psychotherapists and mental health workers wrote a letter to the guardian demanding an end to the ‘emotional toxicity’ of austerity and Psychologists Against Austerity (or Psychologists for Social Change as they are now known), were set up with the slogan ‘equality is the best therapy’. Why? Because as there is increasingly more evidence to say that social, political, economic and environmental factors are wreaking havoc on mental health and medical models are becoming increasingly out-dated with a lack of evidence to support them. Fighting austerity is fighting the root cause, which we should welcome with open arms after years of not even receiving tokenistic sticking plasters.

Reduction of Inequality and a £10 Living Wage

A by-product of anti-austerity policy is a reduction of inequality in multiple spheres, this means a reduction of widening social class gaps. In ‘The Spirit Level’, meta-analyses of global socio-economic conditions demonstrated the clear negative impact of widening inequality gaps. If we have more time and money, we’ll not only have less financial burdens, better living standards, more time to put into fulfilling personal projects and relationships, but more support to carry on fighting for socialism.

Workers’ Rights

Under Labour, workers’ rights that are fast being eroded can and will be restored. Draconian laws that require increasingly larger numbers to ballot for strikes, that prevent solidarity strikes and allow strike-staffing are deeply affecting our work relations. Why is this relevant to mental health? Because the alienation we feel from our work creates detachment from ourselves and our communities, because the treatment we get from our bosses affects our self-esteem and self-worth, and because our working hours are getting longer – not giving us enough time to enjoy other aspects of our lives and feel fulfilled.

A Chance to Fight for Freedom of Movement

With the far-right rising across Europe and one of the most right-wing cabinets we’ve seen for many decades in the UK, the constant slew of xeno-racism seems ever-increasing and this is reflected in the rise in racist hate crime. This works to divide society and increase the individualism that breaks up communities, it makes us aggressive and anxious and it leaves more terrifying prospects for BAME communities amongst us. Neither fearing harassment and abuse, detention centres and deportation or the PREVENT agenda nor feeling detached and fearful are conducive to good mental health. With Labour in power, we’re better equipped to fight anti-migrant rhetoric together and extend our solidarity to migrants.

Free Higher Education and More Funding For Schools

I am a student and I know the immense toll that my University fees have on me and my well-being. Now grants have been slashed and tuition fees are set to rise again, our generation without a Labour government will have to deal with the emotional burden of sky high debt. Myriad research exists that shows us that financial burdens have a high impact on our mental health, and not only do we have a tough job market with little rights to enter into, we have a high chance we may forever live with increasing debt hanging over our heads. In addition, schools that may once have been a safe haven for young children are becoming increasingly strained with overworked, underpaid teachers, of which 93% say that pupils bring more worries into school than they did five years ago. Education is a right, it is a form of empowerment, it betters our lives immensely and it’s being taken away from us.
There are so many fights that need to be won in our battle for good mental health and a good standard of living, but campaigning and voting for Labour is a vital start. That’s the reason I will not just be voting Labour but campaigning with every spare moment because we’re in crisis and if we don’t choose to put our all into this then we lose trust, connection, community and dignity over alienation, fear, humiliation, degradation and shame.