Netflix garnered quite a bit of attention by picking up a series based on a book that deals with teenage suicide and high school pressures. They are back on the radar for the upcoming addition: To the Bone. I watched all of 13 Reasons Why and sat back and wondered about what resonated with me. I felt full of emotions that didn’t necessarily make me more aware, but impacted my well being because I left feeling very uneasy and negative. I watched the preview for To the Bone and also felt this kind of empty pit. Do these types of series shed light on an issue and offer aid to those who are seeking solace, or do they fan the flames of people on the edge? Is it opening a discussion with parents or inviting unhealthy triggers into viewer’s lives?
Reflecting on 13 Reasons Why, I remember feeling so upset that even though a mother and daughter team helped direct it (Selena Gomez and her Mom), and the characters had concerned parents, none of the characters were portrayed as close to their parents. They made out parents to be mindless, unaware, and unnecessarily concerned but unwilling to be more available. They made the high school kids to be in secure families but secretive and so open range that they could walk out on their parents and get caught with drugs at school and still just get an apathetic grumble from mom. To me, this just showed teens not to open up to their parents and to hole up their feelings. The parents seemed to fail them. The school counselor and teachers seemed to fail them. Reliable adult resources were failures, according to 13 Reasons Why. Now that I’m in my late twenties and a decade has passed since my teens, and I have worked with youth in ministry, my heart hurts to see depictions where adults fail the youth and where the youth don’t trust the people placed in their lives to help them. I want to scream, “we were in your shoes too! We understand, please open up to us!”
To the Bone looks like a heartwarming tale from the preview, but I also know that beyond some hints at lightheartedness, there is nothing to romanticize about an eating disorder (ED). It truly bothers me that they chose an actress with an ED past to play the main character and undergo weight loss and method acting that could have caused her to go into relapse. It’s obvious that makeup magic plays a role in making Lily Collins look gaunt and unhealthy, but let me also include a portion from an interview she did with Elle magazine:
“They hired a nutritionist, and we did it in the most healthy way possible. I had a lot of people…to be accountable for how I was doing it, and I had check-ups all the time. I thought it was necessary for me to portray the character in the best way that I knew I could, and also to pay homage to what she was going through. There was never any pressure put on me to reach a current weight or limit. I felt like I had to limit myself in a way as well. I felt like I had to get into that mindset and recognize some of the feelings that I once had felt and that Ellen was feeling.
The gaining of it back was probably a little harder, because it’s just a strange twist on what I went through when I was younger—which was about losing, not about gaining. The idea that after this movie I had to get back to proper health, it wasn’t as easy. You know, eating a bunch of burgers and milkshakes and all that—I don’t really eat meat anyway—it had to be done in a healthy way, and it’s not good to go from nothing to a lot, because your body doesn’t know how to handle it. It took a little while longer than I think most people would have expected it to, but it was a process that needed to happen and it was a very personal experience. But I came out of it extremely proud of the work we had done.”
She felt she had to pay homage. She felt like she had to go back to that mindset. *shudder* WARNING WARNING WARNING. That is SO UNHEALTHY. For her to then say gaining it back was hard, I feel that also sheds light on the fact that even with her controlled environment, that process was difficult on her body.
I have friends and acquaintances who have struggled with ED. It is not heartwarming to hear someone is near organ failure or that they can’t ever have children because their body is permanently changed. It is not funny to see someone you felt so close to distance themselves to hide their condition. It isn’t beautiful to see someone who was so strong and full of energy be a ghost of their former self. It isn’t something you gather around a tv and observe and try to make light of. When you offer a happy ending? Sometimes it makes a fantasy of something with an often harsh reality. How many girls will think, wow, I can get myself to that point, and then a doctor/institution will save me? How many people will feel they can jump ship and get a red and white life preserver thrown at them? I just can’t help but feel very uneasy…
Are these shows shedding light or fanning flames?