Local therapists say a new Netflix movie about anorexia — the most fatal of psychiatric illnesses — could be dangerous for sufferers and their loved ones, dressing up a lonely and painful disorder with Hollywood glamour and portraying it as a “badge of courage.”
“The actors were all beautiful, wore a lot of makeup, were cute and very appealing. A girl with anorexia is lonely. She’s miserable. She’s suffering,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“It glamorizes it a lot, as something that is a red badge of courage — the ability to resist eating, the power of that disorder to impact other people,” Beresin said.
“These kids die. These adults die. This is nothing to glamorize.”
“To the Bone,” which was released yesterday by Netflix, follows a 20-year-old woman, Ellen, who is battling anorexia. It stars Lily Collins as Ellen and was written and directed by film writer Mari Noxon, who suffered from the eating disorder.
But according to Beresin and other eating disorder specialists, they got it wrong. Instead of showing a dark and sometimes deadly disease, the film depicts an attractive, edgy appealing young woman who is showered with attention, and even able to develop a romantic relationship during her stay at a recovery center, he said.
“I don’t think they really captured the pain, anguish and distrust — the internal conflict, the feeling of ‘everyone is against me and I’m all alone — that anorexics experience,” Beresin said.
“It’s potentially dangerous to those struggling with eating disorders and for those who are vulnerable and seeking attention,” he said.
In a statement, Noxon defended her movie, saying, “My goal with the film was not to glamorize [eating disorders], but to serve as a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions.”
Anorexia kills more people than any other psychiatric disease, including depression. Most of those deaths are suicides. And 25 percent of those who battle these demons will die.
According to Beresin, the movie also misses the mark on how proper treatment is portrayed, with her therapist (Keanu Reeves) telling her: “I’m not going to treat you if you aren’t interested in living.”
Like addiction, anorexia steers people away from help, Beresin said. There is always a barrier between the patient and the therapist that takes time to overcome.
The film does some harmful finger-pointing as well, implying Ellen’s anorexia stems from issues with her dysfunctional family. The main character has an overbearing and uncaring stepmother, a distant father, and a mother who has suffered two breakdowns.
“You can’t walk away from the film without coming to the conclusion that dysfunctional families cause eating disorders,” said Stuart Koman, CEP of Walden Behavioral Care in Waltham.
“If I’m a family member of someone struggling with an eating disorder,” Koman said, “I’m going to come away from this feeling really bad.”