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Response to Netflix’s “To The Bone” Movie

Dear Practice Families,

As a social worker at Westwood-Mansfield Pediatrics that previously worked with children and adolescents suffering from eating disorders, I discourage young people from watching Netflix’s new film, “To The Bone”. “To The Bone,” tells the fictional story of Ellen, a young woman who is admitted to residential treatment for Anorexia Nervosa. While the film aims to raise awareness of eating disorders, it instead spreads misinformation and may be damaging to young people that struggle with eating and body image.

The film romanticizes the experience, and treatment of, Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia Nervosa is portrayed as more of a quirky personality trait than a mental illness, which could cause young viewers who struggle with disordered eating to remain in denial. In addition, the treatment portrayed in the film is highly unrealistic. Treatment is presented as fun and carefree, further romanticizing the consequences of an eating disorder. In addition to romanticizing eating disorders, in many ways the film serves as an instruction manual on how to engage in eating disorder behaviors. Self-starvation and purging are discussed and displayed in great detail, which can give individuals unhealthy ideas on how to lose weight even if they haven’t struggled with eating disorders in the past.

“To The Bone” focuses intensely and graphically on Ellen’s emaciated body. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, viewing visuals of emaciated bodies can harm both people struggling with eating disorders and those that struggle with negative body image in general. This is because individuals with eating disorders often compare themselves to those that are thinner than them and attempt to lose weight accordingly. In addition, many individuals believe that if they do not appear emaciated they do not truly have a problem that deserves help and support. This imagery can fuel young peoples’ struggles with body image and eating, and can promote denial in individuals that are struggling.

Perhaps most dangerous of all, “To The Bone” perpetuates the myth that seeking help for an eating disorder is futile unless you have reached “rock bottom”. This further promotes the idea that you have to reach a certain level of sickness and emaciation before seeking help. In reality, full recovery from eating disorders is more likely with early detection and intervention. 

If you or your child choose to watch “To The Bone,” I recommend that you keep in mind that the film is not a realistic depiction of eating disorders and their treatment. I also recommend that if your child wants to watch the film, you watch it together so you can provide support if necessary and explain that the portrayal of eating disorders is inaccurate. If you or your child wants to talk to an eating disorder expert for support, please reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association’s help line at (800) 931-2237.

Jessica Matthews, LICW

The resources below will help you guide your child:
Netflix – How do I set parental controls on my Netflix account?
Common Sense Media – Independent age-based and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, books, and music
MEDA – Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association – New England Nonprofit

Young adults and parents please join our Private Facebook Groups and share your wisdom or ask questions to timely “School Issues” – click HERE to join!

Thank you!

All of Us at Westwood-Mansfield Pediatric Associates
“Proactive in your child’s care. Empowering families for over 60 years.”

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