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What is Netflix's new movie To The Bone – and why has it proved controversial?

The trailer for the Lily Collins-led drama has been criticised for its depiction of eating disorders – but is the outcry justified?

Published: Wednesday, 28th June 2017 at 11:30 am

The trailer for Netflix’s new drama To The Bone, a film which centres on a 20-year-old girl with anorexia, caused a serious stir on social media when it dropped on 20 June, with many viewers concerned about its approach to depicting the disease.


Now, mental health experts have suggested that Netflix add a trigger warning to the film to notify viewers about potentially harmful content. What’s this all about?

What is To The Bone?

To The Bone is the directorial debut from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Mad Men writer Marti Noxon. It stars Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply) as a teenage girl suffering from anorexia who enters a group home to aid her recovery. Keanu Reeves stars as her doctor. 

Both Noxon and Collins have previously spoken about their own experiences with eating disorders.

Why all the controversy?

It’s complicated, as not that many people have actually seen the film. However, the trailer was enough to cause concern, with some viewers and mental health experts worrying that the content – the trailer shows Collins’ character counting her calories – could “glamourise” the disease, and possibly serve as a trigger for sufferers.

Noxon took to Twitter to address the controversy, explaining that she had spoken with survivors of eating disorders (EDs) and a charity called Project Heal to ensure that the film wouldn’t become exploitative.

She said that her aim was never to glamourise the disease, but "to serve as a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions".

Read her full message below:

"Having struggled with anorexia and bulimia well into my 20s, I know first hand the struggle, isolation and shame a person feels when they are in the grips of this illness. In an effort to tell this story as responsibly as we could, we spoke with other survivors and worked with Project Heal throughout the production in the hopes of being truthful in a way that wasn't exploitative.

That said, it's important to remember that each person's battle with EDs is unique and To The Bone is just one of the millions of ED stories that could be told in the US at this very moment. My goal with the film was not to glamourise EDs, but to serve as a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions.

I hope by casting a little light into the darkness of this disease we can achieve greater understanding and guide people to help if they need it.”

Actor Collins too has been very open about her eating disorder in the past, chronicling her struggle with anorexia in her book, Unfiltered. She told Shape that she has “always strived to start conversations about taboo subjects with young women”.

Is the film exploitative?

If the early reviews (the film premiered at Sundance in January) are anything to go by, To The Bone's heart is at least in the right place. However, given the growing concern from mental health experts, perhaps a trigger warning – like the ones that were included before 13 Reasons Why – would be no harm.


The film is due to be released on Netflix on Friday 14th July.


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