To the Bone: Authentic or Irresponsible?

TRIGGER WARNING: I will be discussing eating disorders throughout this post.

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Photo: Netflix

Unless you have been living under a social media rock, you’ll be aware that Netflix released To the Bone, its controversial new movie about eating disorders – the first feature-length film on the subject – last week. To the Bone has been at the centre of an online shit-storm ever since its release, and to Google it is to see a stream of think pieces denouncing it as irresponsible and unrealistic side by side with those calling it authentic and moving.

So, which is it?

After watching it and spending much of the past week thinking about it and discussing it endlessly with my friends/anyone who will listen really, I remain unsure. Prior to watching, all I had read were negative reviews, so I went in with the expectation that I would finish it feeling disgusted and low-key bad about myself. Instead, I found I did not hate it.

And so I wondered, am I wrong? So I did what I always do when I find myself mired in problematic subject matter. I read a bunch and asked everyone who would have the conversation with me: What do you think?

The answer? It’s complicated.

The biggest problem that comes up, particularly with the representation of eating disorders on television but also mental health problems more generally, is the issue of glamorisation. It’s uncomfortable but true that as a culture we imagine certain kinds of self-destruction as romantic: drug addicts make the best music, OCD is a great personality trait in a detective and suicide is the hallmark of a great female writer. Equally, a beautiful girl starving herself to death because she just can’t see what everyone else does has its own tragic appeal. And, in as much as Lily Collins’ portrayal of Ellen in To the Bone fits that ideal, with her smart humour and artistic talent, the film is not innocent of this. But as much as Ellen’s character plays to that pre-existing ideal, Marti Noxon, the writer and director has made efforts to undermine it by displaying some of the decidedly un-glamorous side effects of starving yourself to death: the excess hair her painfully thin body grows as it struggles to keep itself warm, the bag of vomit Ellen’s roommate in her treatment facility keeps hidden under her bed and the abject horror of her loved ones when they see her emaciated body, to name a few. Whether or not those efforts are enough is a difficult question to answer.

A lot of negative reviews have picked up the dominance of thinness in the story as a reason why To the Bone is so potentially damaging. Though it’s true that thinness is central, the film also addresses the fact that eating disorders aren’t just about controlling weight, but controlling feelings. For many people, their disorder is way of channelling feelings that they can’t cope with – which is why Luke (yep. There’s a boy in this movie dealing with Anorexia – another aspect of the film I was a fan of) points out that childhood sexual abuse is such ‘a big thing among rexies.’ While I think the film could have got into this more, it did shed some light of the potential reasons behind Ellen’s disorder (her family are a total disaster, her mother also struggles with her mental health, etc). It also demonstrated this through the means of romance – which a lot of people took issue with, but was one of the parts of the film that actually worked best for me. To get in a romantic relationship is to feel all the feelings – they are unavoidable. To an expert avoider like Ellen, this was completely terrifying and her acknowledgement of that terror was a big moment for her and a step toward recovery. She needed to feel all the feelings.

However, it’s also true that the extreme bodies shown in To the Bone are not representative of what many people struggling with eating disorders actually look like, though the effects on their health are equally as devastating. The emaciated bodies that are the predominant idea we have of what an eating disorder looks like discourages many who have such a disorder from seeking help because they don’t believe they are sick enough. In this sense, the film absolutely perpetuates the single story of eating disorders. Christina Grasso wrote a fantastic piece about this over at Style Caster that I highly recommend.

So I’ve ended up right back where I started: on the fence. There were moments in this movie that felt achingly authentic, right next to others that, on reflection, I feel uncomfortable with. On the one hand, I take the information that this is a story that Marti Noxon wanted to tell about herself as someone who once struggled with an eating disorder to mean the film has nothing but good intentions. On the other, the cynical part of my brain worries that perhaps that fact is held up as a means to preclude criticism.

I would like to think that the conversation will grow and that To the Bone will be a story of what it’s like to have an eating disorder, rather than what so often happens, and it becomes the story. Either way, I feel it’s one with value, as a discussion starter and simply, a film.

Have you seen To the Bone? What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s great, terrible, or are you on the fence?

 

 

 

 

 

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My OTPs

Last week, I wrote about OTPs that I hate. I was in that sort of mood.

This week, I am going to write about the romantic pairings that have played a big part in making me the TV obsessive that I am.

 

Leslie and Ben – Parks and Recreation

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When I started watching Parks and Rec (during the unfortunate Mark Brendanawicz phase), I was pretty sure it was impossible that they would ever produce a boyfriend for Leslie who could match her awesomeness in any way.

Then Ben showed up.

Leslie and Ben are such wonderful partners for each other. They respect each other’s talents and missions and even when they argue they still manage to be adorable.

TV is so full of fraught relationships, it’s rare and surprising to watch a couple who are simply best friends.

I love every moment of it.

Matt and Karen – Daredevil

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Throughout season 1, no matter how much I liked them individually, I really struggled to get into this ship. Karen’s crush was entirely built on some notion of hero worship, and that’s a dynamic I’m just not into. Then she murdered someone and went all undercover journalist, and everything shifted.

Matt and Karen are basically the same person. They would realise this if they didn’t spend all of their time lying to each other. They both have seen the horrifying underbelly of the world, and no matter what they do to distract themselves (make out, usually), they can’t look away.

The sooner they start working together (and making out again, now the whole Elektra fiasco is (at least temporarily, by the looks of things) over and done with) the better.

Caroline and Klaus – The Vampire Diaries

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They are my guilty pleasure ship.

But whatever. Klaroline were a beautiful moment in TVD history.

So, to get one thing straight, the whole good girl/bad boy thing is one that often makes me uncomfortable. It can become co-dependent and weird, and if you want an example, I need only point to Damon and Elena (love me or I’ll start murdering random strangers isn’t half as attractive as you might think, Damon).

What I loved about Klaus and Caroline is that they are both total alphas. At no point in time did Caroline’s life become consumed by Klaus. Rather than obsessing about him ( like Cami does, freaking constantly) she actually kept him at arms length most of the time.

They challenged each other’s world views through their differing stances on what it takes to feel powerful.

Plus Klaus saw Tyler off, a move that came as a huge relief to everyone.

Ultimately, I don’t know that I actually think that these two should be together. Caroline is a highly functioning lady with plans for her life, and I would hate for those to be derailed by Klaus’ never ending daddy issues. But hey, vampires lives a long time.

So I guess you never know.

 

 

Three OTPs I Just Can’t Stand

I talk pretty regularly on this blog about my discomfort with certain relationship tropes – unhealthy ones, mainly. Let’s be clear: I don’t hate to read/watch unhealthy relationships play out. I think it can be interesting or funny depending on the tone of thing. What I can’t stand is when such a relationship is represented to us as the most romantic thing. I find it difficult to tolerate stories that tell us that it’s okay if they treat us really badly, because deep down they love us.

To that I say two things.

  1. *Loud, exasperated sigh*
  2. Go look at Khloe Kardashian’s Instagram, in which this subject is discussed at length.

I bet you weren’t expecting that second one.

So, to continue the ever evolving discussion of things that make me uncomfortable, here are some famous OTPs that have made me awkward-squirm.

Gossip Girl – Chuck/Blair

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This may be the most controversial of the bunch.

Gossip Girl was one of those shows I devoured when it first appeared on Netflix. Throughout seasons 1 and 2 my love, much like Chuck and Blair’s, was fun and surprising. Three words, eight letters: That’s how I felt about Gossip Girl.

Then Chuck ‘sold’ Blair to his creepy brother in return for a hotel, and things turned somewhat sour. That’s just not good boyfriend behaviour. And yet the will-they-won’t-they continued for several more seasons. The whole thing left a decidedly bad taste in my mouth.

Blair changed from an independent, driven – and yes, vindictive and evil – woman to someone who’s entire life revolved around her relationship with a man who treated her horribly but refused to let her go.

Blair and Chuck’s awfulness combined with my deep hatred of Serena made the last few seasons of Gossip Girl pretty hard to sit through. Sometimes the only thing that kept me going was the beauty of Chace Crawford’s face.

(That and Blair and Dan’s moment. The destruction of that relationship broke my televisual heart. Even now, I just can’t even talk about it).

Scandal – Olivia/Fitz

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If someone said this to me, I would run far far away.

I hate it. I hate the music that accompanies every scene with them, and that face Fitz makes when he wants Olivia to know that he feels like a sad puppy. I hate every over-dramatic kiss and I don’t want to see any more sex in the Oval Office. No amount of assassination attempts, kidnappings or public declarations of love will make me care about this couple.

When the professional killers your father sends to have sex with you are more attractive than your actual boyfriend, you really need to re-evaluate your life.

The Originals – Klaus/Cami

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When you kiss a guy and this happens… It may be the universe telling you that it’s time to move on.

Okay, setting aside the obvious attempt to recreate the dynamic Klaus and Caroline had in his Mystic Falls days – which is super annoying – what really bothers me about this relationship is the balance of power.

Klaus has all of it.

In the beginning Klaus controlled Cami by stealing her memories. When he wasn’t doing that he was using her grief and emotional damage to manipulate her. Their entire relationship is one in which her function is to soothe his pain.

There’s this bit in a Sarah Kay poem I love, The Type, where she says ‘sometimes he will want to hold you up like The Answer/You are not The Answer/You are not the problem.’ I want to sit Cami down and tell her this.

What I loved about Klaus and Caroline’s relationship is that she refused to take any of his shit. Whereas Cami? The girl is drowning in it.

I hoped Cami turning vamp might provide a solution to the issue but so far it hasn’t. I dislike her more than ever.

 

Are there any OTPs you just can’t stand?  Or, do you disagree with me? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Top 10 TV Women

I watch a lot of TV. We all know this about me.

If a show doesn’t have at least one (though of course ideally, many) awesome female protagonists, however, I’m just not interested.

So, for anyone looking for something new to watch, or suffering from a lack of amazing women in their TV staples (a common problem), I present you with a list of a few of my favourite ladies. A fantasy bachlorette party, if you will.

Jessica Jones

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She lives to kick rapist butt and show Marvel everything they’ve been doing wrong. I really can’t stress enough how much you should watch this show. Especially if superheroes ‘aren’t your thing’.

Buffy

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Balancing being a teenage girl with being The Slayer is hard.

Leslie Knope – Parks and Rec. 

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She’s a feminist with a to do list.

Olivia Pope – Scandal

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Scandal is my new love. It’s pretty much entirely because of Olivia. Olivia Pope solves problems. She always knows what to do, how to think on her feet. When she wants to make people listen to her, that’s exactly what they do.

My only issue with Olivia is her choice of men. I hate Fitz. I have tried not to but every time he makes this face I want to tear my own eyeballs out.

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Olivia Dunham – Fringe

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She’s the only secret agent I can imagine building a pillow fort with. After we had dealt with all the alternate universe monsters, obviously.

Peggy Carter

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Killing it with her 1950s fashion choices? Yep. Fighting misogyny? Yep. Generally an awesome lady?  Absolutely.

Gina Linetti – Brooklyn Nine Nine

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Someone once told me that I have exactly the right amount apathy (which, lol. But anyway…). That’s because they hadn’t met this woman. She does apathy like no one else. It comes from knowing in your heart and nobody in your life is as great as you.

She’s totally right by the way.

Cookie – Empire

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You want this lady on your side.

(We haven’t had season 2 in the UK yet. No spoilers, please.)

Helena – Orphan Black

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Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know, I have kind of a soft spot for a crazy murderer (fictionally speaking). Helena is the most loyal, sweetest crazy murderer of the lot.

Caroline Forbes – The Vampire Diaries

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Despite some unfortunate storyline choices*, Caroline remains the heart of TVD as far as I am concerned. The whole place would fall apart without her. Caroline is a woman who knows what she wants, and will not hesitate in yelling until you give it to her.

*I really can’t stress enough how much I hate Caroline’s pregnancy. I get that Candice had a baby, but Jake and Amy aren’t having a baby on Brooklyn Nine Nine just because Melissa Fumero is pregnant. Caroline could have carried around a weirdly gigantic bag, or stood behind strategically placed objects the whole season! We wouldn’t have minded!

5 Ways to Spend Your Cold Autumnal Evenings (On Netflix)

The Vampire Diaries

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One day Stefan and Damon Salvatore, vampire brothers show up in Mystic Falls. Over the following 6 years, pretty much everybody who lives there dies. Most of them are vampires now. Nobody in Mystic Falls especially minds, because Stefan, Damon and all their vampire buddies are super hot. And the people who do mind? Well, they rarely survive longer than a season, so we don’t worry about them too much.

Watching this show has made me worryingly nonchalant about seeing people’s heads fall off.

Fringe

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Sometimes evil corporations start messing with parallel universes, and somebody has to do something about it. In this case that someone is Olivia Dunham, secret agent. Working with her, is recently un-institutionalised genius Walter Bishop, and his son, the blackmailed-by-Olivia-to-help conman/genius Peter Bishop.

I have not yet finished watching this. I binge watched the first 3 seasons last summer. I got way too emotionally involved with it though, and had to stop watching when the story took a turn I didn’t like. I also got frustrated with the continuous failure of the writers to explain what Peter’s deal is. That said, watching it is still one of my top obsessive moments of the past couple years, so that’s why it made the list.

Firefly

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A merry band of criminals travel through space together conning, stealing and when appropriate, saving the odd community from the villain they we were working for in the first place. All of this takes place with many a witty aside, and occasional games with plastic dinosaurs.

I find Firely to be deeply comforting. It makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. I think it can do the same for you too. There’s a reason everyone is still so obsessed with it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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This show does a really good job of describing itself. Buffy is a vampire slayer, living in Sunnydale, a small American town that just happens to be on a hell mouth.

Buffy is a show about growing up. Season 4 was a great example of this, though I know a lot of people don’t like it so much (I want to make clear, despite my pro-season 4 stance, that I hate Riley as much as any sane person should). It was the season when Buffy and Willow went to university, and Xander went to work. Spike lost his ability to be a vampire, in the traditional sense (eating people). Everything that happened in that season was a really perfect example of what happens when you got to university – everything changes. Your relationship with your friends is different because you don’t see them at school every day, your parents and guardians aren’t responsible for you anymore (a newness that is weird to you and them), and in some cases, you find that the driving factor in your life isn’t the same any more. That, plus fighting the supernatural equals awesomeness.

Community

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A man makes a study group to sleep with a girl and ends up with a group of friends he never wanted! Hilarity ensues. Except for season 4, which sucked, but we don’t talk about the gas leak year.

In this show, flawed humans meet ridiculous humans and talk about pop culture. Also a young girl has a thing with a guy inappropriately older than her. Essentially it’s everything I ever wanted in a show.