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?

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons to Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I adore this show, but for whatever reason, I have a really hard time selling Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to people. The premise of the show is pretty stupid: hotshot New York Lawyer Rebecca Bunch moves to the shitty California town of West Covina to pursue the boy who broke her heart at summer camp when she was seventeen. And it’s a musical.

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But it’s also a frank look at mental illness, feminism and romcom culture; it deconstructs the idea that a relationship is the solution to all problems. And it’s a musical.

It’s a fantastic show. Let’s talk about some of the reasons why.

  1. The songs

So far so obvious, but the songs in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are hilarious and catchy while also functioning as vehicles through which to communicate greater emotional truths. So in the second episode when Rebecca meets Josh (the guy she moved to West Covina for’s) girlfriend, Valencia, her song about her own superiority over Rebecca (featuring lines such as ‘I’m not afraid to get tattoos/and they are all in Sanskrit/butt stuff doesn’t hurt at all/most times I prefer it) ends with the line ‘my father didn’t leave me.’

It’s a funny song about how we compare ourselves to other women that reveals an important truth about Rebecca. Her dad abandoned her.

And it was the song that made me fall in love with the show.

  1. Bisexuality!

This is a minor spoiler (sorry not sorry), but one of the storylines half way through the first season sees Rebecca’s boss Darryl come out as bisexual. As we all know, representation of bisexual people is pretty much non-existent on most shows, and on the rare occasions we do see it portrayal is overwhelmingly negative. In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend we see a divorced man with a daughter heading into middle age realising that he’s attracted to men as well as women, going through the process of coming out and then having a happy, healthy relationship with a very cute guy. For a group so often marginalised even within the LGBTQ+ community, this storyline felt important.

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  1. Complex (like really really complex) women

There is a trope on a lot of shows of the perfect girl getting with the complicated, emotionally unavailable guy (Gossip Girl, New Girl, Veronica Mars, every teen movie from the 80s) that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend really turns on its head. Rebecca is the kind of girl to cause her therapist despair. She’s a woman trying to figure out how to make herself okay without really knowing how to go about doing that. And it doesn’t really matter whether she’s likeable or not during the process.

As someone who is sick of watching shows about women trying to ‘fix’ difficult men, I found this beyond refreshing.

  1. Diverse cast

Josh Chan, the romantic interest and male lead of the show is a first generation Filipino American man. Unless they’re John Cho, Asian men are generally typecast into very limited stereotypes and those generally don’t feature much in the way of romance or sex. Josh Chan turns that on its head by being basically the bro-iest bro in bro-town. He is a complex romantic interest with storylines (and issues! So many issues.) all of his own. In a world where seeing Aziz Ansari perform a sex scene is considered ground-breaking, characters like Josh Chan are so, so needed.

  1. Feminism

How can a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend be feminist? I hear you ask. In all sorts of ways, it turns out. Through the mediums of song and melodrama the show tackles everything from eating disorders to abortion from a very unique perspective. It is also puts a lot of energy into satirising ‘feminism’ as empowertising, with songs like Put Yourself First sung during a typical post-boy problem makeover. Sample lines include:

‘Put yourself first girl worry ‘bout yourself/make yourself sexy just for yourself/so when dudes we see you put yourself first/they’ll be like damn you’re hot/Wanna make out?’

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It’s a great and terribly underappreciated show. The first two seasons are on Netflix and they are working on a third as I type, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up with the trials (because she’s a lawyer! It’s funny!) and tribulations of Rebecca Bunch before the third season begins.

Let’s Talk TV: Shows I’m Watching Now

Empire

I like my TV on the far side of ridiculous, so this was always going to be the show for me. Empire, for anyone who doesn’t know, is about a family warring over who gets control of the Lyon family record label, the show’s namesake, Empire. It could also be known as How To Fuck Up Your Children (throw your gay son in the trash, be openly ashamed of your bipolar son and turn the remaining kid into an egomaniac who doesn’t find it weird to sleep with his ex-stepmother).

When a gloomy diagnosis leads him to question his mortality, Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) must decide which of his three sons to leave his Empire to. The situation gets a lot more complicated when his ex-wife, Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) gets out of prison and demands her slice of the pie.

There is music, murder, and hostile takeovers.

Most of the time it’s hard to tell whether Lucious loves his family, or just sees them as chess pieces of differing value.

I LOVE

Cookie Lyon

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She is one of the best female characters on television right now. I just adore her. She is strong, manipulative, loving, hilarious and one of the only people I can genuinely say carries off an animal print dress. She has never beaten Lucious yet, but we’ll all keep watching with the belief that she’s going to take him down eventually.

People burst into song, all the freaking time.

I only wish everything was a musical where people produced hit singles from prison.

Jane The Virgin

Jane decided to stay a virgin until she got married. Then she was accidentally artificially inseminated with a random man’s sperm and everything got complicated.

That man was Rafael, cancer survivor and reformed playboy. The doctor who did the insemination? His sister, Louisa.

Jane’s adorable policeman boyfriend, Michael, doesn’t deal so well with the whole thing.

A love triangle ensues.

Things get a lot more complicated when it turns out that Rafael’s step-mother is a world renowned drug dealer.

…Yeah.

I LOVE

Women!

Jane lives with her mother and her grandmother. I love their set up. There are still very few positive portrayals of single parent households on TV, and I like that the show doesn’t waste time on shaming Jane’s mum, Xo, for her life choices.

Petra

Rafael’s ex-wife, and at the beginning of the show, the villain of the piece. As time has progressed, however, it basically became impossible to not like Petra. She is needy, weird and frequently irrational, but you can always kind of see why.

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She’s just a socially inadequate weirdo. We can all relate to that.

(or maybe that’s just me)

Storytelling

Jane The Virgin has a Pushing Daisies style storyteller narrating every episode. His presence serves to enhance the melodrama and dramatic irony of the show. It’s a show that wants its audience to be conscious of the storytelling, both as a nod to the telenovela it’s based on and because its central character aspires to be a novelist.

That, and he’s very funny.

iZombie

This is a new one for me. This past week I have binged my way through season one.

A creation of Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, it’s a lot like Veronica Mars. But you know, with zombies.

Over achieving Junior Doctor, Olivia Moore’s (her name is Liv Moore. They really want us to get that joke) life is changed forever when she attends a party that ends in a zombie outbreak. Newly zombified, she is forced to break up with her fiancé, Major (one of the many delights of zombie-ism is that it can be sexually transmitted) and swap the wards for the mortuary, where she becomes a medical examiner (morgue = easy access to brains). Once she starts eating brains, Liv discovers that zombies have visions of the lives of the dead brains they’ve consumed.

Her next move? Start solving their murders, obviously.

I LOVE

The opening credits.

Blaine

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We all know how I feel about a charismatic bad guy. Blaine is a drug dealer turned zombie with a monopoly on the brain market. He has no morals to speak of and is driven by megalomania, daddy issues and greed.

And he’s the only thing standing between Seattle and the zombie apocalypse.

Sass

Blaine: I don’t know if you’re hungry, but you know what my mom always said?

Major: Why’d I stop using birth control?

Blaine: No! There’s always room for soup!

unREAL

Given the rest of this pro-bad guy list, that I am a fan should come as no surprise.

Watching unREAL is an exercise in disgust.

unREAL tells the behind the cameras account of the fictional, Bachelor-style TV show, Everlasting. Producer Rachel is a natural empath with high ambitions and underlying mental health issues. She is a master manipulator, and winds the contestants (and the bachelors) tightly into her web of control. Mostly without them noticing. Rachel is in turn controlled by show runner Quinn. Together they will create drama, no matter the consequences.

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I LOVE

Rachel and Quinn

They have a complicated dynamic. They might be the only people capable of understanding each other. Instead, they spend most of their time trying to destroy each other, despite the matching Money. Dick. Power. tattoos they both display on their wrists.

Chet

He is a disgusting menimist-leaning joke who never saw a good idea he didn’t want to steal. He is also hapless and hilarious and I still can’t quite get over how much weight he lost out on his manly summer camp.

Reality TV

This show really is a horrifying satire of reality TV and the culture surrounding it. It’s the only non-violent show I watch that sometimes gives me the urge to cover my eyes. In the first season one of the Everlasting contestants killed herself. This season, Quinn is all about getting those ‘suicide ratings.’

 

What shows are you watching right now? Do you have any recommendations for me?

Let’s talk TV.

5 Reasons to Love Daredevil’s Karen Page

(spoiler heavy)

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She is a total subversion of the ‘innocent girl’ stereotype

Karen arrived at Nelson and Murdock as a victim. After accidentally being sent a work email she shouldn’t have seen concerning some Wilson Fisk level dodgey accounting, she was set up for the brutal murder of one of her colleagues. Nelson and Murdock scooped her up and saved her, and thus began a pattern of hero worship that established Karen as the typical one dimensional Marvel woman we are all used to being disappointed by.

But then she went rogue. Fuelled not so much by her crush on Matt as her dogged and insistent demand for the truth, she went after Wilson Fisk, murder crime boss extraordinaire, alone. When one of his henchmen, Westley (RIP) came after her, I think we all expected yet another rescue from Daredevil.

Instead, Karen shot the guy with his own gun. A lot. We were all like… Karen? He’s dead now.

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It was at this moment that Daredevil started to interest me beyond Matt’s shirtless scenes.

It’s after Westley’s death that we start to see the effort Karen has to put into playing the ‘innocent’ role Matt has assigned her. Throughout season two their every conversation occurs at cross purposes. In episode 5, Kinbaku, when Matt and Karen finally go on their (totally adorable, btw) first date, all they do is lie to each other. When Karen asks Matt how his day was, he says he was working (actually he was chasing his psychopath ex-girlfriend around New York City) and Karen says she was doing nothing at all (she spent the day at The New York Bulletin, working with a journalist to uncover Frank Castle’s past). Karen’s deep need to uncover the truth – no matter the cost – is probably the most significant thing about her. It is her passion and her obsession. And she feels totally unable to share it with Matt. Her drive and determination and the crimes she is sometimes pushed to commit are in total opposition to Matt’s idea of her. So she hides herself from him. This active pretending reveals the ‘innocent’ girl for the imaginary thing that she is. Everyone is more complicated than that.

I found watching such a tired trope toyed with in this way delightful, in case you couldn’t tell.

She’s an accidental journalist

Karen finding her new home at The New York Bulletin has been heavily criticised as unrealistic. Mostly by journalists. To them I say this: you are watching a show about a blind guy with super powers. Get over yourselves.

I adore how separate Karen’s character development is from Matt’s. Yeah, it was through being a legal assistant at Nelson and Murdock that she was able to channel her truth-seeking skills, but in the end it was only outside the constraints of the firm that she would really be able to realise her talents.

(Though this didn’t make the demise of Nelson and Murdock hurt any less.)

Karen Page: Badass Investigative Journalist is a story I could watch for hours.

She’s got sass.

One time a client asked her to give her a kiss before he stepped onto the battlefield (a police sting that would earn him witness protection) instead, she gave him the finger.

And then this happened:

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Karen and Daredevil are basically the same person

Watching season 2 of Daredevil is a lot like losing your mind. It is so frustrating watching Matt and Karen run circles around each other, both of them using their secret identities like invisible suits of armour.

Karen Page and Daredevil both care about justice above all else. They both know that they’ll never stop, even if it kills them. They both believe the people in their lives would never understand this. They both lie to the people they love, freaking constantly.

In so many Marvel movies the love interest is established as a foil to the hero. Where he is irrational, she is sensible. Where he is a playboy, she is dedicated and monogamous. Where he is brave, she is afraid.

Not Karen Page. She’s just as much of a daredevil as Daredevil is.

She’s got secrets

The main thing the past 2 seasons of Daredevil have taught us about Karen Page is that we know nothing about her.

Part of the whole ‘innocent girl’ trope is that she is taken at face value. She acts sweet and dresses girly and we assume there is nothing more to it.

There is so much more to it.

This past season, we found out she has a dead brother. What made this all the more intriguing was the conversation about said brother she had with Matt during with she failed to mention that he’d died.

We have seen Matt’s life through flashbacks, Foggy is an open book and Frank Castle had an entire season dedicated to his personal mysteries. The only person hiding from us is Karen Page.

 

Karen Page has quickly become one of my favourite characters of all time. There’d better be a Daredevil season three. I need to know where her story goes next.

 

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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.