With the exception of maybe Cassie from Skins, when was the last time you saw somebody with an eating disorder portrayed in a positive light?
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We’re supposedly living in a time when mental health is taken as seriously as physical health. When taking medication for depression or anxiety is the same as popping painrelief for a migraine, or a broken toe. We’re taught that panic attacks won’t hold us back, that post-natal depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and that eating disorders affect over 1.6 million people in the UK.
So why do we continue to consider all of the above as a sign of weakness, or failure, or fucking up?
Well, in part, it’s probably because that’s how they’re always shown on screen.
Women – and men – with eating disorders have been shown on TV and in films for decades. Who didn’t watch Hannah in Hollyoaks, or Marley in Glee? But their eating disorders consume their characters – their plotlines circle around meal times and weight loss (that’s another thing – eating disorders on TV almost always involve dramatic, rapid, apparently-enviable amounts of weight loss). They’re pictured staring at their reflection in the mirror with tears in their eyes, and smiling on the scales when the numbers go down. They’re spotted hiding food under their bed and looking at it, wistfully. They’re spotted slamming the door, throwing a tantrum, or failing at school. Their relationships end, they lose their jobs, and they end up in hospital, alone.
Until, one day, they get over it. And everything goes back to ‘normal’ again.
And most of the time, that’s not how real life works.
In real life, life continues, regardless of your mental health. In real life, ‘normal’ doesn’t exist, but things are ridiculous, and unlikely, and awkward, and funny anyway. Sometimes things are sad or dramatic – sometimes they’re not. Sometimes you lose a friend, and sometimes you gain a new one. Sometimes, your mental health is in tatters, but you’re really, really bloody happy about something else, anyway. Sometimes, you feel like you’re breaking on the inside, but things are going really well at work. Sometimes, everything does go wrong.
And here’s the thing: none of that is anything to be ashamed of. None of that makes your mental health less deserving, or less serious. It just makes it real.
So if we really want to lose the stigma surrounding eating disorders and mental health issues, we need to stop their clichéd portrayal on screen.
Thankfully, Marti Noxon – who executive produced Buffy – is trying to change that. She’s signed up to direct a new ‘eating disorder comedy’ called To The Bone, based on her own, complex (because life is complex) experiences of eating disorders.
‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ not only applies to the deeply personal subject matter of ‘To the Bone,’ but to simply getting a film about people with eating disorders made,’ she says. ‘Without the brilliant Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis and Karina Miller producing, there’s no way this project would be coming to fruition. I’m thrilled to be making my feature directing debut with this troika of fierce women in my corner.’
And we’re thrilled it’s happening, too.