So, eating disorder experts have raised concerns about a Netflix film focusing on anorexia. It’s not out yet, I haven’t seen it, but if it does the following, then for me, it misses the mark:
- Presents eating disorders as a solely white, teenage, female, middle class problem.
- Presents being ‘low weight’ as synonymous with having a ‘valid’ eating disorder.
- Mentions weights, provides detail of how to lose significant amounts of weight,
- Offers the impression that ‘recovery’ is easily attainable, wholly within a person’s control or an inevitable outcome.
- Offers an impression that it is easy to access effective and adequate treatment.
- Presents ‘anorexia’ as something wrong within the person’s brain.
- Presents ‘anorexia’ as the ‘only’ or ‘most serious’ eating disorder.
- Shows scenes of a young person doing endless sit ups, or playing around with a plate of salad.
- Negates to mention early life (or other) trauma, links with difficulty in managing feelings navigating one’s emotional or relational world, or other aspects of identity.
- Fails to address the role of societal oppression on a number of different levels (and not just the diet and fashion industries).
- Fails to point out the long term health, social and developmental implications of having any sort of problem that effectively removes the person from themselves and from participating in their own life.
Judging by the title, it’s not going to offer any revolutionary message. We do not need more narratives perpetuating the myth that restrictive eating disorders are the only kind of problem it is possible to have with food, that they are caused by an obsessive desire to ‘look good’ or meet a media ideal, or that they are only about perfectionism and striving gone wrong. We also don’t need more narratives perpetuating the myth that eating problems exist in isolation from other mental health issues (they often don’t) or that they are a developmental stage to be ‘got through’ (there is a widely held myth that people ‘grow out’ of problems with food – I’ve yet to meet someone of whom this is true). The director says that the film is intended as a ‘conversation starter’ for an issue often ‘clouded by secrecy and misconceptions’. Let’s see how many of those misconceptions the film actually addresses, shall we.
Call me cynical, but what are programme makers generally trying to do? Get ratings. Mental health awareness isn’t really at the top of their radar UNLESS they want to use it to sell something. Do they really care that it might negatively impact vulnerable people? Probably not. Should they? That’s a debate for another day.
I’m already annoyed about it and I haven’t even seen the thing yet. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. If I am, I’ll happily eat my words.