Ellen’s reality, including her treatment and eventual recovery, is anything but glamorous. Perhaps the real aim in casting Collins was to make a movie about an unwatchable subject matter watchable. With the help of its charismatic protagonist, To the Bone can portray something that looks a lot like reality, with all the messiness that entails, and doesn’t have to surrender to a bunch of easy stereotypes or tropes. The talented, troubled, beautiful Ellen is exactly the sort of eating disorder sufferer people like to tell stories about, and everyone—from her mother to her therapist to her potential love interest—tries to come up with either an explanation for her illness or a reason she should eat. Up until the very end, Ellen refuses to place blame or chalk her eating disorder up to a single cause, be it her fucked-up family or a host of societal ills. If there is one thing the eating disorder conversation lacks, To the Bone argues, it’s the voices of the endlessly romanticized and elegized bodies at the center of the issue.
After I had eaten the small portion which sufficed to fill my stomach halfway, Brother David casually mentioned his belief that it was an offense against God to leave food uneaten on the table. This was particularly the case when such a great restaurant had so clearly been placed in our path as a special grace. David was a slim man and a monk, so I found it hardly credible that he followed this precept generally. But he continued to eat so much that I felt good manners, if not actual spiritual guidance, required me to imitate his example. I filled my belly for the first time in a year.
It is very difficult for a young girl with orthorexia to even recognize that she has a problem. But if she does seek help, either at her own initiative or at the instigation of her parents, those she encounters may assume she has anorexia and treat her inappropriately. For example, they may strongly encourage she consumes “foods” that restore caloric intake such as Boost or Ensure but that, for obvious reasons, will be perceived as refined, processed, chemical-rich and gross. This has a tendency to invalidate the source of the advice for a young person already inclined to distrust that advice.