By Liz Jones for The Mail On Sunday

It's the virtual equivalent of sweeping everything under the carpet.

The inevitable backlash on social media to the Netflix film To The Bone, which premiered on Friday but which has been the subject of vitriol for weeks, warns hysterically that the transformation of actress Lily Collins from an average Hollywood beauty into a Keira Knightley-esque walking skeleton will only encourage young girls to emulate her.

That it is "pro-ana porn" which glamorises suicide. That divulging too many of the anorexic's secret tactics to hoodwink parents and doctors (a 'barf bag' under the bed, for example) will encourage girls to do the same. That it should be banned.


As someone who has suffered from anorexia for 47 long, lean years, my opinion is this: To The Bone should be screened in every school in the land.

Of course, the film has flaws. Its heroine is stunning, when in reality anorexia reduces us to resembling Gollum, with bad skin, rotting teeth and sightless, too-big eyes (I'd often go blind through malnutrition).

The film places far too much time blaming the sufferer's parents, when my experience is that parents are too ineffectual to fight such a monster.

Often, parents don't even know the monster exists, so secretive are we, so clever beneath our layers of outsize clothes and leg-warmers, and excuses at the dinner table that we've just turned vegan.

Lily's character, Ellen, laughs often. I never laughed. Ellen, an artist, sketches food, and imagines her favourite candy bar. That never happens.

Food is not something I ever thought about; I only planned a meal - peanut butter sandwich with a hazelnut Loseley yogurt chaser - when I was about to be weighed. So no, food isn't like heroin or vodka. There is no longing.

Neither would I have included a love interest, as this does between Ellen and a fellow inmate at her expensive clinic: a male ballet dancer. Being asexual is the anorexic's only desire. We don't dream of boys, only our target weight.

The constant hugging in the film also doesn't ring true: we don't want to be touched; I still don't. When others hug us, they are shocked, as though we are an electric socket.


There is no comfort.

But there is so much this film gets freakishly right, due I'm sure to the input from real sufferers. Ellen is still a virgin at 20 as sex is "too appalling". I stayed a virgin into my 30s.

Not one of the "rexies" in the clinic wants a baby, not just because pregnancy makes you fat, but because it would mean making dinner, every day, for 18 years.

We don't eat, not because we think being thin is attractive (we know we're ugly) but because life is too terrifying. Every day is an ordeal (still is) to get through while eating as little as possible.

We fear puberty. As Ellen explains: "You get boobs, it's like open season." I squirmed in recognition at the scene where Ellen performs hundreds of sit-ups by her bed, while other patients jog around the dorm.

As a child, I would perform hundreds of sit-ups by my bed, a compulsion I took into adulthood, even when on holiday in a villa: I wouldn't be sunbathing, I would be indoors doing sit-ups. As a child, I used to rollerskate around a bedroom for hours: there was no joy, only kilojoules burned.

What's shocking about this film is not how Lily, 28, lost so much weight (I'd be interested to know if she is suffering after-effects, given she battled an eating disorder as a teenager), but how little anorexics have changed in the almost half a century since I became one: the film is like looking in a mirror (not that I ever did that in real life).

Ellen thinks that when she can encircle her bicep with one hand, she will be happy. I did that, too, except it was two hands around my waist: if my fingertips met, I would be ecstatic.

In the film there is a scene where Ellen's mother cries when she sees her. This is so true! My mum cried. Strangers, too: when I turned up at ballet class, people would either cry at my stick legs in pink tights, or they would turn away in fear.

When Ellen is asked by a doctor when she last had a period, she says: "I can't remember." I was asked that question by my endocrinologist at St Bart's Hospital, and my answer was the same.

We both meant: I've never had a period. And I don't want one, ever. Gross!

It seems not much has changed when it comes to treatment, either, bar one or two innovations. The nurse allows Ellen to have her back to the eye-level gauge on the scales; a small trick, but it would have helped me not to see, not to know.

I thought I was unique in hating my own name (I cannot bring myself to look at my byline in this paper), but here's that phobia, writ large. The psychiatrist, played brilliantly by Keanu Reeves, suggests Ellen change her name to Eli. What a good idea. That would have helped me, too. To no longer be me.

This film airs the truism that we ruin the lives of those around us and that, despite our super-human strength, we can't "just eat". There is too much talk that anorexia is caused by girls copying what they see online. Not true: I thought I'd invented anorexia.

It's no exaggeration to say that, had I seen it aged 11 or 12, this film would have saved my life.

... But viewers are split over film's graphic scenes

By Chris Hastings Arts Correspondent for the Mail On Sunday

Keanu Reeves and Lily Collins in To The Bone. Photo / Supplied
Keanu Reeves and Lily Collins in To The Bone. Photo / Supplied

To the Bone

may have prompted a storm of protest on social media before it was released on Friday, but some viewers were quick to praise the film.

One wrote: "I was sceptical about To The Bone but I'm honestly surprised by how accurate its portrayal of eating disorders is." Another said: "Watched To The Bone today and although it is a hard watch at times, I thought it depicted the illness far better than in other films."

But a former anorexic warned: "I trust the intentions of everyone involved, but when I was anorexic I would have 100 per cent watched To The Bone so see how skinny I should get."

Another added: "To The Bone is going to relapse me so hard. I can feel it."

Some fans thought the show's producers had failed to highlight the fact that eating disorders could affect anyone, anywhere.

One wrote: "Wealthy white girls aren't the only ones with eating disorders, they're just the only ones who can afford treatment."

And while many fans appreciated the fact the drama was not as explicit as its trailer suggested, others attacked Netflix. One wrote: "If you're struggling with an eating disorder, don't watch."

Another said: "I'm urging everyone who is suffering from an eating disorder not to watch To The Bone."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.