When scrolling through stories this morning, I stumbled across this Guardian piece: “Mental Health Experts Criticize Netflix Film About Anorexic Girl,” which claims that the trailer for To the Bone—a film starring Lilly Collins and Keanu Reeves which Netflix is releasing in July—glamorizes eating disorders.
At first I was sympathetic to the cause; obviously, you don’t want to trigger people. And while most would look at the seriously stunning Collins in that trailer and think she looks sickly, those who proliferate those pro-ana sites would beg to differ. Also, there’s no denying the fact that, with its bouncy music and clips of Keanu’s wooden line delivery, the movie has the energy of your average millennial rom com and not, say, a PSA.
Then I remembered yesterday’s Telegraph story about how the actor currently playing Hamlet in a British production, Andrew Scott, believes that because of society’s newfound awareness about mental health issues, “you can’t just play [Hamlet] as ‘mad, crazy.’” With people like Prince Harry making mental health issues a pet cause, Scott says, actors need to look at Hamlet not as someone who’s “mad” but instead as a character who’s grieving for his father.
And then I thought: let’s stop treating ourselves like we’re just so precious, like we just can’t handle anything. And let’s stop pretending that we can prevent stigma, let alone addiction and other disorders, with our actions (or non-actions).
In terms of my own struggles with addiction, I had many people say to me when I was promoting my books on the topic, “Well, of course you became an addict—you live in LA” or some variation on that. My response has always been the same: that if I’d moved to Iowa and worked on a ranch instead of to Hollywood to work as a writer, I still would have become an addict. I know myself: I would have found the random ranch hand who dealt coke on the side. In other words, while I’m a complete Freudian and believe that most everything that makes us who we are is a result of whatever happened to us between the ages of 0 and 10, I don’t believe that circumstances after that will determine much. In other words, I don’t believe that a movie about an anorexic girl going to treatment will glorify anorexia. Yes, Collins looks extraordinarily thin. But so did Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Jared Leto in The Dallas Buyers Club and Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. In other words, male actors have been losing weight and winning Oscars for it for years.
In terms of Hamlet—people, this is entertainment.
It’s wonderful to be concerned and to not want to exacerbate the stigma around mental illness or contribute to the crisis of eating disorders. But limiting our entertainment and stifling the creativity of the people making it isn’t going to do that. We have to take responsibility—and that’s just as much on parents as it is on their kids who, when they grow up, need to accept responsibility for their own self-destructive decisions.
In other words, Hamlet and a Lilly Collins movie aren’t going to screw us up. We do a good enough job of that ourselves.