Netflix, which is already catching hell for supposedly glamorizing teen suicide in the online series 13 Reasons Why, is now also getting dumped on in some quarters for supposedly glamorizing teen anorexia in the upcoming film To the Bone.
Based on the movie's trailer, this viewer did not see how anyone who watched it could come away wanting to develop an eating disorder. Neither did Jamison Monroe Jr., who in 2009 founded the Newport Academy treatment center in Orange and went on to open rehabs in Costa Mesa and Corona del Mar.
"I'm excited about it," Monroe says after viewing the To the Bone trailer. "It gave me the chills in a good way. I know a lot of people talk about triggering, but it appears [the film] is going to be an accurate portrayal of what having a serious eating disorder is like."
Written and directed by Marti Noxon, who took over from Joss Whedon as the showrunner for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in season six, To the Bone follows 20-year-old anorexic Ellen (Lily Collins), who spent the better part of her teenage years being shepherded through various recovery programs, only to find herself several pounds lighter every time. Ellen's dysfunctional family sends her to a group home for youths, which is led by a non-traditional doctor (Keanu Reeves). Surprised by unusual rules—and charmed by fellow patients—Ellen learns she must confront her addiction and attempt self-acceptance to survive in this world.
Monroe knows this subject well, as his facilities assist adolescents and families struggling with not only eating disorders, but also mental-health and substance-abuse issues. Having come from a wealthy Texas family, Monroe struggled with his own substance-abuse issues before becoming a recovery specialist and opening Newport Academy, which also has a Connecticut treatment facility because of the East Coast demand. The CEO was bestowed the Mental Health Association of Orange County's Community Service Award and the Freedom Institute's 2014 Mona Mansell Award for having an indelible impact on the recovery community.
But Monroe knows that the treatment business can receive negative attention, as it did in 2013 when Ethan Couch, the Texas teenager who killed four people while driving drunk in the famous "affluenza" case, was allowed by a judge to spend a year at Newport Academy instead of inside a prison cell. News reports stated Couch's father paid $500,000 to stay in what one called "the most beautiful treatment facility in the industry," offering yoga, meditation, an on-site gym, art therapy and an equine program.
Despite that experience with the media, Monroe is willingly jumping into the early controversy surrounding To the Bone, which recently prompted psychotherapist Jennifer Rollin to write on the Huffington Post website, "As an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, I have some major concerns about the way that anorexia is being depicted both in the trailer and in the press surrounding the movie."
"I've heard both sides on this matter, and I sit on the side of the fence that is excited that the movie is talking about real issues," Monroe says. "An eating disorder is a life-threatening disease, and what I saw was very realistic, educational and potentially inspiring if, in the end, someone finds recovery because of it."
In our society, eating disorders are "a pervasive disease that continues to get worse and worse," he says. "Part of it is stigma and shame in talking about these things. Here is a film that seems to be a realistic portrayal that people can relate to. You are writing about it, and we're talking about it, so there is less shame for someone suffering from it to talk about it. My hope is it will inspire people to reach out and get help."
The day we spoke, two fathers in Livermore and San Mateo had been on CBS This Morning claiming their daughters' suicides were triggered by 13 Reasons Why, which Netflix just granted a second season. The online service pointed to praise from within the treatment community for sparking a national discussion on teen suicide.
"We watch 13 Reasons Why and use it as a tool we call '13 Reasons Why Not,'" Monroe says of his facilities. "It's 13 reasons to live instead of 13 reasons to die. It's used to start a conversation."
The CBS report also included a psychologist surmising that anxiety, depression and other factors played stronger roles in the California suicides than a fictional television show did. "I agree that people don't kill themselves because of a television show," Monroe says. "There is a lot more going on."
There are hundreds of thousands of teenagers suffering from eating disorders that may "come out of the shadows," thanks to "a very, very accurate, well-crafted story," he says.
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While some are jumping on one movie that seeks to honestly portray the disease, the silence is deafening when it comes to the many, many more movies and television shows that distort body images for teens in the first place, he notes. "Negative body images are the result of all the other media we watch. This is the truth of all the fake media we watch."
As with other forms of addiction, his therapists try to help clients get to the root causes for their eating disorders. He was impressed that the To the Bone trailer included scenes of "meal support exposure therapy," which can include taking the afflicted to restaurants and supermarkets. Monroe also noticed the movie includes a young man suffering from an eating disorder. "It's not as common as females," he explained, "but I think it is a lot more common than people realize."
Monroe remains hopeful the film "will bring about a level of awareness across the country among those who struggle and get them to reach out for help, whether at Newport Academy or any other facility that treats eating disorders." That would make any prerelease uproar worth the bother. As Monroe put it, "Honesty itself can be such a healer."
To the Bone was written and directed by Marti Noxon; and stars Lily Collins, Carrie Preston, Keanu Reeves and Lili Taylor. Debuts July 14 on Netflix.