Movie--Trigger Warning

by Angela Morris

A new movie, entitled To the Bone,, will start on Netflix July 14th. It is described as a “dramedy” or comedy drama about a young woman dealing with anorexia.  The various merits of the show can be discussed later, but as someone who may be intimately involved with caring for someone or personally dealing with an eating disorder, it is important to note that this movie may be “triggering.”

Recently, my niece asked me what “triggering” meant since she heard it around our house a lot. Here is the break down I gave her. Probably the classic use of the word triggering comes from work with people suffering from PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. A person with PTSD may be a war veteran who was in a war zone where there was a lot of bombing. Now out of the war zone and back home, loud noises, like fireworks, could potentially “trigger” that person. Once triggered, basically all of the feelings that came with being in the war zone flood your body again, essentially putting you right back into that place.

However, for eating disorders, “trigger” is used a little differently. Our family’s understanding of this came when we traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for better treatment for eating disorders during a nationally organized event. It was the first time my child was around a lot of other people who all struggled with the same issue; all in a variety of states of recovery. That exposure lead to a much different outcome than we had expected. Rather than the sense of empowerment we hoped that lobbying on behalf of the issue would bring, instead the reaction we got after my daughter scanned the room was, “I don’t deserve to be here. I’m not sick enough.” Thus we learned how damaging the “trigger” of comparison can be when not completely recovered.

Even well-meaning books and movies, that want to describe someone’s journey through the illness, can be used as a “manual” for eating disorders. (  And visuals like those found in movies like To the Bone, while purporting to raise awareness, for some may actually be making it worse. According to Christine Morgan, Butterfly Foundation chief executive  “We know that images of people who are seriously ill with an eating disorder are powerful triggers. We also know that these images can inspire copycat behavior, especially for those suffering with Anorexia Nervosa.”

As anyone recovering from an eating disorder will tell you, our weight obsessed society holds plenty oftriggers that can derail a person’s recovery. Here are some great tips from NEDA on how to deal with triggers in general:  In terms of this upcoming movie, each person will have to determine what they are able to view safely, but it is important to be aware that the same content won’t be experienced the same way by everyone.

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