A film dramatising a girl’s battle with anorexia has been described as a dangerous “how-to” guide for eating disorders by an actress recovering from the illness.
Elle Payne, 25, from Canterbury, says To The Bone, starring Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves, fails to show the daily despair and torture of those with the condition.
She believes the Netflix film simply plays to the stereotype that all people with eating disorders are skeletal and warns it contains triggers which could set someone back in their recovery – or even encourage a vulnerable viewer to develop one.
“I think 85% of it is a how-to guide into having an eating disorder,” she said.
“There are so many triggers in the film which is disappointing. People with eating disorders are obsessed about the illness and will see things and think they could do that too.”
The film’s lead role is taken by Collins, who has also battled anorexia herself – something Miss Payne says makes it even more surprising that the subject matter is not dealt with more carefully.
“It portrays anorexia as though the patients want it, they love it,” she said. “It doesn’t show the evil of the illness or the despair.
“They added comical moments to make it lighter, which was detrimental. They have a responsibility to keep others safe, not to give triggers.”
For that reason, Miss Payne, of Bingley Court, is deliberately careful not to divulge too much detail about the extent of her own illness.
The actress, who has starred in stage shows in London, wrote her own play called The Gruffolobit about her own battle.
She developed an eating disorder when she was 17, starting with bulimia.
“My parents’ relationship was breaking up and my relationship with my mother became fragmented and I got kicked out,” she said.
“I was sat there in a psychology lesson learning about eating disorders and I heard a whisper in my head saying ‘if you get ill someone will love you’.
“An eating disorder is a mindset, it’s a coping strategy – it’s to distract from painful feelings because that real situation is too hard to deal with.
“People with eating disorders feel that to be worthy of treatment you have to be really thin – I didn’t feel I was ill enough so anorexia took hold.”
Such disorders are not about being thin, Miss Payne adds, describing it as a by-product of the mental health condition.
“It’s to disappear, to not be heard,” she said “For me, it was about being controlled by something else.
“It protected me from the outside world, of being a woman – I was scared of looking sexual. The eating disorder kept me safe from all of my fears but it’s actually torture.”
Miss Payne was eventually assessed, but due to her body mass index (BMI) being healthy she was turned away.
“That was just fuel to get worse so I could get treatment,” she said.
After graduating from the University of Kent in 2014, she was admitted to The Red House in Maidstone, which treats people with eating disorders.
“People with eating disorders feel that to be worthy of treatment you have to be really thin – I didn’t feel I was ill enough so anorexia took hold" - Ellie Payne
Doctors gave her milk for the first three days to stop her body going into shock when she started eating proper meals.
Eventually she started to make progress.
“You go into treatment tiny, timid and shy,” she said. “Halfway through you start to think more rationally and you find your voice.”
With no family around her, when she came out she threw herself into writing and performing her play as a way to get better.
“The voice of the disorder is still there but my voice is louder,” she said. “I do believe it can be cured and I want that for myself.”