In the previous issue of Orbital Magazine, I wrote an article condemning the issues with Netflix’ portrayal of anorexia in To The Bone. I disagreed with how it glorified eating disorders in many ways and acted like a how-to guide for sufferers. Where Netflix failed though, BBC Three seems to have succeeded with showing people the truth about anorexia – that it is a debilitating illness – without glorifying it or using a romantic storyline to further the plot of recovery.
Michelle Fox plays Imogene (Imo), a 17-year-old girl living in Leeds who decides to ‘vlog’ her daily life. It is through the perspective of her camera that the audience are seeing Imogene becoming more and more affected by her anorexia. She becomes more and more withdrawn from her family and friends as well as extremely defensive when her issues are pointed out to her.
Writer Eva O’Connor, portrays anorexia in an extremely interesting way by actually personifying anorexia as the character “Anna”, who is invisible to everyone except Imogene and the audience. She is always there, telling Imogene to continue exercising and eat less. It is a stark portrayal as it explores anorexia as an overwhelming physical force.
O’Connor has had experience with anorexia herself and chose to write a play about her illness, which was then expanded into the show that BBC Three released. She also stars as the character of Anna, using her personal knowledge to craft the words that Anna says to Imogene.
Comparing an eating disorder, often inaccurately thought of to be a lack of mental control or stability, to a physical illness is a great way to raise more awareness of eating disorders and how they affect people.
A potential romantic relationship between Imo and Wayne is rarely touched on in relation to her illness and focuses more on their mutual friendship. The show also looks at the parallels between Wayne’s mother’s liver failure and Imogene’s illness. Comparing an eating disorder, often inaccurately thought of to be a lack of mental control or stability, to a physical illness is a great way to raise more awareness of eating disorders and how they affect people.
Amazingly, the show is extremely powerful without acting like an instruction manual to those watching it.
Additonally, we root for Imogene’s recovery for herself, because she is a likeable character with an engaging presence. There is no need for a satisfactory romantic ending or even a truly happy ending. It simply ends with Imogene making a “goodbye” video to her audience and admitting she has a problem. Anna reappears one last time, looking eerily similar to the girl in The Ring, standing in the background and ‘overshadowing’ Imogene in the foreground of the shot. Imogene strongly proclaims that she “will beat this” and the screen cuts out. It is a powerful ending and draws attention to the strength in recovery, something that many other shows and films have failed to do.
Eva O’Connor and the rest of the production team did extremely well with this show and I hope they produce additional content with equally compelling messages.
Well done, BBC Three.