It's hardly a revelation that we live in a culture that celebrates thinness above all else, but rarely does this warped standard come so sharply into focus as it did recently for Lily Collins.
The 28-year old actress lost significant weight in preparation for her role in Netflix's upcoming To The Bone, an original film which follows a group of young adults struggling with eating disorders. But instead of her ever-thinner frame eliciting concern from onlookers, Collins was praised and complimented for it — even though she was actively trying to emulate the look of a half-starved body for the role.
"I was leaving my apartment one day and someone I’ve known for a long time, my mom’s age, said to me, 'Oh, wow, look at you!'", Collins told Net-A-Porter's The Edit. "I tried to explain [I had lost weight for a role] and she goes, 'No! I want to know what you’re doing, you look great!'" This moment was a wake-up call for Collins, showing just what lengths people were willing to go to for what was socially considered to be a desirable figure. "I got into the car with my mom and said, 'That is why the problem exists,'" she explained.
Though she's able to clearly see the harmful repercussions of it today, Collins is no stranger to this obsessive, "thin is beautiful" mindset. "When I went through my eating disorder, I never sought medical assistance," Collins recounted, touching on her own experience with anorexia. "I created myths in my head about how I should get through things," she says of that time, mentioning that she has always had an innate desire to control what others thought of her through her outward appearance. "From a young age, I’ve had a desire to put forward this perfect image, whatever perfect was."
Meet Ellen from #TheTheBone. A brave young woman embarking on her journey of survival. On July 14, be part of her story — one that's extremely unique but also similar to thousands of others out there. Dont be afraid to start necessary conversations discussing important mental health illnesses that are still considered quite taboo. Together we are never alone...
In Collins' profession, this hyper-attention to self-image can appear to manifest as show business as usual. But Collins wants to draw attention to what lies below the surface of even the most shiny, happy clichés of Hollywood stars: "We do a good job of hiding it by putting such an opposite image of ourselves out there, like when I read interviews that say, 'Oh, I never exercise and I eat whatever I want, I just have a great metabolism,'" she points out. And she's right to be distrustful of the dichotomy between celeb's flawless figures and the apparent attitude of effortlessness.
Collins, by contrast, refuses to be another complicit participant of the weight-obsessed celebrity culture. For her part, she's been very vocal about her own struggles, even dedicating an entire chapter of her book Unfiltered to her experiences with disordered eating.
"I had written the chapter on my experience with eating disorders a week before I got the script [for To The Bone]," she explains, a coincidence she considers to be something like fate. Since that time, she has received an outpouring of support from even the most unlikely sources, both for her candid account in her book and for her role in To The Bone. "It has been amazing — crew members were coming up and saying they had experienced it through their sister or niece or friend, and with my book, too, at signings and on the street. I’ve had emails from people in the industry saying, 'This is my story'," she recalls.
Measure by measure, the honest and forthcoming accounts of people like Collins are shifting the landscape of celebrity culture (and how we talk about body image in general). To The Bone, which debuts on Netflix on July 14th, has promised to aid in starting an honest conversation about body image and eating disorders — something that, for all the talk about celebrity bodies, has been conspicuously lacking. With any luck, this will be the one that sticks.