Netflix’s new teen drama, Everything Now, is the first TV show to tackle the issue of eating disorders in a serious and responsible manner. After the nightmare of To the Bone (2017), which managed to glamourize anorexia and give a massive onscreen platform to disordered eating behaviours, Netflix has created a drama which addresses some of the experiences which are universal to people trying to recover, in a tactful and reflective coming of age story.
Over eight episodes, we follow Mia Polanco’s (superbly acted by Sophie Wilde) first few months after being released from an in-patient treatment for anorexia nervosa. She realises that in her seven months of absence, her friends’ lives have changed a lot. She makes a “Fuck It Bucket List” and sets about going on dates, trying drugs, and going to parties to make up for lost time.
Mia’s escapades with her friends and her discovery of life as a young adult in North London make for entertaining viewing. In a similar vein to Sex Education or Heartstopper, a valiant effort is made to depict as many aspects of modern adolescence as possible. However, what is special about Everything Now, is the way that it addresses Mia’s underlying struggle to recover from her eating disorder and the way that it permeates her experience as a young person, with an explicit focus on her relationships with her family and friends.
The impact of anorexia on family life is addressed in a way which I think anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder would recognise. Interspersed between the main plot, we witness Mia’s parents arguing over mealtimes, the extent of trust that they should have in their recently discharged daughter, her brother Alex’s own response to Mia’s all-consuming illness… The viewer is clearly shown – not told – that anorexia and mealtimes have defined and shaped this family’s life. The messy cocktail of anger, guilt, fear and a sense of powerlessness suffuses how they interact.
Mia’s mother, with whom she has a difficult relationship, is shown to be trying incredibly hard to support her daughter’s recovery. Yet we also see her own unhealthy but socially acceptable behaviours around food – drinking green juices and separating the fruit, cream and pastry in a fruit tart. Everything Now explores how feelings of blame might be directed at the mother for perpetuating Mia’s discomfort around food in her home, but the show manages to avoid the trap of laying all the blame at her feet. Pop culture has often found it easy to blame ‘almond mums’ for disordered eating in young women, but Everything Now strikes the balance between recognising that parents engaging with diet culture in front of their children models a poor relationship with food and body whilst avoiding blaming them when this crystalises as an eating disorder.
Everything Now also highlights Mia’s friends’ experiences of her disorder, again tactfully displaying the interaction between guilt and blame. In the first episode, we are told that it was one of Mia’s friends who flagged her deterioration to her parents, resulting in her being sent to the treatment facility. The double bind in which friends of people with eating disorders find themselves – the decision to alienate their struggling friend by triggering their entry into treatment or to remain in their confidence and watch the illness progress – is beautifully portrayed.
The real achievement of this new program is that it has successfully depicted the impact of an eating disorder whilst barely showing any of the ‘behaviours’ associated with the illness on screen. Traditionally, films and television centred on eating disorders tend to use behaviours stereotypically associated with the illnesses as a visual indication that a character is affected. This might be a particular focus on what a character is eating (or not eating), dramatic close-ups of a character stepping onto scales, or using actors who are visibly unwell. The problem with these visual cues, is that they focus on the physical manifestations of eating disorders rather than on their broader impact. Beyond the question of whether this is ‘triggering’ or not, focussing on behaviours associated with the illness gives them a broad platform and further entrenches stereotypes about it.
Everything Now cannot represent a universal experience of eating disorders. It is self-aware enough to point out that Mia is being treated privately and that she has supportive parents to guide her through recovery – which, clearly, is not true of everyone trying to recover. It is, however, an earnest attempt to talk about eating disorders beyond the classic ‘raising awareness’ film. It shows recovery to be anything but linear and emphasises the complexity in untangling one’s eating disorder from one’s relationships with family and friends.
Image credits: Aleksandr Popov via Unsplash