Campaigner Hope Virgo explains why The Crown is a challenge for those who struggle with eating disorders as the show paints a shallow picture of the affliction and reinforced harmful stereotypes.
Watching a young woman bent double retching over a toilet is enough to trigger most people to feel something, but for those affected by eating disorders these images can trigger a whole lot more. For me, a person who has been in recovery from anorexia for more than half my life, watching Princess Diana in the grips of an eating disorder took me back to those lonely nights when I didn’t know how I was going to cope. Watching her binge after she was triggered took me back to those situations when the eating disorder would tell me if I did a certain behaviour everything would be okay.
Season four and five of Netflix’s The Crown shows glimpses of Princess Diana’s struggle with bulimia, an illness that in Season four is painted with little understanding from the Royal Family. The reaction from the royals is arguably no different to reactions that many would have today.
Eating disorders are still massively stigmatised in 2022. They are often seen as a choice, a phase that someone’s going through or something that only effects white, underweight people. Sadly, The Crown depicted Diana in just this way, as well as adding to damaging message that eating disorders are glamourous. While Princess Diana alludes to there being underlying issues, the bulimia is painted in a way that fits neatly into the stereotype.
Eating disorders are often seen as a choice, a phase that someone’s going through or something that only effects white, underweight people.
As the series progresses, we learn more about her bulimia and the struggles around it. In her interview with Bashir, she tells the BBC: "I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem – Diana was unstable." It is this line that hit a nerve for me.
For so many people living with an eating disorder, and no doubt due to the stigma, they are often blamed. Not only this, but with the opening scene of series five, we see the Queen having a health check done which ends with a discussion about weight and exercise with Princess Anne. I feel strongly that comments like these contribute to eating disorder culture and that they should have been taken out of the show.
While raising awareness is important, The Crown fails to show the real ins and outs of eating disorders.
While raising awareness is important, The Crown fails to show the real ins and outs of eating disorders. It fails to show how totally all consuming they are. It doesn’t show the impact on Diana’s teeth, it doesn’t show the puffy cheeks, the red blood shot eyes, and leaves us instead with an image of someone who contains their bulimia to a snapshot of time.
My fear with this series, is like so many before it we are still being left with the same sort of messages. Instead, we need to find a way to bring in the realities of an eating disorder, as well as that message of hope that people can recover.
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