Princess Diana's Bulimia Scenes: Compassionate or Crass?
Netflix's series The Crown includes graphic vomit scenes—for whom, and why?
Posted November 20, 2020
Debuting this month, season four of Netflix's royal-family series The Crown introduces Princess Diana—and depicts, graphically and repeatedly, her bulimia.
One such scene cross-cuts briskly between Diana and Prince Charles in a theater, viewing Maori dancers—whose tongues thrust out emphatically—and Diana entering a restroom, thrusting her finger down her throat over a toilet and ejecting a viscous stream. Another scene features robust gagging sounds as Diana regurgitates into a toilet, wearing a strapless silver gown.
Emma Corrin, who portrays Diana in the series, worked with a movement coach to make those scenes keenly authentic. As reported by Refinery29, Corrin asked the show's writers to "include more" bulimia scenes.
Netflix posted a warning message before those episodes, but I wonder for whom those messages—and graphic vomit scenes—were meant.
Vomiting is violence.
Forcing digestive systems into fierce reverse, it manifests danger, revulsion, rejection, refusal to hold what the body cannot bear. Like any act of self-defense, under most conditions, it aims to save.
To self-induce such spasms, making violence a daily choice, reveals a mind at war with the flesh it commands: fearing satiety, punishing pleasure which it equates with obesity and absence of control.
Having suffered from that disorder at around the same time as Diana did, I can confirm: It's gross, and rules—and sometimes takes—your life.
Vomiting is a symbol of disgust. Its very mention makes us clench. So potent is it as an idea, even a word, that the filmmakers could have revealed Diana's illness poignantly and effectively but less all-inclusively: with only visuals, say, at a distance, or with only sound, muted and short and/or behind closed doors.
But we can almost hear them asking: Why would we do that?
The answer comes down to intent.
Were these scenes meant to raise eating-disorder awareness worldwide? Even if, after 40 years of media attention, anyone was unaware, their disgust after viewing such scenes will likely outpace their empathy, much less spur activism. Whenever, long ago, I trusted anyone enough to tell them of my problem, they withdrew as if from feces and asked: "What? How can you do something so gross?"
Were these scenes meant to manifest compassion for bulimics? To tell past and present sufferers: Yes, you exist! Diana was your celebrity pukesperson, bravely baring what she called a "secret disease" that makes one "very ashamed of yourself and you hate yourself" during a famous 1995 BBC interview. Now, by recreating her pain with every splatter intact, we validate yours! Finally, you are seen.
It doesn't feel that way to me. Rather, I find those scenes manipulative, exploitative, invasive, and crass. A devastating illness is now rendered into entertainment. Our most private, shame-soaked moments are now public spectacles. I feel used, teased, exposed, savaged, and punished, like a dog whose snout is forced into the mess he made as his cruel master crows: "Look what you've done!"
Or were these scenes meant to discourage everyone with body issues from adopting this bad habit? In these celebrity-driven days—as millions eagerly ape influencers while ignoring deadly possibilities—such scenes basically say: "A gorgeous princess did this to stay slim! So can you! Here's a handy visual tutorial!"
The filmmakers might argue that bulimia was part of royal-family reality. But so were bowel movements. Will those also be shown frequently, in lush detail?
Were The Crown's puke scenes made for sheer shock value? Are they part of a continuum on which the viscerally brutal becomes normalized? Is glittery-gowned Diana not simply another victim in another horror film?