‘Good’ girlhood: ‘Everything Now’ portrays the pain of grappling with conformity for survival

Oct. 27, 2023, 12:15 a.m.

Content warning: This article contains references to eating disorders.     

For better or worse, the “After School Special” is long gone. But its careful education on serious everyday issues need not follow suit.

Although there have been a number of shows about eating disorders in recent years, many have been criticized for overwhelmingly featuring white female characters and using disordered eating as a plot device that glamorizes the physical aspect of these conditions.   

Perhaps this is why “Everything Now,” the Netflix series written and created by Ripley Parker and released earlier this month, is such a refreshing watch. Inspired by Parker’s experiences with body image, the show explores Black British teenager Mia Polanco’s (Sophie Wilde) attempt to get her life back after spending seven months in a residential in-treatment program for anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphia. It is a sensitive yet comedic story about how the people around Mia struggle to best take care of her as she learns to take care of herself. 

When we first meet Mia, she is on a strict regimen of planned meals and weekly outpatient visits, but she is preoccupied by how much living her squad — Becca (Lauryn Ajufo), Cameron (Harry Cadby) and Will (Noah Thomas) — has done while she has been away. From lost virginities to newly-found weed dealers, she has missed too many milestones (“There are multiple weeds?” Mia asks her friends incredulously). She decides to create a bucket list to catch up, and her friends help her cross off an item in each of the show’s eight episodes.

Her squad keeps her grounded, but Mia’s home life is slightly more complicated. Her charismatic mom Viv (Vivienne Acheampong) is as distant as her father Rick (Alex Hassell) is doting. Mia walks the tightrope of their different parenting styles while her brother watches the spectacle from below. Viv is the type of woman who matches her lipstick to her jewel-toned power suits. While she is not totally aloof, as revealed by her attempt to give Mia “the talk” about the importance of safe sex, she is a hard-working girlboss who regards imperiousness as a form of intimacy.

Mia seems immature for her age until more details about how she experiences her body dysmorphia are revealed. Much of her headspace has been taken up by obsessively tracking her calories. Although avoiding triggers is sound clinical advice, Mia’s trigger is food, something that needs to be consumed multiple times a day to stay alive.

Mia’s voiceover and flashbacks to her time in treatment effectively depict disordered eating as a mind-body disconnection. As Mia walks through the cafeteria after her return to school, there are several overhead shots of lunches and cuts to her peers eating pasta in slow motion. Positioning eating as a spectacle gives the viewer a sense of what it is like when the brain regards nourishing oneself as overwhelming.

In one scene, Mia strolls through the mall to find clothes for a date after deciding her traditional garb of oversized sweaters and baggy pants aren’t suitable for the occasion. She is bombarded with advertisements proclaiming “Real women have curves,” and slim mannequins in storefront displays.

No matter what Mia’s body looks like, she always feels “incorrectly feminine.” Girlhood is a state of contrived effortlessness, but Mia approaches everything effortfully, which makes recovering feel like failure.

The series is told through Mia’s point of view, but everyone in her orbit gets compelling storylines. Even the bombshell popular girl who flits around Mia’s friends ends up having unexpected depth. Mia eventually develops a crush on a girl: watching her discern between love and infatuation is enjoyable, yet the initial narrative thread also remains taut as Mia tries to learn to be comfortable in her own skin. 

These side characters also challenge the protagonist in her growth. At one point, Becca exclaims that it is exhausting being Mia’s friend because her self-centeredness makes her overlook the fact that other people have problems too. It is a tough blow, but one that Mia needs to hear after weeks of taking everyone for granted. 

Ultimately, “Everything Now” is a story of a girl in recovery — a girl who is better but not necessarily good. This distance between recovery and recovered may be long, but the journey is better with good friends along for the ride. 

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Blyss Cleveland is an Arts & Life staff writer and Screen columnist for vol. 265. She roots for Mike the entire movie when watching "The Philadelphia Story."

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