Lately I’ve been immersed in watching old TV shows. One of the shows I’ve gotten caught up in is the spectacularly cheesy yet oh so fun “Make it or Break It”. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about a group of gymnasts training for the Olympics and involves awesome scenes of gymnastic prowess (which is why I watch) and the typical teenage melodrama of a nighttime soap. One of the girl’s storylines in the second season, however, dealt with her developing an eating disorder in response to both the stress of a life of training and her parent’s impending divorce. Seeing this led me into a train of thought about the way eating disorders are portrayed in fictionalized media.
In “Make It or Break It”, Kaylee starts exhibiting disordered eating over several shows with the behavior becoming more prominent when a coach mentions that her competitor is “X pounds lighter”. Slowly people start realizing something’s wrong and they start to confront her. Eventually after passing out at an event, she enters a treatment program. Insisting nothing is wrong with her, she goes through the motions so she can get discharged. It’s not until her roommate in the program dies that she realizes she does indeed need help and from there she sets about on her journey of recovery. What struck me most about this was that before each commercial break the actress playing Kaylee is shown talking about eating disorders – how they are a disease and are nothing to be ashamed of with a listing of NEDA contact information. I definitely gave them kudos for that.
But was her eating disorder struggle accurately portrayed? At times, I think it was and at others it seemed a bit contrived. However, it made me think of other shows and movies where I’ve seen eating disorders portrayed. This was definitely more realistic than when Emma from “Degrassi” had an eating disorder (that took about two episodes to be revealed and resolved and was rarely mentioned again).
So how do eating disorders portrayed in fictionalized media affect us? Do you think they help create talking points for teens and their parents or among women and men? Or do you think they create more of a negative social stigma? With “Make It or Break It”, I think it was handled reasonably well and I think the fact that NEDA was involved (or at least mentioned) was definitely a step in the right direction. Do you think more shows should tackle this issue or would you rather see the issue left alone unless it’s handled by professionals? We’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave us a comment and let us know what you think.
“Prevention Works. Treatment is Effective. People Recover.“– National Recovery Month, SAMHSA
In honor of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) declaration of September as National Recovery Month, we are devoting this blog to a discussion of recovery and eating disorders. It is not enough to educate about the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders as a means of prevention- it is equally important to emphasize treatment and recovery as part of the healing process.
When we began the journey of creating the film “Someday Melissa, the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope,” we thought that it could be a powerful educational tool but had no idea about its potential as a component of treatment and recovery for eating disorders. Since the release of the film, we have been overwhelmed with support and praise from clinicians who have used Melissa’s story in treating patients struggling with eating disorders, as well as those who are in recovery.
Although Melissa’s life was cut short, her writings have become an inspiration for those who identify with her struggles in fighting an eating disorder and who are hoping for a brighter future. Many now in recovery have been encouraged by the film to reflect on what their own “somedays” were while still in ED’s grip, and how so many of those “somedays” have now come true.
Today we are thrilled to announce that we will be offering supplemental material for eating disorder professionals and clinicians who are using the film with their patients on the road to recovery. A new publication, titled “Guided Discussions for Recovery,” has been designed for professionals for use in conjunction with the film as an opportunity to utilize Melissa’s journal for helping them discuss eating disorders and the issues for those struggling. Using poetry and art as tools, this publication will allow patients to explore their thoughts and experiences about eating disorders using Melissa’s story. This is just one more way that Melissa, even in her absence, is making a difference in the prevention, treatment and recovery of eating disorders.
The “Guided Discussions for Recovery” publication will be presented at the upcoming screening and discussion at Linden Oaks at Edwards in Naperville, IL on September 28th; further details and registration information are available on our website. Judy Avrin will also be speaking on the role of the film in education, treatment and recovery from eating disorders.
Additional information on how to order the film with the “Guided Discussions for Recovery” will be posted to our website once it is available. If you have any questions please contact Beth-Ellen Keyes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (646) 246-1081
It’s always interesting to look back at your younger self and in this case, it helps me see how I got to where I am today.
My somedays pre-ED, somewhere around age 7:
Someday I’ll be a lawyer.
Someday I’ll be an astronaut.
Someday I’ll be a writer.
Someday I’ll grow up and get married and have 10 kids (haha!).
My somedays during ED, around age 11 and up:
Someday I’ll wake up and eat a meal.
Someday I won’t berate myself over every little thing in a quest for perfection.
Someday I’ll be an actress.
Someday I’ll be happy.
Someday I’ll go a whole day without hating myself.
Someday, someone somewhere will understand me.
Someday I’ll understand me.
Someday I won’t wake up every morning and wish I was dead.
So which somedays did I accomplish?
Well, I’m not a lawyer or astronaut (turns out you have to go to school for a really long time to become a lawyer and the whole idea of space actually creeps me out). I’m not married and no way do I want 10 kids (what was I thinking??). I am a writer though.
And from my ED days?
Well, I’m happy to say I can cross off every single one of those somedays from my list. It was a long road, a hard road but I wake up happy most days and I eat. I don’t wish I was dead and I have a much better understanding of myself and I don’t hate me at all – in fact, I think I’m pretty awesome. And I no longer berate myself over every imagined slight. Does this mean everything’s perfect? Not by a long shot. I have bad days, I have sad days but most of the time I am genuinely happy and able to cope with what comes my way. And that’s saying something.
So what are my somedays for the future?
Someday I won’t think of food as the enemy (I admit to still having trouble with this one).
Someday I’ll fall in love and it will be real.
Someday I won’t even be able to remember what the idea of “perfection” feels like. I won’t be able to think of one good reason to be “perfect”.
Someday I’ll travel the world.
Someday I’ll change at least my portion of the world, if not more, simply by being able to say with authority “It gets better” because someday, somewhere the person that needs to hear that will hear it and they’ll finally believe it.
What are your somedays? What somedays have you already accomplished? Share yours with us!
August is here and the store shelves are filled with back to school items, especially for college freshmen leaving home for the first time. I think about my own experiences moving into various dorms and apartments as an undergraduate student. While I am no longer moving at the start of each school year, and don’t miss hauling suitcases, bedding and other assorted items up and down multiple flights of stairs in hot summer temperatures., the beginning of the semester is still an exciting time for me. It’s a time of fresh starts and new opportunities. As a graduate student and part-time lecturer, each fall brings about the potential for positive changes and growth in my learning and experiences. However, this year the past has also been on my mind with school on the horizon.
On a recent trip to Boston I was wandering down Tremont Street near Boston Common en route to a particular restaurant. I soon found myself at Emerson College without even realizing that the school was so close to my destination. Pausing in front of the campus radio station and looking inside the enormous glass front windows, I began thinking about Melissa. Next month would have marked the start of her senior year at Emerson if she had not passed away. Previously I have written about my experiences contrasting what Melissa’s future could have been with those of my own students, but seeing this particular college campus was a jarring reminder of Melissa’s potential if the eating disorder had not taken her life. Melissa never had the opportunity to experience college like the students I saw at Emerson that day, from moving into the college dorms for the first time to walking across the stage at graduation. Even students who attend college and experience these milestones, are not immune from eating disorders. As well, eating disorders do not simply disappear once someone goes to college. It is not something that one simply “outgrows” when they reach 18 years of age or move away from home.
Melissa didn’t have the chance to start her fall semester at Emerson with the promise of new beginnings and opportunities, but it is possible for anyone who chooses recovery. You don’t have to be in school or wait for a new year to make the decision to seek help or continue towards a path of recovery. A fresh start and new firsts are always possible in the fight against eating disorders.
At Someday Melissa we are dedicated to raising awareness of eating disorders and having
open and honest discussions about ED and all that encompasses. Something we focus on a
lot is recovery. Recovery is possible! Although I’ve been in recovery for nearly 5 years now,
sometimes I wonder exactly what recovery is supposed to look like. Maybe you do too?
Lately I’ve found myself slipping a bit in my eating behaviors. I’ll admit to being a little
stressed lately because I work several jobs, am a writer and am in a play. There’s a lot going on
and it’s easy to feel a little out of control with it all. It started with simply being too busy and
forgetting to eat. I’d remedy that as soon as I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. But in the
back of my mind was the little voice of ED asking, “Doesn’t it feel nice though that you didn’t
eat?” I hate that persistent voice.
I have a no weighing policy. Maybe you do too? I don’t own a scale and the only time I am
weighed is when I go to the doctor. For me, not knowing is best. I go by how I feel and how
my body is doing and I know when I feel great and I notice when things feel out of whack.
It’s a great way to really get in tune with yourself. My roommate brought home a scale a few
weeks ago. I took one look at the scale and heard ED again, “Lovely, isn’t it? Don’t you want to
know?” I asked her if she could hide the scale and never tell me where she put it and luckily for
me, I have a good roomie because she did. Extreme? Maybe to some, but not to me.
These are the things I have to do in order to remain healthy. Recovery is an ongoing process and
for me (this doesn’t apply to everybody out there at all), it will always be. So I do my best to
counteract ED. I eat when I don’t necessarily want to and nothing looks good. I keep with my
regular walking schedule and don’t try to increase it. I look for inspirational quotes. I browse
the Someday Melissa pages because you guys inspire me. Maybe you do too?
Recovery is different for all of us, but the one thing I always do my best to remember is how
much happier and healthier I am now. I won’t let ED take that away again.
Even for those of us with little to no athletic talent (myself included), the Summer Olympics is an exciting time to watch the world’s finest athletes compete for recognition, honor and glory for their respective countries. Every four years the familiar images return: the passing of the torch, the gleam of gold, silver and bronze from the podiums, the faces beaming with pride. This time, the subject of eating disorders among athletes is also a topic of conversation. Notably, British triathlete Hollie Avil competed in the 2008 Olympics but declined to participate this year and is quitting the sport altogether to focus on her mental and physical health due to an eating disorder and depression. After a coach recommended that she lose weight to run faster, her weight dropped significantly but along with that came disordered eating habits and depression.
While the increased attention on eating disorders and Olympic athletes is bringing awareness, it is also important to recognize that disordered eating can occur with sports at all levels. Risk factors for athletes in any age group include sports that emphasize appearance or weight requirements (gymnastics, diving, bodybuilding or wrestling), individual competitions and endurance sports. Female athletes in judged sports have a 13 percent prevalence of eating disorders, compared to just 3 percent in the general population. Youth and adult sports are not limited to a casual game on the weekends anymore; youth sport league in many sports now go year-round. It’s also not just a concern for females; more and more male athletes are being diagnosed with eating disorders at younger and younger ages, even while still in middle school.. There are ways to reduce these risk factors in sports on every level, including:
- Positive, person-oriented coaching style rather than negative, performance-oriented coaching style.
- Social influence and support from teammates with healthy attitudes towards size and shape.
- Coaches who emphasize factors that contribute to personal success such as motivation and enthusiasm rather than body weight or shape.(Source: “Athletes and Eating Disorders: What Coaches, Parents, and Teammates Need to Know,” National Eating Disorders Association)
Even so, the perception of athleticism and bodies is still primarily based on a model of thinness for men and women. In the recent issue of ESPN The Magazine‘s annual “The Body: Bodies We Want,” there are mixed messages of positive body images with reinforcements of how fitness and athleticism is represented.
It’s okay to stare. That’s what The Body Issue is here for. Each year, we stop to admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who’ve pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god. To … well, gawk. So go ahead; join us. (Source: ESPN The Magazine)
In looking at the athletes represented, all have well-defined muscles and shapely, attractive bodies. In reality, it is difficult to distinguish these athletes from models in fashion magazines. How is it different to “gawk” at these bodies than the unrealistic representations in other magazines?
It was disappointing that ESPN did not highlight one of the most-discussed athletes who will be competing in the 2012 Olympics. She is the embodiment of strength and athleticism, plus courage and determination. Her name is Holley Mangold, a 22 year-old who has only been competing in weight-lifting events for the past three years but is already breaking records and heading to London for the opportunity to win a medal for the US. Holley doesn’t look like the other athletes profiled in the ESPN “The Body” feature, but her body is just as capable of competing as any of those photographed. Holley may not look like your typical supermodel but she can lift over 300 pounds- a real-life superhero. She is truly an athlete to stand in awe of for her body and talent.
You don’t have to be the parent of or an Olympic athlete to learn to recognize the warning signs of eating disorders and promote a positive body image. From parents to coaches, teammates and fans, we can all do our part to squash the negativity about athleticism and body image that can contribute to eating disorders. After all, today’s child could be tomorrow’s Olympic gold medalist.
It all started with a simple request to Seventeen magazine by 13 year old Julia Bluhm: to print one unaltered (i.e. non-Photoshopped or airbrushed) photo spread per month. Through an online petition, Julia gained over 30,000 signatures in support of the challenge to the magazine and hand-delivered the signed petition to the Seventeen offices in New York City.
“I look at the girls, and a lot of them, like, they don’t have freckles, or moles, anywhere on their bodies,” she said. “You can’t, like, see the pores in their face, they’re perfectly smooth. Their skin is shiny. They don’t have any tan lines or cuts and bruises or anything like that.” –Julia Bluhm, as quoted in the New York Times
In a statement issued to the website Jezebel.com, a spokesperson for Seventeen stated:
“We’re proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue — it’s exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers — so we invited her to our office to meet with editor in chief Ann Shoket this morning. They had a great discussion, and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that’s how we present them. We feature real girls in our pages and there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity. “
While a diversity of sizes, shapes, skin tones and ethnicity is important in print magazines (and media in general), accurate representation is just as vital. Dove was heralded for their “Campaign for Real Beauty” featuring women who were not models, but rumors circulated that the photos were indeed altered via Photoshop. What is the benefit of representing “real beauty” if it is still altered and not truly real?
There’s been much discussion during the Keep It Real Challenge about images of beauty in the media and how they can impact body image. Individuals with a negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss (National Eating Disorders Association).
Our film “Someday Melissa: the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope” was created after Judy Avrin lost her daughter Melissa to an eating disorder in 2009; throughout her battle with bulimia, Melissa struggled with negative body image issues and lack of self esteem. After Melissa passed away, Judy discovered , dozens of celebrity photographs on her computer, some posed and some candid shots. Juxtaposed to these were pictures of Melissa in similar poses. Here was Melissa, comparing herself to those unrealistic images of beauty as the bulimia took hold and eventually took her life.
It is unrealistic to expect the media to completely do away with the practice of altering images in order to promote a particular standard of beauty and body image. However, representations of both men and women – without retouching – is a step in the right direction. Every effort to “Keep It Real” matters, no matter how big or small, in the fight against a negative body image and eating disorders. We hope that through our film, educational materials, and the non-profit organization we founded to increase awareness of eating disorders and support their early detection and treatment, Someday Melissa can shine some additional light on this ever- growing problem.
Recently there have been numerous news stories about the increasing rates of eating disorders among populations previously thought to be largely unaffected by ED: women of color, Orthodox Jews, men and older women. There is a misconception that ED doesn’t occur in a particular group or community if it isn’t widely discussed, or if being thin isn’t the standard of beauty by which bodies are judged.
One of the challenges in estimating the prevalence of ED in a particular group is that the stigma may be quite strong, thus discouraging individuals from seeking treatment or speaking out. For example, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) exact numbers of the prevalence of ED among women of color are not known due to a lack of research on this group. However, it is now clear that their rates for reporting and seeking treatment are indeed increasing. The singer/actress Brandy made headlines in April when she revealed that she had suffered from an eating disorder while shooting on the sitcom “Moesha” when she was in her teens.
The good news is that as awareness of ED in these populations is increasing, so too are those who are speaking out and educating others. Organizations like Men Get Eating Disorders Too and individuals like NEDA Ambassador Vic Avon are working to shatter the myth that men don’t suffer from ED. Others like Stephanie Covington Armstrong are fighting for visibility of ED in the African-American community. This year’s NEDA Conference is also addressing the subject, with a specific track on diversity and special issues, including underserved populations.
Every voice speaking out about ED is helping to shatter the stigma and educate, but it is especially vital that the voices come from a range of backgrounds and experiences. ED doesn’t discriminate and can impact individuals, families and communities from all walks of life. Speak out and make the myth of “ED is not in my community” disappear.
From our YouTube channel, an interview with Karla Mosley (actress and eating disorder survivor)
The first day of summer doesn’t arrive until June 20th, but here in New Jersey the temperatures are already soaring past 80° F. Even before the mercury began to rise, certain signs of summer were already prominently front and center. Not blooming flowers, not lush green grass, not clear skies with the sun shining bright. No, these signs of summer were in advertisements- the warnings that “swimsuit season” is approaching. Without fail, each year these ads begin to pop up with messages that summer requires a specific type of body that can only be achieved with their products.
One of the worst offenders of this is the cereal brand Special K, which has managed to push a dieting agenda in ads all year round. However, the ads leading up to summer are particularly egregious. This year, the ads feature a woman walking on a beach and wearing a cover-up; suddenly, the wind whips the cover-up off her. Her expression is first one of shock and horror, then contentment. The voice-over states “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you can. Take the Special K challenge… lose the cover-up and show off your confidence.”
The message of the ad clearly articulates that the only time that it is socially acceptable to not be shrouded in a cover-up at the beach (or pool or wherever) is if the body meets the standards of society, i.e. one that has lost weight by using these diet products. The message itself is even somewhat misleading because if the part about taking the Special K challenge is removed, the message has a positive spin: “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you can…lose the cover-up and show off your confidence.”
Not everyone has the confidence to lose the cover-up, regardless of their size or shape. Perhaps the message should be “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you want to.” It’s not about whether others approve of your size and body in a swimsuit, it’s about your own perspective on your body. Maybe one day you will want to lose the cover-up, maybe other days you won’t. Let’s leave that up to ourselves and not Special K to determine that.
Since the recent announcement by Vogue magazine that they would “not knowingly employ those who appear to have an eating disorder,” there has been much discussion and debate regarding the role of fashion and media in contributing to eating disorders. One of the most vocal proponents of the Vogue decision is former model and creator/host of the television show “America’s Next Top Model” Tyra Banks, who penned an article in The Daily Beast on the subject. In her article, Banks expands beyond fashion magazines and gives advice for young women:
“Vogue has the power to make and break—whether it’s fashion trends, designers, models, and yes, even industry practices. Their bold stance means that others will follow. Now it’s up to you. Take your “flaw,” and turn it on its (fore)head. And never forget that you are fabulous, you are fierce, you are flawsome.”
Along with praise for Bank’s statement came criticism as well. The website Jezebel offered a tongue-in-cheek take down of her stance:
“Alas, her message was a bit convoluted by her own need to invent words (like “flawsome,” which is “flaw” and “awesome” put together) and talk about herself constantly. Did you know that ‘America’s Next Top Model’ solved the eating disorder problem already? It’s true. All they had to do was invite a very skinny girl into the house every season so that the rest of the cast could watch everything she eats and constantly talk about how concerned they are about her behind her back until eventually she gets so stressed out that she cries at the panel and no one has an eating disorder ever again.”
Even on our own Facebook page where was mixed reaction to the article and Tyra’s subsequent interview on “Good Morning America.” Some were encouraged that such a well known celebrity was speaking out against eating disorders, while others felt she was being an opportunist, promoting her own projects and brand.
When it comes to the fight against eating disorders, there are many voices and movements working together – and separately – for the cause. The Jezebel article does make a good point that one program (“America’s Next Top Model”) hasn’t – and won’t – solve the problem of ED alone. One celebrity speaking out does not make ED “go away” once the discussion is no longer considered news-worthy and current by the media. The fight against ED is embodied in everyone who speaks out against the disorder.
Perhaps most important in Banks’ statement is the role of parents in shaping positive messages about beauty and body image. In the GMA interview, she discusses the double-standard between the admiration of male athletes compared to female models. According to Banks, when boys watch a basketball game with their fathers there is not the same pressure to conform, compared to when girls and their mothers look at models in a magazine. There are not the same subliminal messages with males athletes as there are with female models- messages of what an “ideal” body should be.
“To moms everywhere, we need to educate our girls not to fall prey to thinspirational images of beauty. So where do we start? By being very careful about how we talk about our own bodies in front of our daughters. We can show our daughters diverse images of beautiful women: curvy, tall, short, and everything in-between. Moms, you are the first and most influential role model in your girl’s life. Use that power. Teach her to love herself and everything that makes her unique.”
While it helps that people in the fashion industry are speaking out, it is mothers and fathers who have the opportunity to be role models for their children every day. Talk to them. Teach them. Help them learn to love themselves just as they are.