I have seen it happen.
Growing up in the Silicon Valley, I have been exposed to skinny moms, skinnier girls, and avoiding eating at all costs. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I grew up. It will always be home. But, the Silicon Valley is largely about image. Wearing the most expensive clothes, driving the nicest car, and having the best body. At a young age (much too young), I was exposed to terms like “thigh gap” and “bikini bridge”. I remember splashing around in the pool one summer, probably around the age of eight or nine, and overhearing some teenage girls talking. “I’m working on my thigh gap”. “Your stomach is so flat, I’m jealous”.
I went home and looked in the mirror. Why don’t I have a thigh gap? I thought. Why is my stomach round and bloated? I wondered. I was eight years old. Maybe nine. And I was worried what my body looked like when I should have been worried about what time Hannah Montana came on or what was for dinner.
So, I can see how eating disorders can develop. I have seen it happen. I have seen my friends transform from happy, bright, fun-loving girls into a shell of their former selves, consumed by their eating disorders. I always thought I couldn’t do anything other than be there for my friends. However, through this project I have come to understand that while I cannot do anything to help their mental illness, I can help in another way: by raising awareness and reducing the stigma of eating disorders.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are “serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors”. Signs of an eating disorder may include “obsessions with food, body weight, and shape”. There are many different types of eating disorders, but the two that are most common among adolescents are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (NIMH).
Anorexia nervosa in adolescents is characterized by weight loss, difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight, and, often distorted body image. Individuals with anorexia nervosa typically restrict the amount of calories they intake or the types of food in their diet. Compulsive exercise, purging (through vomiting or use of laxatives), and binge eating may also be vehicles used by individuals with anorexia nervosa (NEDA).
Bulimia nervosa in adolescents is characterized by a cycle of binge eating and “compensatory behaviors”, such as self-induced vomiting. These “compensatory behaviors” are performed in hopes to undo or compensate for the binge eating (NEDA).
Who is affected by eating disorders?
Although eating disorders can develop at any age, most cases develop during adolescence.
0.9% of American women suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime (ANAD).
1.5% of American women suffer from bulimia nervosa in their lifetime (ANAD).
A staggering 70% of adolescent girls report feeling dissatisfied with their bodies. There are many possible causes for this, but in my opinion it is largely due to body image in the media. Let’s be honest: we all use Instagram, read Vogue, and keep up with the Kardashians. There’s nothing wrong with that, until we fall into the belief that we should look like the Insta model, the latest Vogue cover star, or Kendall Jenner; it’s not reality. These images we see are usually of professional models, are taken at a strategic angle, or are photoshopped. Yes, celebrities love photoshop. Take a look for yourself at two of the most well-known individuals nationwide: Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.
How can I help?
Absorb as much as you can. Read, search the web, even call your doctor. Learn the difference between facts and myths of eating disorders.
Rehearse what you are going to say, maybe even write your main points down. Choose a private and comfortable place to have the discussion with your loved one.
Show them you care.
Be honest about your concerns. Tell your loved one that you are worried about them, and want to help.
Encourage them to seek help.
Offer to help your loved one find a doctor, therapist, or program that will help them recover. Sometimes it is easier for someone to do this for the loved one rather than themselves, so be available for this.
Finally, tell someone; especially if you are a child or teen yourself. This is a lot to deal with at any age, but dealing with it as a child or teen is especially hard, so tell a parent, trusted adult, or even your school counselor.
National Mental Health Association: 800-969-6642
National Eating Disorder Association: 800-931-2237
“Learn.” National Eating Disorders Association, 25 Feb. 2017, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn.
“Eating Disorder Statistics • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.” National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anad.org/education-and-awareness/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.
“Who Is Affected?” Who Is Affected?, www.nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/something/who-is-affected/.
Schober, Tony, et al. “Don’t Use the Scale to Gauge Healthy.” COACH CALORIE, 12 Dec. 2015, coachcalorie.com/dont-use-the-scale-to-gauge-healthy/.
Miller, Korin. “Kim Kardashian on Retouched Complex Magazine Photos: Yup – I Have Cellulite!” Nydailynews.com, New York Daily News, 9 Apr. 2018, www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/kim-kardashian-retouched-complex-magazine-photos-yup-cellulite-article-1.362120.
“Unretouched Photo from Justin Bieber’s Calvin Klein Shoot Reveals Photoshop Enhancements.” PetaPixel, 10 Jan. 2015, petapixel.com/2015/01/09/unretouched-photo-justin-biebers-calvin-klein-shoot-reveals-photoshop-enhancements/.
“Photo D1089_40_335, from Dissolve.” Dissolve, dissolve.com/stock-photo/Despaired-anorexic-young-woman-royalty-free-image/101-D1089-40-335.
Guerra, Julia. “Netflix’s ‘To The Bone’ Illustrates How Eating Disorders Do Not Define A Whole Person.” Elite Daily, Elite Daily, 17 Dec. 2018, www.elitedaily.com/entertainment/film/netflixs-bone-illustrates-eating-disorders-not-define-whole-person/2018966.