This mother started a petition to ask Google to provide helpline information to those who search for eating disorders content. Her daughter, Shelby, lost her battle with eating disorders when she was just 19.
By Shirley Wang—I was born and bred to be perfect. Like a lump of soft clay, I was shaped and poked and prodded to become the best of the best.
By the time I entered middle school, I had been featured in newspapers and magazines for piano, selected to be a part of the Academically Independent class in my school district, organized plays and skits at my church, been published in a book of poems, and competed in figure skating. I was the kid who other parents would point to and whisper to their children, “Why can’t you be like her?”
But little did anyone know that despite all my accomplishments deep down I despised my very being. Being a competitive figure skater, I was constantly hyper-aware of how my body looked. My self-harm started before my eating disorder roared its head. In seventh grade, some girls at my church decided that they hated me. They bullied and ganged up on me, writing me awful emails. It was after reading one of their emails that I intentionally hurt myself for the first time. At the end of ninth grade I started disliking and criticizing, to the point I hated my body and weight. When I first started to lose weight, it seemed harmless enough, and coaches congratulated me, telling me that now I had “the perfect skater’s body”.
Soon, however, during sophomore year, things started changing. Despite my pediatrician’s intense concerns about my weight and behaviors, my mother didn’t listen. She thought I was going through a “phase”, and I continued to figure skate over ten hours a week while starving and self-harming. Finally, nearly six months later, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, and other co-occurring conditions at a hospital in New Jersey. After several tests and labs I was send to an inpatient program at another hospital until my weight and vital signs we stabilized, taking over a month. I moved into a Partial Hospitalization Program. Right before junior year started, I stepped down to their Intensive Outpatient Program, but something was still wrong. My weight was healthy, but my mind was still sick. When I discharged from IOP treatment, I relapsed immediately. Within a month, I had lost half the weight that I had been forced to restore. On December 11th, 2011, I was sent to Residential treatment 2,000 miles away from my home. I didn’t have a sudden epiphany that, oh, my god – I wanted to recover! No, it was slow, grueling work. There was no magic spell that my treatment team cast. Every meal, every snack, every session, I battled, cried, and fought for my life.
Since discharging from residential treatment I have had my share of struggles and I know it is normal. But, no matter how loudly my ed calls for me to re-engage I have learned to tune it out and continue persistently on the path to recovery. I am proud to say that I am in a stronger place of recovery than ever before, and I know that I deserve recovery – everyone does.
How have I managed my recovery? It is the difference between willfulness and willingness. When I first entered treatment in June 2011, I was extremely willful – every doctor’s worst nightmare. But slowly, through years of therapy, nutrition, and doctor appointments, something shifted inside of me. Instead of lying to my treatment team, I clenched my fists and told them the truth. I forced myself to stop manipulating my weight and confessed to my nutritionist how much I was really eating. I started to take an active role in my treatment and move to a place of willingness. For the first time, I let my treatment team treat me. I worked with – not against – them. I closed my eyes and grit my teeth and ran headfirst towards recovery. And with the help of my parents, friends, and treatment team, I made it.
Now that my brain isn’t consumed with negative thoughts, I can focus energy onto the things that are truly important. In September 2012, I was named a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist and won 1st place in the Justin Society Creative Writing Contest with my memoir “A Guy Named ED”. I have returned to my Church and although those girls never apologized for their bullying, I no longer self-harm because of their words, but know innately the things they say are not true. I am back to figure skating for the enjoyment of it. It’s no longer torture to step into the freezing cold rink, but pure bliss. I am living life more than I have ever lived before and I could not be prouder of the work I have accomplished.
Recently, I emailed my doctor from my residential treatment to update him on my life. His reply struck me when he wrote, “Do not be afraid to struggle some now and again.” After all, recovery isn’t a straight path. I’m at the beginning of my journey and should not expect perfection from myself. Rather, I am going to enjoy the process. After all, true happiness lies not at the end of the race – but in the journey.
By Shirley Wang—Have you heard of “The Biggest Loser”? Odds are, you have. It’s a wildly popular show, featuring Jillian Michaels leading teams of adults on a challenging journey to lose weight.
A yellow flag goes up in my head when I think of a dramatic change to one’s lifestyle, weekly weigh-ins, and competing against others on national television to lose weight. This yellow flag suddenly turns into a bright, crimson red when I delve deeper into what really goes in behind the scenes of “The Biggest Loser.”
I recently found an article including an interview with Kai Hibbard, a former contest on this show. To save you some time, let me summarize what Ms. Hibbard told writer Golda Poretsky.
From the very first day at The Biggest Loser ranch, contestants are stripped of all privileges - even simple ones such as leaving a hotel room to buy groceries or receiving mail or phone calls from friends and family. Blown-up, exaggerated, poorly shot photos at each contestant’s highest weight are plastered around the rooms. Though their “feet were bleeding…covered in bruises…[and] beat up” from excessive exercise, “throughout the whole process, people [whose] job is basically to keep the ‘fat people’ in line keep telling you, over, and over, how lucky [you] are to be there.”
Ms. Hibbard reveals that contestants are given a dangerously low amount of calories for the amount of energy they are exerting. “[W]e were working out anywhere between two and five hours a day, and we were working out severely injured…” At her worst point, Ms. Hibbard says that her “hair started to fall out…I was covered in bruises. I had dark circles under my eyes…my period stopped altogether and I was only sleeping 3 hours a night. I tried to tell the TV show about it and I was told, ‘save it for the camera.’”
Now my bright red flag has been replaced with a big, bold “ALERT! IMMEDIATE DANGER” sign. And sadly, my terror has grounds in the fact that Jillian Michaels and her team of ‘professionals’ did not lead Ms. Kai Hibbard down a healthy path at all. No, waiting for Ms. Hibbard at the end of such an extreme diet and exercise regime was a disease with the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses: an eating disorder.
Weight loss can be a path to better health for some people. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it should be done with the guidance of a doctor and a certified dietitian. However, “The Biggest Loser” does not fit into these guidelines. There is a dietitian “on board”, but according to Ms. Hibbard, “every time [the dietitian] tried to give us advice … the crew or production would step in and tell us that we were not to listen to anybody except our trainers. And my trainer’s a nice person, but I have no idea what she had for a nutritional background at all.”
30 million men and women will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point on their lives. This number seems high enough for me. Aside from promoting disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, and ultimately eating disorders, I see no benefit that “The Biggest Loser” can give to it’s contestants. “The Biggest Loser” is not an inspirational show following Jillian Michaels and her teams of men and women on their quest to lose weight and gain health. No, it is yelling, hurling “fat” insults, and demanding that participants exercise to the point of vomiting. Does that sound familiar to you? Because it sure sounds familiar to me. It sounds like ED, that sneaky little voice inside my head, the voice that tells me I weigh too much, eat too much, and will be happier when I lose weight—all of which are false, of course.
I am mastering the ability to fight ED’s voice. I know that my worth is not determined by the number of the scale and my happiness cannot be measured in pounds lost. With the help of my treatment team, I am recovering. But who is helping the contestants on “The Biggest Loser”? Who is going to be there to reassure them that they are still inherently good people no matter how much they weigh? Who will be able to save them from falling into the grasps of an eating disorder?
Sadly, no one is helping them. At this moment, in the Biggest Loser ranch, dozens of men and women are being shamed for being overweight, being told that they are lazy, fat, and incompetent, and being forced to exercise with injuries and restrict their intake to starvation levels.
However horrific and sickening this show is, the worst has just begun: this season, on “The Biggest Loser,” there are children. According to NBC’s website, “‘The Biggest Loser’ is committed to fight this epidemic by featuring children this season to serve as ambassadors of change who can inspire kids all over the country to get healthy.” Given what we now know about this horrendous television show, letting underage girls and boys participate in these weight-loss focused challenges is possibly the worst idea of the century.
But there is still hope. Tweet about this article and share your thoughts with the hashtag #stopbiggestloser. No human being deserves to be treated in the way that contestants on “The Biggest Loser” are kicked around. This show must not go on, and with your support, we may save hundreds of lives.
By Rachel Pratl—I am completely obsessed with movies. I always have been and I probably always will be.
As a complete movie nerd, I dragged my reluctant friends and family to my tiny local movie theater quite a few times over this past winter break. There have been just too many great movies to choose from lately, which left me feeling like a little kid in a cinematic candy shop. Lincoln and Les Miserables dazzled me with the strength of the actors’ legendary performances. Life of Pi and The Hobbit amazed me with rich storytelling and eye-popping CGI. Silver Linings Playbook, hands down, my absolute favorite movie of the year, left me with a “great-movie high,” as I have recently dubbed the feeling.
What feeling is that, you might ask? Well, it’s that cheery joy you feel deep down when a movie just moves you, speaks to you, makes you both laugh and cry, but most importantly, makes you think, long after the final credits roll.
As a certifiable cinematic geek, I get pumped about seeing how women will be portrayed in film. This season’s crop of movies appealed to me because the movies were full of actresses I not only adore, but professional women who’ve been very open about how they want to be perceived in the media.
First, I’d like to talk about Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables. Yes, we can all agree, her performance as Fantine was incredible, but so was the message she delivered to girls and women when she refused to disclose her low weight for the film, saying that she didn’t want girls emulating the unhealthy look she obtained for the part. Yes, of course I think it’s wrong that the woman who just won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress in the role of a lifetime has made more headlines for her weight loss than her award-wining talent. But I can see the bright side of this sad story.
Careful not to use her celebrity to promote or glamorize anorexia, Hathaway recently said in an interview, “There are so many people out there that will try something unhealthy to lose weight; I don’t want to contribute to that.” By not broadcasting her weight loss for a role that demanded theatrical accuracy as a starving prostitute dying of tuberculosis, she asserted her control of her how the media disseminate that news to public, perhaps saving young women from suffering themselves to attain her admittedly unhealthy frame.
Another actress I want to talk about is Jennifer Lawrence, the young up-and-coming actress who just won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy. Ask anyone, or just check my JLaw-gif-riddled Tumblr, it is obvious that I love Jennifer Lawrence. I think she is a brilliant actress and a totally cool, very down-to-earth celebrity chick and I kind of really want to be her when I grow up.
As a young woman with a passion for bettering how women feel about themselves, I also really love her stance on her self-image. In both Silver Linings Playbook, where she depicted a girl-next-door dancer and
last summer’s The Hunger Games, where she played a teenager literally fighting for her life, Lawrence has given young women a positive and healthy body role model. She’s even said on the topic of body-image issues that she thinks “it’s really important for girls to have people to look up to and to feel good about themselves. [I’m] so sick of these young girls with their [crazy] diets.” Unlike Anne Hathaway in Les Mis, Lawrence claims that she is “never going to starve [her]self for a part,” adding that she “[doesn’t] want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner.’ I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong—not thin and underfed.”
As both characters, Jennifer looks fit and strong and athletic—qualities we rarely see admired in women in the media. Above all, though, she looked real. She looked like me, she looked like my friends, and that made me happy; to see myself and the women I love in my life represented in movies and to feel, for once, like, hey, I’m ok. We’re ok.
In my opinion, we need to see more of this in the media. More body acceptance and body love, more respect for women of every shape and size, and less glorification of unhealthy ideals. We can help by looking for it, supporting it, and striving for that better place in the future of all of media genres, where all body types are respected and admired. But, I think that perhaps it starts with celebrities and media execs realizing that how they are depicted affects their audience, an audience which includes children, pre-teens and young men and women (and a pretty impressionable group we are!). It starts with young celebrity women, who know what it is to be harshly criticized by the media, taking a stand and loving their bodies as they really are, so that one day soon, we can get over the “skinny-bitch” thing.
Rachel Pratl is a freshman at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. She writes a column about women in pop culture for her school’s newspaper. In her spare time, she rides horses, works with her best friend on a novel, and obsesses over her favorite TV shows, movies, and books.
By Taylor Kirkham—The fear of aging is a constant worry in our culture, yet is a fate that nobody has ever escaped.
Age used to be an admirable trait, for the additional years brought wisdom and insight that many had not yet discovered. However, today we are plagued with the fears of ‘growing old’ before we have even grown up! It seems every magazine is coated from cover to cover with advertisements that promise to keep us young just a bit longer. These newly discovered treatments have brought upon us the responsibility to go against the force of nature and to stay forever young.
After living in Minnesota my whole life, plastic surgery was rare and secretive. It seemed that the majority of the adults in my life didn’t fear aging, but rather embraced it as a natural part of life’s course. However, after moving out to Los Angeles for school last fall, I found myself in the land of Botox, breast implants, and nose jobs. I frequently spotted girls in their mid twenties with face-lifts and passed many billboards stating, “Did you know your skin begins the aging process at fifteen?” The panic of aging began to slither through all of my thoughts, and I knew that I would have to purchase every skin cream the pharmacy had to offer in order to stay beautiful.
After completing my first semester, I packed up my bags, ditched the palm trees, and headed back to the freezing Midwest to spend the holiday with my family. During my month home, I found that the answer to my aging worries wasn’t in the newest skin product, but rather it was right in front of me. In fact, it had been right in front of me for the past nineteen years of my life.
My mother, 52, is several decades out of her twenties, yet she may be one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. Her beautiful smile, bright green eyes, and spunky personality have many cute boys asking for her number rather than mine. But beyond her stunning looks, my mother is an extremely strong and powerful woman. She is one of the top radiologists in Minnesota, She cares deeply about her patients, she is kind to everybody she meets, and she never allows anybody to make her feel less about herself. Her bubbly personality radiates positive vibes towards everybody she encounters each day—whether it is her best friend or a random person she meets at a coffee shop. She hasn’t allowed her age to keep her from being the same beautiful, kind, and strong women that she always has been and always will be. By loving and respecting herself and her aging process, she naturally commands love and respect from all of her peers.
As my twentieth birthday approaches later this year, I am trying not to focus on these years being the ‘Best Years’ of my life. I may be young, beautiful, and free, but I believe that life only gets sweeter as you age. After being around my mom for the past four weeks, I have realized that confidence, beauty, and grace only grows with age. You only learn to become more powerful, more confident, and more beautiful as each day goes passes. Thanks for being such a wonderful force of true beauty, Mom :).