This project started after I had read a few books on eating disorders and body image. I was fascinated by one person’s account with their struggles and needed to learn more about the topic, because it wasn’t “just” not eating or overeating and throwing up. Eating disorders are incredibly complex and are different for every person that experiences them. Regardless of what people think, eating disorders are not brought on by over controlling parents, the media making you feel bad, or the need to fit into a smaller pair of pants. It’s waaaaaay more complex than that, so much so, that eating disorders have been recognized (finally!!) as mental health issue. Just like those dealing with depression or anxiety experience a vast array of symptoms or triggers, it is the same with eating disorders. After my own personal research, I wanted to go straight to the source and ask some women about their own experiences and in doing so I arranged this project to speak to their stories. I cannot thank them enough for being brave enough to come forward and let me learn from them.
One of the most noticeable things people will take away from this project, is that eating disorders do not have a “body type”, which is why it is SO important to take care when you say things to women of any size and shape. Just because someone is not emaciated, does not mean they aren’t fighting daily with putting food in their mouths or not exercising until they throw up. You have no idea what someone is going through, so it’s best to keep your “opinions” about someone’s size and shape to yourself.
The second thing I found interesting about the women that came forward for this project, every single person who filled out the questionnaire has also been diagnosed with a form of mental illness: anxiety, depression, or other not-so-fun stuff. So, is it the eating disorder that causes the other, or vice versa? The studies that I read have shown situations that reflect both. By starving the body, the brain kicks into gear and starts over producing chemicals which cause an imbalance, starting a vicious cycle of mental games. On the other hand, someone started out being diagnosed with OCD and thus, that lifestyle became a catalyst for an eating disorder surrounded with calorie counting and miles tracked.
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the world of eating disorders and body image, but I think it’s mostly important that people talk about it (like anything!) The more we remove the stigma of mental health we will be able to talk more openly about our issues and question the reasons why we do the things we do.
So, lastly, for this project, I had asked a particular question and that question was:
“What color would you associated with your ED?”
And the majority of them fell into the purples and greys. I found this interesting because both purple and grey are associated with comfort. But it makes sense. When we are doing things we can control, hide in, or grasp we are comfortable there…it’s when the world hands us more plates than we can spin at a time, that we become uncomfortable and that pushes us to seek out comfort…and for some people this results in eating disorders, other people it is addiction, and other people it is sleeping for long periods of time, etc.
As a result, for their portrait, I asked the women to place the color that best corresponded to their answers on the body parts they would focus on when they were “in” their eating disorder. As you can see, again, there is a variety and it is all very personal.
Now, am I saying that the media is completely off the hook? Not at all. And when people say shitty things, should we just let it roll off our backs? Never. While these things may not be the CAUSE of eating disorders, they are definitely a contributing factor to poor body image and it is one of the many fuels that can fan the flame of eating disorders.
To learn more about eating disorders or to get help for yourself, please check out these resources:
Decoding Anorexia: How Breakthroughs in Science Offer Hope for Eating Disorders
Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help A Loved One Through An Eating Disorder
Women’s Heath Clinic