Several days ago I stumbled on a blog posting I wrote over a year ago, in September, 2010, for our first, very short-lived blog. I’d actually forgotten about that blog as we focused on completing Someday Melissa. I would like to share part of that entry:
“Yesterday I received an email from a therapist at a mid-western college counseling center asking when the film will be completed. She wrote:
“I work with many of the college women on our campus with eating disorders, and I found your website while doing my several-times-a-week check for updated information on eating disorder treatment. ….Best of luck to you in your endeavors to reach the countless and often silent victims of these deadly diseases. I pray many people find hope and freedom from Melissa’s story.”
I receive a steady stream of inquiries from college and university counseling centers around the country as well as from guidance counselors at middle schools and high schools. There’s a sense of urgency in the emails. Everyone is trying to find ways to reach kids in a way that will make them pay attention to what eating disorders really mean. I know “Someday Melissa” will do that.”
A year has passed since I wrote that entry, naively thinking the film would soon be completed. Making a film was unchartered territory for me. The road to completion was long and winding, with many unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows.
During that time I continued to receive emails and Facebook messages, from eating disorder treatment programs, high school guidance counselors and coaches, from individuals and their families. A therapist wrote that I was making a profound impact in the fight against eating disorders. We knew we were doing something important. That’s what we kept focusing on when we hit unexpected bumps while completing the film.
However, the most powerful messages I receive, the ones I read over and over, are from those fighting their own personal battles against ED. They post messages in our website’s guestbook and Facebook pages. One young woman wrote:
“The documentary brought my therapist to tears. we watched it over 3 sessions. This is only the beginning to the many lives you and Melissa will continue to help save.”
“Melissa’s story inspired me while I was in the throes of my own battle with Bulimia and Anorexia. I remember watching the clip from the Today show over and over…she was like me, only difference was I still had a chance to beat this monster. After a 15+ year struggle, I finally found the courage to step forward and accept treatment.”
“Thank you for giving me the courage to live “sober” and choose to be real… My heart bleeds for you, but rest knowing you can always save one starfish. Melissa’s story woke me up from a relapse today…. and I might never know how much I potentially owe you, and her, for that.”
I’m grateful that Melissa’s story, and my ability to share it, is continuing to fulfill her dream of changing lives. ~ Judy
Last week I flew out to California for the National Eating Disorders Association Annual Conference. As the lights of Los Angeles came into view outside the plane’s window, I couldn’t help but think about Melissa. She always talked about moving there when she was healthy, when she’d beaten ED, determined to fulfill her dream of making movies. As the distant lights blurred through my tears, I felt that I was there to carry out her dream.
As a first-time exhibitor, my perspective was very different from past conference experiences. Misty and I sat behind the Someday Melissa table, our beautiful banner adorning the front, the film’s poster standing on an easel at one side, pamphlets and wrist-bands spread across the top. People began stopping to talk.
Before I continue, I need to explain the uniqueness of the NEDA conference. Most professional conferences are just that: conferences for professionals in a given field. In 2003, NEDA made the groundbreaking decision to bring parents and families together with scientific researchers and eating disorder professionals at their annual conference, “Building Connections and Mobilizing Families, Educators, Advocates and Professionals.” Thus began a unique sharing of information, resources and perspectives that continues to this day.
When you have a child or loved one battling an eating disorder, there is a sense of isolation that engulfs you. You hear it over and over. I know that feeling. I lived it. Part of it is the amount of physical and emotional energy required to deal with the illness: the doctor, therapy, nutrition appointments feel never-ending; but the other part is the perceived stigma and shame attached to eating disorders.
When parents and families attend the conference, they say it’s like meeting people from the same foreign land, who speak the same strange language, one they never taught you in school. It’s a place where parents can share experiences without feeling shame or embarrassment. Where you can ask a glowing, healthy young woman or young man what finally enabled them to conquer ED after years of illness. Where a mother can go up to a top researcher and ask “what are your studies showing?” Where a husband can comfortably approach the director of an eating disorder treatment center and ask questions. Where sisters and brothers meet others who lived the same bizarre life of battles at the dinner table, locked food cabinets, stolen money, and estrangement from their siblings.
People began stopping by our table – parents, therapists, nutritionists. Many of them knew about Someday Melissa and were excited to learn they could buy the DVD. Others wanted to learn more or inquire about scheduling a screening or to have me come speak. People still struggling came to tell me that Melissa’s story is inspiring them to continue their fight against ED. Some just wanted to give me a hug. It was emotionally exhausting and energizing at the same time.
As Misty and I packed up to fly home for a screening of Someday Melissa that was scheduled for the next day, I knew in my heart that Melissa’s story, her dream of “making a movie that will change lives”, was coming true.
Recently I attended a baby shower for a friend that I had not seen in many months; as soon as I caught a glimpse of her, I was amazed at how happy she looked. It wasn’t just the “pregnancy glow,” but genuine joy that was evident in her smile and demeanor. We hugged; I told her congratulations and that I was thrilled for her. The first words out of her mouth were “you look great! I feel so fat and huge compared to you.”
I tried to hide any sadness in my face, but the truth was that my heart sank. At a time when my friend was eight months pregnant and about to embark on an exciting new chapter in her life, she couldn’t help but compare her body to mine. Although I had a great time at the baby shower, those words haunted me for the rest of the day.
Lo and behold, a few days later a link appeared in my Facebook feed for Fat Talk Free Week (October 16-22, 2011) and I immediately clicked onto the website for details:
“Fat Talk describes all of the statements made in everyday conversation that reinforce the thin-ideal standard of female beauty and contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies. Examples of fat talk may include: ‘I’m so fat,’ ‘Do I look fat in this?’ ‘I need to lose 10 pounds’ and ‘She’s too fat to be wearing that swimsuit’ Statements that are considered fat talk don’t necessarily have to be negative; they can seem positive yet also reinforce the need to be thin – ‘You look great! Have you lost weight?’” (Source: endfattalk.org)
Whether we realize it or not, fat talk is part of many of our everyday conversations. Although I try to maintain a positive attitude about my own body, I too have these critical thoughts towards myself and others. After learning about Fat Talk Free Week, I am making a concerted effort to shift the focus away from body dissatisfaction or reinforcements of thin ideals. While the Week is a great way to spread the message to others and create awareness, you don’t have to wait until October 16th to begin the stop of fat talk nor does it need to end on the 22nd.
The next time that I see my friend, her baby will have been born. When I see her, I will hug her and tell her that she is beautiful, inside and out.
For more information, visit http://www.endfattalk.org or on Facebook at Fat Talk Free Week.
Sunday, October 2nd was the first time I participated in a fundraising walk and this one held special meaning for me. It was the National Eating Disorders Association’s 3rd annual NYC Walk to raise awareness of eating disorders.
The day started early, at Foley Square in downtown Manhattan, with Diana Williams of WABC News hosting the event and special guest, NEDA Ambassador, Emme, greeting the crowd. Between the live music, expo and other events, the most special thing for me was listening to the speakers. People from many different generations stood up in front of the huge crowd and shared their stories of recovery, hope and healthy living. Each story was unique and each was inspirational.
One of the best parts of the day, personally, was listening to The Falk Sisters perform their song, “Deadly Beauty”. The lyrics really spoke to me and reminded me of my past, of trying so hard to be perfect until it nearly did me in. Most of you can probably relate. More important was the song’s message, that we’re all already beautiful. Sometimes we can’t see it, but we are and you should all remember that each and every day.
After all these uplifting and inspiring messages, the actual walk itself across the Brooklyn Bridge began. The sun was shining on the hundreds of people walking to raise awareness of eating disorders. Many people walked to support a friend or family member battling ED, others in recognition of their own recovery and continued determination to speak out. Still others walked in honor of someone lost to ED. Everyone’s shirt said something different but it was all the same message: Let’s Talk About. You’re beautiful. The Someday Melissa team, with her mother Judy in the lead, walked in Melissa’s honor wearing Someday Melissa t-shirts.
Then to top off an already amazing day was the huge amount of interest in the Someday Melissa documentary. Scores of people came up to our table to tell us they’d heard about Melissa’s story and couldn’t wait to see the film. They asked about screenings and release dates. There was a lot of interest from other organizations who were there. They were excited to hear the DVD was finally available and they couldn’t wait to go home and order it. Melissa’s story is spreading fast, far and wide, which I love because it means that finally people are ready to take notice and take a stand against ED.
So when you’re having a rough day, just think about the walk (whether you were there or not) and remember how many people are thinking about you, yes YOU, and showing their support.