It’s no surprise that the entertainment industry has a thorny history dealing with the eating disorders of celebrities, particularly given the media emphasis on the notion of the “ideal” body type (aka being thin). When Lady Gaga was scrutinized by the media last year for her perceived weight gain, she responded with a bold confession that startled both the media and her fans. Lady Gaga posted a picture of herself on her fan website “Little Monsters”, wearing only her underwear with a caption “bulimia and anorexia since age 15.” Following that picture was another with a caption “But today I join the BODY REVOLUTION.” Through her fan site, she created a space for discussion of body issues and eating disorders while promoting compassion she felt was missing from the media coverage. Lady Gaga may be one of the most high-profile entertainers to directly confront the media about her weight issues, but others before her have suffered from eating disorders and body image issues both silently and vocally. For many years, celebrities like Karen Carpenter hid their eating disorder until it was too late. Today, many celebrities have openly spoken about their past experiences with eating disorders, but there are many mixed messages in these types of disclosures. Stars like Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Jessica Alba and Katie Couric have publicly revealed that they at one time suffered from an eating disorder, however, what is usually absent from these admissions are how they overcame their eating disorder, whether the were dealing with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder or eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). Eating disorders rarely “go away” on their own, which is one reason why our organization’s mission is to promote early awareness, recognition and treatment.
However, there are notable exceptions, as some celebrities have openly and honestly discussed their eating disorders, treatment and recovery processes. While Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger admitted that she initially felt “humiliated” after revealing her 10 year battle with bulimia during a taping of VH1’s “Behind the Music,” she is now glad to have shared her story and the effectiveness of therapy:
“The impact I’ve had on other sufferers is just… I can’t tell you, it’s amazing. That I am now in a position to give strength, and support to others… It’s awesome.”
Others, like Demi Lovato, have not only directly addressed their issues with eating disorders, but have become outspoken advocates for education and awareness. Lovato wrote an article for Seventeen in which she not only disclosed her history with eating disorders, but also emphasized seeking professional help. She is also a spokesperson for the Love Is Louder Than the Pressure To Be Perfect campaign, which encourages people to embrace positivity and not yield to peer or social pressure to be perfect, whether in looks or actions. As members of the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) Ambassador Council, others like actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, former Miss America Kirsten Haglund and models Whitney Thompson and Emme regularly speak at events and to the press promoting positive messages about the facts, myths and treatment of eating disorders.
Every voice that speaks up about eating disorders makes a difference in breaking the silence and stigma about this disease – celebrity voices are just more easily heard, as they have the power of media behind them. By also including a message about the effectiveness of treatment and recovery, celebrities make a strong impression on those currently struggling with an eating disorder. These stars are more than just entertainment figures- they can be life-changers.
For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to write a blog about National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week. While procrastination is often my problem, it wasn’t the issue this time. I wrote opening paragraphs over and over, then deleted them. I couldn’t figure out why I was having so much difficulty, particularly since the week was so successful for Someday Melissa as an organization.
Through our Host a Screening program, 26 screenings of Someday Melissa, the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope were held in 18 states and Canada. They took place in colleges, treatment centers and in community groups. The feedback we received about panel discussions following the screenings was powerful and positive. We began receiving pictures of written “somedays” that audiences wrote and posted on boards. Melissa’s story – her dreams for the future – the hope she hung on to – was inspiring others.
Somedays” from William Paterson University, Greenwich, CT and the University of Lethbridge
I had the opportunity to speak at several screenings — at a Psychiatry program at North Shore LIJ Hospital on Long Island where I was able to meet with staff from many departments; at a community screening in Greenwich, CT where I had the thrill of speaking with several young women who had been in treatment with Melissa and are now moving forward with their lives. I flew out to Chicago to participate in a screening and program run by the Illinois School Social Workers Supervisor Council (ILLSSWC), where social workers from across the state participated in a workshop using Guided Discussions for Recovery, our new resource tool for treatment professionals which uses Melissa’s writings to facilitate discussions with patients and families. It was also particularly exciting for me to speak to an overflow crowd at Rutgers University, my alma mater.
ILLSSWC workshop Judy Avrin at Rutgers University
My amazing team at Someday Melissa worked tirelessly from January through mid-March, responding to calls and emails, arranging screenings, updating both our own events page as well as the NEDAwaress page and posting to social media. And I finally realized why I was having trouble writing. I needed time to breathe. To reflect. To step back from the whirlwind of the months of work involved in NEDAwareness “Week”.
People remark at times that I’m so strong and that it must be difficult to share Melissa’s story over and over again. It is hard and often when I’m speaking there will be a catch in my voice and my eyes will fill with tears. But then I take a breath and swallow my tears. I’ve learned that everyone has inner strength they never knew existed until called upon to use it. And I continue speaking because I know that Melissa’s movie is changing lives.