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.
In a previous post, Judy introduced the newest members of the Someday Melissa team and I am thrilled to be a part of this wonderful opportunity to share information and education about the film “Someday Melissa” and eating disorders. My name is Elizabeth Gough-Gordon and I am pursuing my doctorate in media studies at Rutgers, specializing in gender and the media. I have witnessed the pervasiveness of misinformation about eating disorders both on college campuses and in society. Stigmas about even discussing the topic of eating disorders linger in our culture, and I hope to help Someday Melissa in breaking down the walls for greater awareness and education. I am honored to be able to contribute to this platform for education and discussion supporting the core mission of Someday Melissa: to educate about the warning signs of eating disorders and encourage action towards helping others.
I was shopping in my local Target store earlier this week and paused when I reached the back-to- school section. I remember fondly when I purchased the essentials for my freshman dorm room before I started the first year of college. Towels, comforter, shower caddy…. and a scale? Seeing the large display of bathroom scales among the other so-called “dorm essentials” made me ponder our perception of the scale. Scales are certainly present in many homes, but what message does it send?
It’s no secret that our society is focused on numbers, as if those digits are the end-all representation of our self-worth. What was your grade point average in school? How much money do you make? How much do you weight? Our value cannot be determined by one single item, yet the scale is tied to body image and self-esteem for so many people and throughout our popular culture. In 1965, Mattel toys released Slumber Party Barbie, which included a scale set at 110 pounds. If Barbie is tied to a scale while supposedly having fun at a slumber party, it’s no wonder that the scale represents so many issues and conflicts with weight and body image.
How do we break this cycle? Sometimes it takes a brash physical action, like smashing a scale to incite a symbolic break towards positivity; this has led to the phenomenon of scale bashing, also known as scale smashing. At its simplest, it is causing destruction to an everyday scale used to weigh oneself. More than just causing harm to the device, it is also a promise to oneself towards freedom from judging self-worth based on what number appears on the scale.
Scale smashing is not a new phenomenon, but the Internet has provided a space for people to share their smashing in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. A search on YouTube for “scale smashing” and “scale bashing” found a variety of videos, from groups to individuals taking out their frustrations of the scale to stop the cycle of obsessing over numbers with body image.
The Internet is a great resource for sharing videos of scale smashing, but many groups have also arranged in-person events to bring individuals together for this cause. This summer, a scale bashing event was organized in New Jersey by Kylene Marie Roth, after learning that her therapist had led several similar events on the West Coast.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Have you participated in a scale-bashing event or watched these types of videos? If not and you do own a scale, would you consider symbolically breaking the cycle through physical actions like these? Please leave a comment below!
My name is Judy Avrin. On May 6, 2009 my beautiful 19 year old daughter, Melissa, lost her life to an eating disorder. Her five year battle with bulimia wreaked havoc on her academic success, her friendships, and our family.
Throughout her life, even in her darkest moments, Melissa’s creativity shined through. It was always hard for her to express her feelings verbally so she used film making, writing, drawing and acting as means of self-expression. “Someday Melissa, the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope” is a documentary inspired by Melissa’s journal writings. I have made it my mission to speak out and help break through the wall of secrecy and shame surrounding eating disorders.
The Someday Melissa blog is a place to inform, to raise awareness of eating disorder symptoms, to make parents aware of early signs, to ask questions and to share. I battled bulimia for over 20 years but there was so much I didn’t understand about eating disorders, so much denial in the beginning. I had no idea that my history put Melissa at higher risk for developing an eating disorder. I learned a lot, the hard way, through the ups and downs of Melissa’s battle. I will be sharing what I learned as a parent. Some of the things I wish I had known during our journey.
Until now, I have been the voice of Someday Melissa on all platforms (social media and beyond). Now, I’d like to introduce the other voices/members of the Someday Melissa team: Danna, Elizabeth, and Misty.
Danna Markson, LCSW
Danna is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of clinical experience. She graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from NYU in 1994 and has a post-graduate certificate in Family Therapy. Danna is trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – which teach concrete coping strategies to manage emotions, thoughts and situations. Danna has a private practice in Livingston, NJ, specializing in psychotherapy with children, adolescents, adults and families.
After her own battle with Anorexia and Bulimia in college, and with twenty years in recovery, Danna now specializes in the treatment of Eating Disorders.
Elizabeth Gough-Gordon is pursuing her doctorate in journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, specializing in gender and media. She has witnessed the pervasiveness of misinformation and the stigmas about eating disorders both on college campuses and in our culture, and as part of Someday Melissa she hopes to help break down the walls for greater awareness and education about ED. Previously she worked for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and worked on educational initiatives for practitioners and the general public, including a documentary on college student suicide and depression. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, spending time with family and friends, and cheering for the New York Yankees.
Misty Layne has been in recovery from her eating disorder since 2007. A graduate of Jacksonville State University and former Southern belle, Misty moved to New Jersey two years ago. As a former blogger who wrote numerous posts about her struggles with ED, depression and more, Misty offers blog visitors a unique perspective into the world of ED and more importantly, is able to state with intention that it does indeed get better. Besides her work at Someday Melissa, Misty is also a staff writer for Rogue cinema, runs her own movie website and has written two novels and has self-published a book of poetry.
Our future posts will discuss a wide variety of topics including eating disorders, body image issues, the impact of media, and of course, news about Someday Melissa. We are not eating disorder professionals and cannot provide treatment advice. However, we will share our unique perspectives and experiences and hope to hear from you as well.
If you or anyone you know (or maybe even suspect) could be affected by eating disorders (“ED” from here on out), this is a safe place to find some advice, some answers and community. This site is a place for positivity and hope.