NEDAwareness Week: I Had No Idea

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The theme this year is “I had no idea”, drawing attention to the fact that although eating disorders are all around us, they remain private, mysterious, and often invisible. NEDA has a quiz on their website with some pretty surprising facts that dispel some of the myths about EDs and show just how pervasive they’ve become. For instance, did you know that there are more people in the United States with eating disorders than there are with green eyes? Take a look at the quiz and test your knowledge. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to EDs, but I didn’t manage to score 100%.

This year’s NEDAW theme raises a question that I find myself thinking about a lot: have disordered eating behaviors become so normal in our society that we’re losing track of what actual normal eating is*? So many of us are trying to conform to a beauty standard that is literally impossible for us to live up to–are we getting so used to the restrictive or other extreme food-related behaviors that seem to go hand-in-hand with chasing this impossible ideal that we no longer even notice them? It’s possible that when we say, “I had no idea”, part of what we mean is “I didn’t think this was disordered, it doesn’t seem unusual to me.” I want to be sure to note here that disordered eating and eating disorders are different things (I’m not using them interchangeably), but since disordered eating might as well be considered a gateway drug, I think it’s valid to discuss them both here.

I go through phases where I feel like there’s no point in continuing to talk about how photoshopped all the pictures we see are, or how nice it would be to see more diversity in body shapes and sizes. I mean, we all know this, right? Every picture has been retouched. We don’t all look like supermodels. And the images we’re exposed to that create this standard aren’t going to change anyway. As for my part, who’s even reading this stuff I write about body image positivity and eating disorders, anyway? What’s the point? There’s nothing I can do that will have a big enough impact to change anything. It’s discouraging to feel like you’re up against something so big and ingrained. But then I see facts like the ones below, and realize that no matter what, we can’t stop talking about these things, we can’t ignore them, and we can’t give up. Calling out the many ways in which our society encourages and rewards disordered eating will never stop being important, and it has to be done. So even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there’s no such thing as a perfect body, every body is just as good as every other one, and most importantly, every body deserves to be loved.

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*I know the word “normal” often has less-than-neutral connotations when used in a context like this one. It’s definitely not an ideal word, but it’s the best I can come up with. I mean, trying to work out an alternative to “normal” is a post unto itself.


Blipping Out

About a week and a half ago I posted about the Proud2BMe pledge, part of NEDA’s push to get teens to accept who they are and what they look like by encouraging them to build confidence in a variety of ways. The pledge focused specifically on sharing images–more specifically, not sharing or posting images that we’ve altered in any way and instead posting images that are true, accurate representations of who we are. There’s so much photoshopping done these days that it’s hard to tell if we’re ever looking at pictures that haven’t been manipulated in some way, however small. The Proud2BMe pledge was an effort to encourage people to fight the pressure to be something other than who they really are and, in the process, show that they’re happy and accepting of the images they’re sharing.

After taking the pledge, I mentioned trying out a daily self-portrait project. The goal would be to take a self-portrait every day. It wouldn’t be fancy, posed, or planned in any way, really, it would just be an expression of who I was in the moment I took the picture. And unlike most things that I say I’m going to do and then never follow-up on, I actually started this project by creating an account at blipfoto and posting my pictures there. I’ll be honest, there have been days when I’ve forgotten to take a picture, let alone post one. As a result, I’ve only got a handful of self-portraits to flip through so far. And even though I’ve only been doing it for a few days, I’ve already got some thoughts on the whole thing.

Such as: it’s a daunting project. There’s something about the thought of taking a picture of myself every day that I sort of hate. It just seems so self-indulgent and egotistical even though I know, rationally, that it’s not. I didn’t feel that way when my friend and fellow blogger Jill did something similar, and I wouldn’t feel that way if I came across someone else doing the same thing (unless it really was very ostensibly self-indulgent and egotistical, in which case I guess it wouldn’t really be the same thing). But taking a picture of myself, because it’s me taking a picture of me, feels impossible and selfish. It’s a cliché, but I think in this case it rings true–it’s hard for me to turn the lens on myself and really look at who I am, what I’m doing, and what I look like while doing it. Every time I post a picture, part of me is thinking about how stupid it is, and resisting the entire thing. That’s why I’ve missed a few days. I guess the difficulty is what makes the whole thing worthwhile though…right?

Also: what could be more boring than to look at pictures of yourself? Again, I think this has to do with my feelings of discomfort about being on camera. It could also have to do with the fact that from one day to the next, very little about the way we look changes. In spite of that, though, we’re always changing and when I look back at the self-portraits I’ve accumulated over the course of a year (or, I don’t know, a few months or whatever), I’m sure the changes will be much more obvious. For now, though, I feel some self-imposed pressure to take interesting pictures, all the while recognizing that doing so wouldn’t really be in line with what the project is all about.

Finally: my dad is an incredible photographer and even though I know I could do better (I mean, these pictures have either been taken with my cell phone or my MacBook’s Photo Booth program), when I look at my pictures, I feel embarrassed for him! His quick pics, the ones he takes casually while walking down the street in any given place, are amazing. I would buy prints of any one of them and hang them on my wall. Or in a gallery. I won’t even start on how good his stuff is when he’s actually working on composition and lighting and all that photography stuff.

I don’t know. Maybe this will get easier. Maybe it will get harder. My goal is just to keep doing it, and to keep working on accepting what I see when I take the picture.

Proud to be Me

I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot lately. My posting schedule has been really erratic, and I really miss the days when I was coming up with new things to say all the time. These days I have a lot of ideas, but always end up talking myself out of writing about them. All day today I planned to write a post, but had a hard time deciding what I wanted to post about. Then I hopped on Twitter for a second and came across this message about the Proud2BMe Summit. I opened the link, and, as part of the Proud2Bme 3-day challenge, made the following pledge:

When I did, I noticed that the goal is to get 10,000 people to take the pledge. As of ten minutes ago, when I took it, 305 other people had done it. Given that today is the first day of this 3-day challenge, 300 pledges isn’t bad. But considering how many people are affected by Photoshopped images and the unrealistic standards they create and disordered eating, 300 is a pretty small number.

I first heard about Proud2BMe through an email that NEDA sent out, but (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit) I wrote it off they advertised it as a site for “young people”, which I can only assume means people who are younger than I am. Clicking through the site, it’s clear that it’s targeted toward teenagers. But that doesn’t mean that the information it contains, or the call to action that it embodies, don’t apply to people of all ages. We’re all affected by the pictures we see in advertising and fashion spreads, on the red carpet and television, and in the movies. Why shouldn’t we all rally to take the same pledge? While it’s true that disordered eating affects a disproportionate number of young people, it’s also on the rise in older populations. I think we could all benefit from a large-scale campaign like this one, that targets people of all ages. We’re all susceptible, and we all need to be encouraged to be proud of who we are and how we look.

For a while, my friend Jill took a self-portrait every day. Eventually, she compared the pictures she’d accumulated over the course of the year. It was a cool project, and one that put emphasis on day-to-day existence. She took pictures of herself before going running–these were pictures of her, and not some image that she’d manipulated in some way in order to present a certain angle of herself to the rest of the world. I’ve been wanting to do something similar for a while, and I think that I’m going to try it out as a way of expressing that I’m proud to be me. Each day, I’ll take a picture that will show where I am and who I am at the time I take the picture. It will be a way to record the reality of that moment or that day, and not a way to create something artificial. I tend to be pretty critical of the way I look in pictures, so I’m nervous about doing this. My goal will be to accept each picture, no matter how much I dislike it. In time, I hope I’ll come to love each picture for what it represents, although I’m not necessarily going to hold my breath until that happens. I may end up sharing my pictures, I may not. I haven’t decided yet.

Will you take the pledge to show the real you? How will you tell yourself (or the world) that you’re proud to be you?