This week, the Robert Morris University (my alma mater) chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon (my sorority) held its annual ANAD Week. ANAD is a foundation which raises awareness for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. There are a variety of events throughout the week promoting positive body image, healthy habits, and providing information about eating disorders. I had the privilege of planning ANAD Week my senior year, and it is one of my favorite memories from college. Events include talks from nutritionists, trashing your insecurities, post-it’ing positive affirmations in bathrooms, some type of exercise class, a candlelight vigil, and a beYOUtiful fashion show. At the fashion show, we have been fortunate enough to have individuals who have suffered from eating disorders share their stories. These have been some of the most inspiring stories I have ever heard. Another aspect of ANAD week is social media challenges which includes “No Makeup Monday” selfies, focusing on inner beauty. ANAD Week is important to me for several reasons which is why I wanted to write this post.
First, ANAD Week focuses on mental illness. Mental illness is such an important cause to me. If I was a celebrity, that would be my cause. I try to advocate for it now. Eating disorders are so misunderstood. Society paints such a warped image of body image at times, it’s important to learn about. You never know who it can affect. I remember listening to a young man tell his story at the fashion show with anorexia. Former Penn State kicker Joey Julius made headlines when it was revealed that he had gone through in-patient treatment for bulimia. It can be anyone.
The second reason is that “anyone” was my best friend and sorority sister. I’d like to share her story (I have her permission). It is such a helpless feeling not knowing how to help – and I’m just on the outside. I wasn’t the one suffering. But her story is one of resilience and strength, and I am so proud of her.
Finally, I want to talk about my own problems with body image. It’s not easy. But I figure what do I have to lose talking about it? I also know that I can’t be the only one feeling like this. Maybe it’ll make someone else feel like they’re not alone. Because you aren’t.
But first, I’m going to talk about Gretchen. She is one of the sweetest people I have ever met and an extremely smart individual. She was my first friend in DPhiE! I remember we were both at recruitment and didn’t know anyone, so she introduced herself to me! And so we became good friends that year. But the next fall, Gretchen had gotten very skinny. She was always very athletic and on the rowing team (Major props there, I hate the rowing machine at the gym). But this wasn’t that. One day, she asked me if I wanted to go to McDonalds for an ice cream cone. Being the ice cream lover I am, obviously I said yes. When we were there, she struggled to eat the cone and confessed to me that she was having a problem with food. She told me her fears, and I have never been so dumbfounded or scared in my life. I had no idea what to say. I just let her talk and I listened. The first thing I did when I got back to my apartment was call my sorority adviser because I had no idea what the hell to do.
A few weeks later, after a health scare, Gretchen was admitted to an inpatient treatment. She didn’t come back to school until the next semester. I don’t think a day passed when I didn’t think of her when she was in treatment. Eventually, she came back stronger than ever. It’s funny because this was back in 2012-2013 and it feels SO long ago now. And she’s doing so great for herself. Honestly, I’m getting choked up writing this because I’m so proud of her and grateful for her friendship. This was the first time I had dealt with an eating disorder, and it was honestly heartbreaking. I felt helpless – how do you convince someone to eat? It’s so much more complex than that (because it’s a mental illness, duh), and you really can’t understand if you haven’t had the disease. To me, it’s like trying to untangle a tangled bunch of string – a slow, tedious process. What you can do for someone with an eating disorder is be there and supportive for them, and I really hope that’s what I’ve been.
It seems kind of trivial to talk about my own insecurities with body image after that, but I’m going to because I know I’m not alone. And I’m going to be pretty honest because we’re all friends here, right? Anyways, currently, I have terrible body image. After college, I gained so much weight. I was no longer walking up multiple hills every day with a bokbag on my back every day and was no sitting in a cubicle eight hours a day, but my dumbass was still eating the same. In the past six months or so, I’ve really tried to take hold of my eating habits and started Weight Watchers. It was working for awhile. Then I had a setback and just recently started again back at square one. It’s really frustrating. I feel like a yo-yo. I’m back in an exercise routine, so there’s that, but it’s the eating one that’s really taking time. I’m trying though. I keep telling myself it takes time. I have to do it though. I’m a firefighter I need to be in better shape.
Honestly though? I don’t feel good about myself. I don’t like what I see in the mirror. I don’t like the size on my jeans. And I’m not even gonna give anyone a clue on my weight. It is so hard and frustrating when you try on some cute clothes and feel like you’re shaped like a potato. I hate how I’m shaped right now. I know I’m overweight but rectifying this is not easy. And it does not happen overnight. It’s also really easy to fall into a trap of insecurities. First, it’s your weight. Then your hair. Then your complexion. Then you aren’t that funny. It is all ridiculous and just spirals out of control. If you let it.
I guess my point here is that it is important to keep things in perspective. We are all so much more than our image. The clothes we wear. How we style our hair. Our outward beauty is only one part of us. We are so much more complex than appearance. It is so important to recognize your inner beauty. Delta Phi Epsilon’s social media challenge was just awesome to do this week. For a picture I picked that I was happy in, I did one of me firefighter where my hair was sticking up and you couldn’t even actually see my face, but I knew my heart was happy in that moment. For someone I admired, I chose my mom and picked a couple pictures of us. Finally, for a picture I felt beautiful in, I did another one in firefighter gear but where I was wearing my sorority family letters. Again, I knew the love I have for firefighting and DPhiE made me feel beautiful. And it’s funny, because I have these moments of insecurities but I also know that I feel beautiful and my best when I’m working out or firefighting. Both of these can actually make me look really gross. But its when I’m working. It is when I am pushing myself and trying to get strong. And that’s what makes the difference. That’s what I value. I feel beautiful because I’m doing what I love or trying to better myself. I’m challenging myself. I think its really interesting how our inner beauty manifests itself. I think our inner beauty shines the most when we do what we love. And while it can be easy to forget, these are the things we need to remember when we are feeling down about the way we look, when those jeans don’t fit or the number on the scale is a little higher than we’d like. We are so much more. Think of all the good you do in the world. Think of the happiness you can spread. You are so much more than outer beauty -let that inner beauty shine.
Be YOUtiful, always.