Q&A with Filmmaker, ELENA ROSSINI on “The Illusionists”, why she made the film and her hopes for its impact

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After years of following along with and supporting Elena Rossini’s work to produce The Illusionists, we are thrilled to be able to host the public’s first full sneak peek of the film on June 7 in Baltimore. In advance of the event, we asked Elena about the documentary, the challenges she faced along the way and what’s next for her and the film. Read about her experiences below and be sure to RSVP for the advanced screening and panel discussion.

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Q & A with ELENA ROSSINI

Q: “The Illusionists”is a film about the commodification of the body and the spread of westernized beauty ideals. Can you describe those concepts and share a bit about each of the main themes introduced in the film? What was the biggest surprise you encountered while researching the globalization of body ideals?

The central thesis of the film is that after millennia of puritanism, in the 20th century the body was “liberated” – mostly for commercial reasons – and has become “the finest consumer object.” After all, we all have a body and we all go through the process of aging. There is unlimited consumerism built around the idea that a youthful appearance is key to success and happiness. What I found most fascinating is the fact that Western media is so powerful – and persuasive – that it has exported beauty ideals to the rest of the world. So, if you are walking through the streets of Beirut, Mumbai, or Tokyo, you will see billboard ads that display images of Caucasian models with blue eyes, who look very different from the local population. In The Illusionists I show the powerful effects of this globalization of beauty ideals. One of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from British psychotherapist and author Susie Orbach. She says: “I think one of the tragedies that’s happening at the moment is that we’re losing bodies as fast as we’re losing languages. Just as English has become the lingua franca of the world, so the white, blondified, small nosed, pert breast, long-legged body is coming to stand in for the great variety of human bodies that there are.”

Q: What were the biggest barriers for you in getting this project off the ground?

Completing the film truly felt like a Herculean endeavor, as I did virtually everything on my own: from fundraising to writing, producing, directing, shooting and editing. I even took care of archival material and motion graphics – basically covering the roles of a dozen people. It was never my intention to do everything by myself! A famous French director mentored me and proposed to be executive producer: but no French TV networks wanted to give us funding (after 2 years of various meetings), so I was left to do things on my own… and thus started a Kickstarter campaign. When the film was finished and I looked for a celebrity to record the voice-over, some very prominent film people expressed interest in helping… but then disappeared, so I had to resort to finding someone through my own networks. There is an Italian saying that goes “Chi fa da se, fa per tre” – meaning “you’d better do things yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.”

In the world of film – which is such a collaborative medium – it’s very difficult to do everything on your own. So, when opportunities for collaboration arose, I was so happy! The audio part of the film – from the incredible soundtrack created by Pierre-Marie Maulini of STAL, to the sound mix done by AOC, to the voice-over recorded by the amazing Peter Coyote… it was truly a dream come true.

Q: What would you say makes “The Illusionists” different from other documentaries about the media portrayal of beauty ideals?

I pinch myself every time I ILLUSIONISTSfilmstillMILAN01have conversations with sales agents who have watched the film, because they invariably compliment The Illusionists for the fact that it has a global angle. Filming locations included the US, UK, Netherlands, Italy, France, Lebanon, India and Japan. This is definitely the film’s biggest selling point and what sets it apart.

From the point of view of storytelling and tone, I wanted to highlight the absurdity of certain advertising messages, so there are many sections of the film where audiences laugh out loud. I have to admit, I am not a big fan of documentaries that simply point the finger in an angry way or show depressing facts for 89 minutes and have a one minute uplifting section at the end, seemingly out of nowhere. I think humour can be a powerful teacher!

Q: What aspects of the film are you most proud of?

My favorite moments are definitely the most shocking and humorous ones. I love to hear audiences react out loud when I show the hypocrisy of beauty companies. One of my favorite sections is a split screen with skin whitening ads on one side, and self-tanning lotions on the other: those are ads by the same brands, but done in different regions of the world!

670-06_Illusionists_FB_twitter_sidebar_4_2015_P2Q: If you had to sum up your film in one word, what would that word be?

Subversive (in a positive way!). A friend has recently called me a “gentle warrior” – it was one of the biggest compliments I ever received. I love the idea of challenging the status quo, but in a way that’s not violent or angry.

Q: What is next for the film, and for you as a Director?  Are you committed to doing more work on body image and media literacy?

I have the utmost admiration for the career of activist, author and filmmaker Jean Kilbourne – whom I was super lucky to feature in The Illusionists. My dream is to follow her footsteps and continue working on The Illusionists, updating the film or doing follow-ups in the years to come. There is so much to talk about and the media landscape is constantly evolving: I’d love to go to new countries and produce a web series that continues to tackle these topics.

Q: What do you hope viewers will get out of attending this special advance screening event on June 7th?

I am so excited about this special advance screening because so far I have only shown the full film to friends, friends-of-friends, or sales agents. I am thrilled at the opportunity to have my first big sneak peek at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt and to see how people who don’t know me will react. A friend said something that stayed with me. Weeks after a private screening at his place, he said, “After watching The Illusionists, I don’t see ads the same way anymore.” I loved hearing that. If I can manage to make audience members more aware of ads and their messages, I would have done my job.

 

Join us in Baltimore for the exclusive advanced screening of the film followed by a panel discussion with Elena and other experts on body image and media literacy.  Pre-registration is required to reserve seats.

Click the image below to watch a 4-minute preview of The Illusionists

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A Reason to Smile ~ A Featured #NEDAwareness Q&A with Benjamin O’Keefe

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BENJAMIN O’KEEFE is an actor, activist, and writer.  Besides working as a performer, Ben has been an emerging leader in activism work focused on LGBT rights, Youth Rights, and Body Image. In this role, Ben has been responsible for creating many major movements of change – most notably, an International movement against size discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch. Benjamin will speak about his recovery from an eating disorder at a free event on February 22 in Baltimore where he will also co-facilitate a workshop looking at how individual and collective cultural experiences shape the treatment and recovery process.


Today on the blog, Ben shared with us his answers to some of our questions about the recovery journey so that we could share them with you.  Please feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or head over to our Facebook page to thank Ben for his inspiring responses.

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Q & A with Benajamin O’Keefe

 Q: What is one fact about eating disorders that you think is most important for people to know and understand?

Ben: I think the most important thing to know about eating disorders is that they affect no two people the same. They don’t discriminate–even though many people’s opinions on them do. I think that the way we discuss eating disorders needs to fundamentally change. We need to break down the taboo around eating disorders, and start talking about the ways that these disorders affect people from all walks of life and of all cultural make up.

Q: What is one thing you learned about yourself during your experience with an eating disorder and/or the recovery process?

Ben: I learned that I could make it through it anything. Back when I was sick, I never thought that I would make it out of the dark hole that was my disorder. And I certainly never thought that I would make it out to become a person who loves himself so thoroughly–and helps encourage others to do the same.

I learned that, not only am I good enough, but I am great just the way I am.

I learned to surround myself with love, whether that be in the people I spend time with or the environments in which I put myself.

I learned to love my reflection, but more importantly to love what that mirror can’t show me. I am more than a number on a scale, I am a person that deserves love and happiness.

Q: Did you face any specific challenge during the recovery process and what helped you overcome it?

Ben: The road to recovery is so different for every person, but one thing that I think everyone can relate to is the isolation that comes with an eating disorder. It’s so easy to feel like we are alone, in fact it’s Ben-headshot-1024x683exactly what the eating disorder wants you to feel, but it’s just simply not the case. There are people that love you, people you don’t even know.

For me, finding a community of people; whether it be people currently struggling, recovered, or just allies, helped me to see that I truly wasn’t alone in my fight, and that we could get through it together.

Q: What are some day-to-day differences between life with an eating disorder and living life in recovery/recovered from an eating disorder?

Ben: I think the biggest difference is my relationship with food. It’s no longer an enemy. I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full. If I feel like having a cookie, then I eat a cookie. It’s seems simple, but for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s not.

For me, I now know that food gives life, and that I shouldn’t fear it, but enjoy it. I make healthy choices, and exercise regularly, but it’s no longer about a number on scale, but instead about being the healthiest person that I can be.

Q: What feedback would you give to the support people – friends and family – of individuals struggling with eating disorders? How can they best help to aid in the recovery process?

Ben: First of all I say THANK YOU. This is a journey for you too, and sometimes we don’t think to say thank you to the people supporting us.

Second, I think that my feedback would be to find patience. It’s easy for support people to become frustrated when they see their loved ones taking actions that don’t make sense to them, but it’s important to remember that this is a mental disorder. It’s not a choice.

With patience, love, and support your loved one can make it through. They need you—and your strength and love.

Q: Everyone defines recovery differently. What does recovery mean to you?

Ben: Recovery to me means regaining my reason to smile. When I struggled with anorexia I felt like I was never happy. No matter what I did, how thin I got, what compliment I received on my appearance, it was never enough.

Now, it’s hard to find me without a smile on my face. I love life, and I do my best to take whatever comes my way—good or bad—with a smile on my face. To me that is the biggest indication of my recovery.

 Benjamin Okeefe SMILEYou can find Ben smiling over on Twitter @benjaminokeefe.

 Leave your comments below and head over to RSVP for Ben’s upcoming talk at Recovery in Real Life.  You can also view a video invitation from Benjamin here.

Matt Wetsel talks Eating Disorder “Recovery in Real Life” ~ #NEDAwareness Week Guest Blog

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WETSEL-headshot.mediumMATT WETSEL is an eating disorder and body image writer and advocate.  After suffering from anorexia as an undergraduate in college, Matt got involved with the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) doing volunteer lobby work and is now a member of the EDC Junior Board.  Matt launched the blog, Until Eating Disorders Are No More in 2011 and remains a consistently well-informed and responsible voice in the recovery community. We’re honored to feature some of Matt’s personal insights about recovery in the post below and at the upcoming event Recovery in Real Life You can read Matt Wetsel’s full bio here.

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Q & A featuring Matt Wetsel

Q: What is one fact about eating disorders that you think is most important for people to know and understand?

MW: We say it all the time but it’s always worth repeating, eating disorders are serious and must be taken seriously. Especially in America, we live in such a toxic culture that values thinness, promotes dieting, equates weight loss with health without exception, and encourages people to want to ‘improve’ their bodies as if they aren’t good enough already. All of these factors contribute to the trivializing of eating disorders, in popular culture but also within the medical establishment and especially the insurance industry.

It’s so expected of people to diet, to lose weight, etc. that it’s easy to slip into disordered eating behaviors that are actually quite unhealthy and, for some people, pave the way to an eating disorder. These behaviors are so normalized that the warning signs aren’t usually seen as such, but instead are rewarded by the culture and encouraged.

Q: What are some day-to-day differences between life with an eating disorder and living life in recovery/recovered from an eating disorder?

MW: I recall some studies that reported someone with an eating disorder spends maybe 90% of their waking hours thinking about food, weight, etc. When I was sick that was definitely true. It takes up so much of your time and energy that it starts to feel like it’s a part of you. When I would think about recovery, I was honestly terrified of what would be left of me if the eating disorder wasn’t a part of my life. I’d plan my social life, my free time, everything around food. I’d check the scale multiple times per day. I’d avoid friends and family just to avoid potentially having meals with them.

Now, meals are a central part of time I spend with people. I love to cook for friends, go to potlucks, things like that. I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full. I don’t remember the last time I felt anxious about eating, because it’s been years and years. Even when other hardships in my life have occurred (and there have been a few), I have healthy mechanisms for dealing with grief, depression, anxiety, etc. when life gets challenging. I don’t know what I weigh, and I don’t care.

Q:  What feedback would you give to the support people – friends and family – of individuals struggling with eating disorders? How can they best help to aid in the recovery process?

MW: This is a tough but important question. I’m always afraid to be too specific because good advice for one situation could be terrible advice for the next, depending on circumstances. That said, I think it’s very important to not let the person you’re trying to help or support be the sole source of information on eating disorders. Take time to educate yourself on the subject through other outlets. Make time for yourself and find ways to let go once in a while. If you have to, see a therapist of your own. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll be less capable of supporting someone else. It’s like on an airplane, you always put your own oxygen mask on first. That’s hard advice to take when you’re watching someone struggle, but it’s true.

Q: Everyone defines recovery differently. What does recovery mean to you?

MW: Much like the previous question about day-to-day differences, recovery, in a word, means freedom. When you spend so much of your time and energy worrying about food, it’s difficult to be productive in other aspects of your life. All of my relationships suffered while I was anorexic. My GPA tanked. I was in pretty constant physical discomfort.

In contrast, I’ve made lifelong friendships doing advocacy work. I ran a half marathon in 2011 that would have been impossible if I hadn’t recovered. I’m free to figure out who I am and what I want to do with my life without anorexia calling every shot, and that’s a really beautiful thing.

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On February 22, 2015, Matt Wetsel will co-facilitate a free workshop with Benjamin O’Keefe entitled, Eating Disorders: Creating a More Inclusive Recovery CultureThe workshop will examine how cultural experiences affect treatment, the experience of the body and the eating disorder recovery process.

 

“You Are Good Enough – Just As You Are” A Featured #NEDAwareness Week Guest Post by Dianne Bondy

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How much good could we do in this world if our focus was on feeling good and sharing that feeling with the world around us – and what if we dedicated our whole life to serving others, to being present, and to loving ourselves? All of these things are possible, and they are not nearly as far from our reach as it would sometimes seem.

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A Guest Post by Dianne Bondy

It all begins with learning to recognize that already, right in this very moment: you are good enough. Once we learn to recognize this inherent truth, we can then begin to internalize that message by coming to accept that we are indeed good enough, that we have enough, and that our true inner nature is one of abundance and positivity. Coming to this realization allows us to recognize that we are naturally abundant in love, joy and happiness. Knowing this then gives us the power to unconditionally share our positive qualities with others and our world at large.

It has taken me over 25 years to learn and live this message for myself, and while I know this message to be true deep within myself, I still struggle with accepting it and living it every single day. But I am determined to change the negative language and the negative thoughts that creep their way into my life, and I challenge you to do the same.

Sadly, our culture teaches us from a very early age that we are simply not good enough just as we are. And while our culture may have taught us this message, and our culture may try desperately to perpetuate and reinforce this message, we are ultimately granted a choice as to whether or not we will agree to follow along.

For most of my life, I have been a victim of my own self-hate and poor body image. Living in a culture where you are different when everyone else is the same, a culture that values your skin colour more than the contents of your heart, is a painful challenge to overcome. It is really hard to love yourself when people are automatically judging you, categorizing you, and putting limitations on you – without even having the pleasure of getting to know you first.

I grew up in a small town in Canada where I was the only black girl in a sea of white faces. I felt so alone and I desperately wanted to have a friend that looked like me. It was hard enough facing messages of exclusion and unworthiness from external forces, but it was especially difficult and debilitating trying to deal with these messages from within my own family. My family tried to assimilate and fit in as best we could, but the fact that we were different made my life a challenge. I was teased and tortured by kids at school. To make matters worse, my own family also put a premium on how I looked, rather than who I was on the inside. No matter what I did, I still received the message that I wasn’t good enough.

DianneBondyBridgeI took all of these messages – from the school yard to my living room – and I decided the only thing to do was look as perfect as I possibly good. I thought if only I could just be thin, I would be beautiful. I believed that if I were beautiful, people would accept me: other kids would stop picking on me, my father would stop torturing me for being bigger, and my world would be perfect, I would be at ease, and the struggles would end.So I set out to achieve perfection, and I worked diligently as I chased my new goal.

Being a very focused and driven person by nature, I’m an unstoppable force when I put my mind to something. I worked hard at obsessing and torturing my body; it was a dangerous obsession – but no matter how hard I worked, my life didn’t change, the struggles didn’t end, and people didn’t appear to be any more accepting than before. Not only did my same struggles still remain, but I was also failing school and my friends and family started to worry about my survival.

Why was I doing this and why couldn’t I stop? It was because at the core of my being I was traumatized, and until I dealt with that trauma and its root causes, this pain and hatred was not going away. I struggled with my treatments, disordered eating and poor body image for a long time, but once I surrendered to accepting help and community, there was hope, and over the years, I started to realize that a shift in my perspective was the fundamental key in getting to the other side of my daily struggles.

As life went on, I fell in love and got married. Eventually, my husband and I made the choice to start a family. I wanted to be a mother, and create a family with my husband, and I knew that the only way to do this was to return to something that made me feel whole again. I identified this as a need for a spiritual practice – a practice that would bridge the gap between my body, my mind, and my spirit. This search lead me back to my yoga practice – a practice I had abandoned for years in favor of more extreme forms of physical fitness. Ultimately, returning back to my yoga practice was the beginning of making peace with who I was and what I looked like. I started with breathing and meditation practices, and slowly I began to focus more on the philosophy of yoga. The breath, the philosophy, and the physical practice, were connected to my soul and my higher Self in a way I had never experienced before.

I began to feel included, seen, and divine. I began to see my body as a beautiful and vital container for my soul. My yoga practice taught me that I am part of a bigger, more expansive divine energy that far exceeded the limited perceptions of self that had been dealt to me by society, my family, and messages from outside myself. I discovered that I was both worthy and beautiful. I realized, for the first time in all my life that I was enough – just as I was, and that realization saved me.

Dianne-Bondy warriorRadiating with a new self-love and a realization of my natural abundance, I started to surround myself with friends and a community that uplifted and supported me. I found a way to reinforce my new positive self-talk, and I worked hard every day to breakthrough my old, destructive thought patters. This fundamental shift in my self-perspective, and the internalizing of the message that I am enough -just as I am, is something I work hard at reinforcing every single day. Naturally, I still struggle with disappointment and self-doubt, and every now and again the messages of the world try to penetrate my consciousness. When this happens, I move deeper into my spiritual practices and I connect with my positive, healthy, and vibrant community. Without fail, this always brings me back to my higher self.

My heart resides in my personal mantra, and I want to share this mantra with you. I ask you to say this to yourself: I am enough, I have enough, I have all the time in world, and I am doing nothing wrong. I am perfect as I am.

Nothing is more powerful than our own self-talk, and our own realization of who and what we truly are – not what people at school or work say, not what family members say, not what our society and media tells us – but what we say to ourselves. This means that you have a choice to either connect with what is already deep inside you, or let others lead you astray. If you take a look deep within yourself, I know that you will see how truly radiant and abundant you already are. So I encourage you to create your own mantra – that is, to create your own self-talk, your own powerful little phrase that will bring you deeper within yourself, and drown out the noise from the world outside.

I think Dr.Seuss is one of the most profound philosophers of our time, and so I leave you with one of my favourite quotes…

Today you are YOU
That is truer than true
There is no one alive who is Youer than You
~ Dr. Seuss

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Dianne Bondy is the creator and director of Yoga for All 200/500 Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Program  and founder and Managing Director of Yogasteya – a virtual online yoga studio that supports yoga for all cultures, shapes, sizes and abilities. On February 22, 2015 she will join other eating disorder recovery advocates in Baltimore for a special event called “Recovery in Real Life”during which she will facilitate a free yoga workshop focused on body acceptance.

You can read Dianne’s full bio here and watch a video invitation from her here.

Many thanks to Dianne for sharing her wisdom and insight with our readers! 

Photo credit: Erika Reid Photography

This Week in #MediaLiteracy | 2 Campaigns You Should Know About

The world of social media presents an interesting dichotomy.  The challenges of existing in an online community are ever increasing.  Concerns about safety and security are high on the list of course (particularly for parents with tech savvy kids) but additional risks to overall well-being and self-esteem are lingering close behind.  Dangers include online bullying, exposure to harmful imagery or media, and the less sensationalized, yet still problematic, body bashing and body comparison often experienced within sites like Facebook and Pinterest.

Yet while these risks exist, these same online communities also provide a great opportunity for social change and grassroots organizing.  We’ve seen two such examples of powerful social media campaigns this week that we thought were worth sharing.  If you struggle with the body toxic environment online OR offline, perhaps these are opportunities for you to help create change for yourself and for others.   Take a look, find out more, get involved.  Just think, every minute you spend advocating for media literacy, body positivity and truth is one less minute you have to engage in the alternatives.

#TruthInAds

The Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (HR4341) was introduced earlier this week with bipartisan support from Representatives in Florida and California and with collaboration from several great organizations including The Eating Disorders Coalition and The Brave Girls Alliance.

The groundbreaking bill calls on the Federal Trade Commission to develop a legislative framework for advertisements that alter the human body (i.e. shape, size, proportion, color, etc.) and asks for recommendations and remedies for photoshopped ads that are determined to be false/deceptive and which may contribute to a series of emotional, psychological and physical health issues, and economic consequences – particularly affecting, but not limited to, girls and women.” (via Brave Girls Alliance).  If this is something you support, its easy to get involved in any of the following ways:

  • Add your name to the Change.org petition by Seth Matlins
  • Read this great write-up about the Truth in Advertising Act by Matt Wetsel over at his blog, …Until Eating Disorders are No More.  He makes it easy to  find your representative in Congress and how to let them know you support the bill.
  • Take to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other social media site with the hastag #TruthInAds to help spread the word. You can even stop by The Brave Girls Alliance for toolkits, images and talking points for the campaign.

#AdoptTheIllusionists

The Illusionists is a 90 minute documentary about the body as the “finest consumer object” and the pursuit of ideal beauty around the world. Or: how corporations are getting richer by making us feel insecure about the way we look. 

The hard thing for most people about speaking out against society’s narrow ideals of beauty is that it can feel like you’re a fish swimming upstream in a strong current of Photoshopped bodies, fat talk, and dieting.  Taking a stand can mean you’re up against some pretty powerful forces like the beauty and fashion industries, the diet and weight loss industries and even the larger television and film media that rely on funding from these sources. This pressure compounds when you’re an independent filmmaker working to expose the stories and financial benefits behind the WORLD’S beauty ideals.  That’s what filmmaker, Elena Rossini is doing with her documentary The Illusionists and it’s why The Center for Eating Disorders has been a supporter of the film since it first launched via a Kickstarter campaign in 2011.

Now that the film is almost complete, Elena is swimming against that cultural current once more, and has taken to Twitter with the #AdoptTheIllusionists campaign to help the film, and its message, get the widest possible circulation. On her blog, Elena writes, “My passion for the project stems from its potential to incite activism: I strongly believe that The Illusionists can ignite important conversations about consumer culture, mass media, and the epidemic of body image dissatisfaction around the world. It only takes one person to believe in The Illusionists for the fate of the film to change. It could be a producer. An actress. A writer. An activist with the right connections. It could be you.”

The film has already caught the eye of accomplished artists and activists including Geena Davis and Stephen Fry.  If YOU want to see the first 4 minutes of the film and then show your support for the film, visit Elena’s post, It Only Takes One Person or go straight to the #AdoptTheIllusionists campaign page for supportive statements that are ready-to-tweet.

Let us know how you’ve supported the above campaigns and other ways you engage in media literacy activism.  Leave a comment below or join us on Facebook and Twitter.

An open letter to Dr. Drew Pinsky…

Earlier this week, Dr. Drew Pinsky made some misleading comments about “exercise bulimia” in a video featured on CNN iReport.  The comments sparked concern because of the implications they could have for individuals who are struggling with excessive exercise and for those who may be at-risk.  Dr. Harry Brandt,  CED Director, was motivated to reach out to Dr. Drew in hopes of opening a public conversation that will shed light on eating disorders and spread accurate information regarding just how serious excessive exercise can be. The letter is published below: 

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Dear Dr. Pinsky:

By way of introduction, I am the Director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, and former Director of the Unit on Eating Disorders of the National Institutes of Health.  While generally, I think you have done an excellent job of increasing awareness of major mental illnesses to the population at large, I was concerned about your recent video comments regarding “exercise” bulimia.  I felt compelled to blog about it on our website, and have received many responses from patients.  Here is a link to the blog:  In response to Dr. Drew ~ Exercise bulimia is not a mild mental health issue.

I would be most appreciative if you would consider following up on this issue publicly to raise awareness about the seriousness of bulimia nervosa, with particular attention to those individuals that use compulsive exercise as their means of purging.  

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further.

With best regards,

Harry A. Brandt, M.D.

Director, Center for Eating Disorders
Sheppard Pratt Health System

Head, Department of Psychiatry
St. Joseph Medical Center

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Making a Difference ~ Fat Talk Free Week 2011

This is the 6th post in an 8-part blog series  about eating disorders on campus.

Fat Talk Free Week 2011

“I’m having a fat day.”

“Does this outfit make me look fat?”

“I can’t go on that date until I lose more weight – I’m so disgusting.”

Have you ever uttered these words? Have you thought them? Heard other people say them? These types of statements have become far too acceptable as part of our every day speech and social conversation. In an effort to combat this way of speaking to ourselves and others, Tri Delta Sorority launched their fourth annual Fat Talk Free Week going on right now, October 16-22, 2011.

The following description of this initiative is posted on their website:

Fat Talk describes all of the statements made in everyday conversation that can contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies by reinforcing the thin ideal. 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.” 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 –“How do you stay so skinny?” or  “You look great! Have you lost weight?”

Fat Talk Free Week, our cause campaign in support of Reflections, is an annual week-long event to raise awareness about the damaging effects of Fat Talk. We’re encouraging everyone to change the conversation to create a more positive body image for women everywhere!

Negative body image is one of the most persistent symptoms of an eating disorder. In fact, for many people, their eating disorder symptoms will be well under control before their body image begins to improve. This is a frustrating experience that can also be very triggering, leading some, unfortunately, to revert to their eating disorder behaviors. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to actively work on nurturing and accepting your body. There’s still time to enlist some friends or family members to take part in Fat Talk Free Week to support you in creating a world less focused on appearance and unrealistic body ideals.

Stop Fat Talk: Instead of talking with others about your appearance, start conversations about which classes you are taing, your weekend plans or how you are feeling that day. Compliment others on their accomplishments, style, or humor instead of highlighting their appearance or weight. If others are engaging in fat talk, politely redirect the conversation or let them know about your goal for the week and encourage them to join in.  You can connect with others on the End Fat Talk Facebook Page.

Make a List, Don’t Check it Twice: On one half of a piece of paper, write a list of the things you dislike about your body. On the other half write the things that you like about your body, you accomplishments and your personality. Tear off the half that details the negatives and rip it up into pieces. Throw it in the trash where it belongs! Put the positive half somewhere that you can look at it frequently to remind yourself of your great qualities.

Treat Your Body: This would be a great week to schedule a massage or a pedicure. Strapped for cash? Check out local spas that might have student discounts or get some friends together and swap accessories that emphasize your favorite feature. Sometimes, it is a treat to simply take a nice, long shower at home and actually take time to enjoy the scents of the shampoos and soaps that you use.

Apologize: It may seem silly, but every time you catch yourself thinking a negative thought about your body, pause and apologize to your body for being so harsh. Instead, try to express your gratitude for what your body does for you. For example, if you are thinking your thighs are too big, stop and thank your legs for giving you the ability to walk from place to place.  You might even want to write your body an apology letter for having been so critical in the past. Then write your resolutions for how you will treat it better in the future.

Get Creative: Tap into your inner artist and create a poster for CED’s 6th Annual Love Your Tree positive body image and poster campaign.  Colleges and  student organizations in the state of Maryland can even request a free Love Your Tree creative workshop for your campus facilitated by the program’s creator, Julia Andersen.  More details here.

Out with the old, In with the new: This would be a great week to do your body a favor and get rid of any old clothes that don’t fit or simply don’t make you feel great when you wear them. What is the point of holding onto jeans that don’t cooperate with your body? They’re only taking up space in your closet, and you could be focusing on the jeans that fit you and flatter you now. Host a clothing drive in your dorm or with your friends; donate those clothes to Goodwill or take them to a consignment shop. Everyone wins!

We at The Center for Eating Disorders encourage you to sign the Fat Talk Free Week Pledge.  Over 3,000 other people have already made the commitment to befriend their bodies, will you?

Remember, Fat Talk Free doesn’t have to end on Friday.  See how much better you feel when you focus on life outside of clothing sizes, diet goals and the media’s harmful messages about beauty. You may find that you want to make it a daily commitment.  Need a little extra motivation?  Check out Positive Body Image is Always In Season: 7 Tips for Year-Round Body Image Boosting and join us on Facebook.

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Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD. as part of CED’s 8-part college blog series for students struggling with disordered eating and body image concerns on campus.

“Navigating Our Culture’s Body Anxiety & Finding Body Confidence” ~ Q & A with SUSIE ORBACH

Susie OrbachSusie Orbach is a psychoanalyst, activist and author of many books including the classic, Fat is a Feminist Issue and her latest publication, Bodies. In addition to co-founding The Women’s Therapy Centre  in London and The Women’s Therapy Centre Institute in New York, Orbach serves as consultant and co-originator of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.  She is also convenor of www.any-body.org through which she recently organized a series of international summits aimed at promoting body diversity and changing the way our culture turns individuals against their own bodies.

As an author and international body image activist, Orbach lectures extensively worldwide.  On October 2nd, 2011 we are excited to welcome her to The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Baltimore where she will be presenting a free talk for the community entitled, Navigating Our Culture’s Body Anxiety and Finding Body Confidence. You can get the details and reserve your seats for the event here.

In advance of her presentation, we asked Dr. Orbach a few questions about her upcoming talk and her responses are below.
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Q & A with Susie Orbach:

Q: The title of your upcoming talk at CED is “Navigating our Culture’s Body Anxiety and Finding Body Confidence”.  In your own words, how would you define body anxiety?  How do you define body confidence?

Susie: Body anxiety: Waking up and worrying whether it is going to be a good day or a bad day in relation to food; scrutinizing your body –dreading it will have the faults you see there, hoping it won’t; feeling pierced throughout the day with negative body thoughts; making plans to change the way you eat, exercise because you must ‘punish yourself’ and so on

Body confidence: waking up and feeling your physicality; reflecting on what you are doing that morning and what you might want to wear. Eating just what you want and relishing it when you are hungry. Moving your body because it feels good. Enjoying going about your life trusting your body will be there in a good way with you.

Q: In your opinion, where does the responsibility lie for this culture of extreme body dissatisfaction we have come to accept as the norm?  With whom does the responsibility lie to change it?

Susie: Big questions I hope to answer in my talk…The important thing is that whether in advertising, the media, food industry, the beauty industry, there are things we can to do change the situation. We need bold strategies from the individual, to the corporate to the political governmental

Q: What would you say is the biggest cultural myth that affects body image and/or weight struggles?

Susie: That the diet industry is on our side. It isn’t. It is part of the problem not the solution

Q: You have played an integral role in the creation of an international movement called Endangered Species.  What is the mission of this project?  In what ways has the project begun to accomplish its goals and what is on the horizon?  How can individuals contribute to the movement?

Susie: Come and join us one and all…set up a group in Baltimore, propose a project or join one of our existing projects. You are really welcome and needed.

Endangered aims to transform the culture that makes us afraid of our bodies and their appetites. We launched this year on the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day. In London we are working with Parliament, with Girl Guides, with the Y, with many different Body Activist Groups – some in Fashion, some in education,  to take on those industries which grow fat on making girls and women, and increasingly men, feel wary of their bodies and their desires.

*Check out some great highlights from the Endangered Species Summits compiled by  Elena Rossini who is also the director of the upcoming documentary, The Illusionists.

Q: Many people, especially individuals with eating disorders, often struggle with intensely comparing themselves and their bodies to other people.  What do you think are the origins for this process and what roles do you see body competition and comparison playing in our society today?

Susie: Body competition is destructive and ubiquitous and not made easier by the cosmetic surgery industry, photo shopping and celebrity culture. Our visual culture is so full of images of people that don’t actually exist and it is very damaging.

Q: In your experience treating individuals with eating disorders and body image disturbances, what one piece of advice would you offer to individuals working towards recovery and body acceptance?

Q: Susie: Look back at pictures of yourself from a few years ago when you thought you looked awful (if you kept them), the odds are, you’ll find you were quite ok, lovely even. Then reflect upon the sad fact that you didn’t trust you looked ok then but you did so perhaps you have to risk feeling a tiny bit ok now…….

But in truth I wouldn’t give one piece of advice! It would depend on the individual….

Q: What keeps you hopeful that we will be able to push back against society’s damaging messages with regard to body satisfaction?  Do you think we will see real change in the way future generations relate to their bodies?

Susie: I am deeply pessimistic. But I also think: what choice do we have but to challenge the hurt and the vicious attacks on bodies. What gives me hope are the number of body activists out there – young, old, across cultures and class who are insisting on something more humane in relation to our bodies.

Q: After attending your community talk in Baltimore on October 2nd, what primary message do you hope individuals will take from your presentation and put into practice?

Susie: Gosh, that’s tough. We are all individuals and will take and give different things to the day and so what hits home will vary, but I hope it is the determination to make peace with our bodies.

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We hope so too.

Do you have your own questions for Susie Orbach? Join us in Baltimore on October 2nd for the chance to ask.  A reception and book signing will follow the presentation.  Attendance is free but seats are limited – don’t forget to RSVP.  Get details HERE.

Are you a treatment professional?  You may also be interested in the continuing education event taking place earlier the same day:

October 2, 2011 (8:00-11:00am) The Body in Therapy: An In Depth Look at Countertransference and the False Body with Susie Orbach, approved for 2.0 CME/CEU credits.  Download the program Flyer (pdf)


Momentum of Positive Change: The AMA’s Photoshop Policy & Beyond

On its website, the American Medical Association (AMA) states that its mission is to “help doctors help patients by uniting physicians nationwide to work on the most important professional and public health issues.”  It speaks volumes then, that in their most recent press release, the AMA announced the adoption of a new policy to discourage the rampant use of photoshopping and American Medical Association Logophoto editing by advertisers.  In the policy, AMA cites the connection between unrealistic/altered images and adolescent health problems, particularly body image and eating disorders. A press release about the new policy included the following statement:

Advertisers commonly alter photographs to enhance the appearance of models’ bodies, and such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image – especially among impressionable children and adolescents. A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems. The AMA adopted new policy to encourage advertising associations to work with public and private sector organizations concerned with child and adolescent health to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially those appearing in teen-oriented publications, that would discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.

Its important to note that eating disorders are biological illnesses with a myriad of  genetic, hormonal and neurobiological factors.  Just as parents do not cause eating disorders, nor do airbrushed magazine ads. (In fact, Carrie Arnold over at Psychology Today’s Body of Evidence does a great job of examining this aspect of the AMA’s statement).  But our hope is that this new policy is not just focused on removing a risk factor for those who may be genetically more susceptible to the “thin ideal”.  A society saturated with computer-generated images portrayed as real bodies is unhealthy and harmful whether it contributes to an eating disorder or not.   Its harmful to females and males.  Its harmful to kids and adults.  Its harmful for anyone that struggles with negative self-esteem or body image.  In this way, the issue of photoshop and media ethics is more than an eating disorder prevention issue but one that addresses self-esteem and body image on a societal level.

While some will say the policy doesn’t accomplish enough, its encouraging to see a well-respected, national organization like the AMA acknowledging the issue and prompting further attention to it. What’s most encouraging isGirl Scouts of America logo that this recent action by the AMA, seems to be part of a larger momentum of change including the Girl Scouts’ announcement of its’ project, Healthy MEdia: Commission for Positive Images of Women and Girls which is being co-launched by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), and The Creative Coalition.

The new policy also arrives amidst several specific wins in the fight against harmful media practices surrounding weight, food, beauty ideals and sexualization.  Most recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) won a settlement against Beiersdorf, Inc. (parent company of Nivea) Inc. that prohibits them from making continued false claims that its Nivea My Silhouette! skin cream can reduce consumers’ body size.  In June, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) publicly applauded Yoplait for agreeing to pull a troubling ad campaign after being warned by NEDA that it normalized dangerously disordered thoughts around food and weight.  And thanks to international body image advocates Sharon HaywoodMelinda Tankard Reist and more than 5,000 signatures on a petition at Change.org, major networks MTV and VH1 both agreed to ban a violent and misogynistic music video starring Kanye West and other high profile music stars.

Lots of individuals and organizations are pushing back against the tide of false bodies, diet myths, weight prejudice and general negativity in the media.  They’re making great strides in the promotion of positive body image, self-esteem and overall health (vs. weight).  In addition to those we mentioned above, here are just a few more organizations and individuals that are doing good and speaking out for change:

When it comes to body image and media literacy, what other successful campaigns and positive social changes have you noticed lately? 

Join the discussion and check us out on Facebook & Twitter.

“There is Hope” for Eating Disorder Recovery

Today, April 12th,  the Eating Disorder Coalition (EDC) will lead of group of advocates to Capitol Hill to help lobby in support of The Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act, which is the first legislation to comprehensively promote research, treatment, education, and prevention programs for eating disorders.  It’s an important day of advocacy and one that can be very empowering for recovered individuals, supportive families and treatment providers who attend and use their experiences and their voices to share knowledge, stimulate change and spread hope.

One of our most recent guest speakers, Johanna S. Kandel, Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness,  will be on the Hill today using her voice too.  Johanna is the author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder, a moving book about her own recovery and a must-read for anyone who has ever been touched by an eating disorder.  When Johanna was at The Center for Eating Disorders in February 2011 to help us celebrate National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, she spoke with passion and honesty to a packed auditorium about the importance of spreading hope, using your voice and making a difference.

Click here to WATCH a VIDEO CLIP of Johanna Kandel speaking about using your voice to spread the message of HOPE and RECOVERY.   (from her February 20, 2011 presentation in Baltimore, MD)

Even if you can’t be at the EDC’s Lobby Day today there is still a lot you can do.  Get some ideas from Johanna’s clip above or visit the EDC’s “Take Action” page to find out how you can contact your legislators and ask them to support the FREED Act. You can also make a difference by sharing recovery-focused feedback on message boards like CED’s Online Forum where individuals can post anonymously and ask for support along the road to recovery.

What creative ways do you use your voice to spread hope and let others know that recovery is possible?  Leave your comments below or chime in on our Facebook Page.