A Focus on Body Image & Eating Disorders in Boys & Men for #menshealthmonth

“Get Lean in 2017”
“Shrink Your Gut,”
“Add Bulk To Your Arms”
“Get Rock Hard Abs,”

These are just a few of the typical headlines that can be seen on fitness and “health” magazines geared towards men. While there has been fairly widespread awareness cultivated around the media’s negative impact on women’s body image, not as much attention has been paid to how the media targets men and boys with similar body shaming tactics.

Our culture in general, and the media specifically, often pushes women to lose, lose, lose so they can be smaller, thinner and closer to an elusive definition of “perfect” but the opposite message is often being pushed towards men; most advertising and traditional media suggests the male quest for perfection requires they be bigger, stronger and more muscular.  Products previously peddled exclusively towards women – hair removal items, weight loss diets, tanning products, and plastic surgery – are expanding their markets by making men take a harder, longer and much more critical look at their own appearance.

A 2016 review of five national studies found that 20 to 40 percent of men were unhappy with some aspect of their looks, including physical appearance, weight, and muscle size and tone. An earlier study found that college aged men who viewed media images of muscular men showed a significantly greater discrepancy between their own perceived muscularity (what they think they look like) and their ideal body (what they feel they should look like). The researchers suggested their results could show that even brief exposure to such idealized images can increase body dissatisfaction in men.

Despite this ongoing push for men to get bigger and stronger, over the last decade we’ve also seen the juxtaposition of thinner versions of masculinity.  You can see it when looking at modern male mannequins with impossibly small waists and very slim – yet sculpted – abdomens and legs.  Conflicting body ideals abound. So what is the message after all…get bigger, but stay lean? Be muscular, but still fit in those trendy skinny jeans? It’s mind numbing to try and understand, and even more impossible to attain, yet these are the messages that boys are forced to decipher from a very young age and often continue to wrestle with into adulthood and middle age.

Given all of this, it isn’t that surprising a 2014 study of more than five thousand males aged 12 to 18 years found nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. Of the boys who were highly concerned with their weight, about half were worried only about gaining more muscle, and approximately a third were concerned with both thinness and muscularity simultaneously.

It’s important to note that, as is also the case with females, photoshopped advertisements and a general lack of diversity in the media’s representation of bodies does not in and of itself cause eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are complex illnesses with genetic and biologic underpinnings. However, environmental triggers such as narrow or unrealistic body ideals in the media can contribute to increased levels of body dissatisfaction which has been identified as a risk factor for eating disorders.

Dealing with unhealthy media messages is something that almost every man will have to deal with. As is also the case with girls and women, the dangers lie in the drastic steps some boys and men may take to try to manage increasing body image anxiety. Guys who are more dissatisfied with their bodies may be more likely to engage in risky weight loss, bulking or sculpting behaviors such as extremely restrictive diets, cleanses, steroids, supplements or excessive exercise. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors for anyone.  However, in boys and men who are genetically at risk for eating disorders, these types of behaviors can set the stage for an eating disorder, triggering changes in the brain, disrupting metabolic functioning, dysregulating hunger/fullness cues and often worsening body image, mood and anxiety symptoms. Boys and men who have a history of trauma, are involved in sports or careers that promote weight loss and perfection, and those with close family members with a history of an eating disorder are also at higher risk for developing one themselves.

Eating disorders have long been miscategorized as purely a women’s issue, even by some healthcare professionals. As a result it’s quite common for major warning signs like excessive exercise or drastic changes to diet to be overlooked or even congratulated in men. Stigma and stereotypes in the eating disorders combine to make it difficult for men who are stuck in the cycle of disordered eating to break out of it and get help. It is suggested that 25-40% of people with eating disorders are men, yet they only make up about 10% of people seeking treatment.

Talking openly about eating disorders can help minimize shame and embarrassment for males struggling with these issues. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, we’ve been treating men with eating disorders for more than twenty-five years and we’re encouraged by the changes we hear in the conversations more recently. More men have been speaking out locally and using national platforms to raise awareness. In just the last year, Zayn Malik of the band One Direction discussed his struggle with an eating disorder and anxiety, performer/songwriter Matthew Koma wrote a poignant blog about his recovery from anorexia, and Joey Julius, a football player at Penn State, made a series of public statements regarding his decision to seek treatment for binge eating disorder. Their messages all point to a resounding hopefulness stemming from the reality that treatment is available and men can heal from their eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.

So what can you do to help the men in your life?

Start by checking in with them. The Let’s Check In campaign is all about empowering individuals, families and communities to talk openly about eating disorders and to strengthen support for individuals of all genders who might feel alone. When it comes to eating disorders, early identification and prompt help-seeking can make a big difference. You can play a role in supporting prevention and recovery from eating disorders simply by educating and preparing yourself.

Know the risk factors and pay attention to any sudden shifts in diet, exercise routine or increased negative comments about themselves or their body. If you’re unsure, the confidential online assessment is a quick tool that can help you gauge whether someone you love might be at risk.  Second, if you are seeing increasing warning signs plan to check in with your friend or loved about your concerns and provide them with compassion and resources.  A fact sheet, conversation guide and additional resources are available at www.letscheckin.com/.


Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C

Written by:
Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C,
Family Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
Regis Aguglia earned his Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland in 2010. Prior to joining The Center for Eating Disorders in 2014, Regis provided individual, family and group therapy in outpatient and school-based settings and gained experience treating individuals struggling with substance abuse. As a Family Therapist in The Center’s inpatient and partial hospital programs, Regis works with families to understand the impact of an eating disorder on the family system and helps to strengthen communication, coping skills, nutritional stability and recovery-focused support. Regis also facilitates a number of inpatient therapy groups including dual diagnosis groups for patients with co-occurring substance abuse and a specialty group for boys and men with eating disorders.

A Conversation with Bailey Webber, Co-Director of THE STUDENT BODY Film – Part 1


Bailey Webber is a student investigative journalist, writer, and co-director of The Student Body. Her story of courage and activism has been featured in numerous newspaper and online articles.  She has been honored by the National Association of University Women for her advocacy work, is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association as well as Proud to Be Me with which she has written several articles, blogs, and has participated in panel discussions. Bailey is the daughter of Michael Webber, a motion picture producer and renowned documentary filmmaker.  As such, she has grown up around movie making and has storytelling in her blood. The Student Body is her directorial debut.

 

In advance of the upcoming Baltimore Premiere of her film, we had the pleasure of asking Bailey about the film and her experience co-directing it alongside her father. Part 1 of here responses are shared here.


Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 1

 

In your own words, can you tell us what The Student Body is about and why you feel people should see the film?

BW: For me, The Student Body is a story of empowerment and finding your voice.  Learning to stand against something that you feel is wrong, even when nobody else seems to be standing with you.  That’s the example we see in the beginning of the film with my friend, Maddy, which then empowered me to find my own voice, to step outside of my comfort zone, and to combat something that I felt was unjust.  Little did I know the giants I would face along the journey!

I hope people will watch the film for a couple reasons.  For one, I want young people to realize that their opinion does matter, their voice can be powerful, and they can help to bring about change in their world.  But it starts with being willing to learn, to work hard, and to be persistent.  And for adults, I hope they will see the film and learn as I did, that obesity is so much more complicated than we are led to believe, and shaming and blaming kids for this epidemic of obesity is wrong on so many levels. 

I also want people to know that this is a very positive film and it’s even filled with a lot of humor!  People are surprised at how funny and entertaining the film is and they come away from with a sense of hope and encouragement, as well as being better informed and energized about the progress that can be made.  I’ve had both students and adults tell me seeing the film has changed their life!

 

Can you share a little bit about the evolution of The Student Body? What drew you to the topic of BMI report cards and body shaming in the schools?

BW: Believe it or not, this film actually started off as a small, summer project when I was a sophomore in high school.  I wanted to make a documentary about the “fat letters” that were being handed out to students at my school and my dad, who is a filmmaker, agreed to mentor me through the process. 

Early on in my investigation, it became clear that this was more than just a local story, this was happening all over our state.  And by the end of the summer, I found myself in the middle of a heated national debate!  This was much bigger than I could have imagined and I wanted to take my investigation all the way.  So, my dad agreed to drop his other films and help me see this through to the end.  The father/daughter filmmaking duo was born!  I then spent the next two years in production, traveling the country and taking my story to its conclusion. 

I am so thankful to have been able to learn and work alongside my dad.  I had my own obstacles to overcome and I really needed someone like him to give me the confidence and encouragement to keep going all the way.  It was an amazing journey and I learned so much about myself through the experience.   

 

Was there one interview you did for the film that really moved you or was particularly powerful? If so, with whom was it and what made it stand out to you?

BW: As I began investigating this issue I read that these “fat letters” are being sent to students of all ages, even as young as kindergartners. I didn’t know how awful and detrimental this really was to young kids until I talked to them myself.  One of the most powerful interviews I did was with a group of 4th graders in New York who were brave enough to speak on camera.  These sweet little kids each received “fitness grams” from their school, telling them that they were overweight and were devastated by it.  They cried when they got home.  They saw themselves differently than before.  And they were not alone; kids and parents all over the country have had similar experiences but just would not agree to talk about it on camera because it was humiliating.

The short time I spent with these kids changed me forever.  It gave me the energy I needed to keep pressing forward and to be a voice for them and also caused me want to focus my future on working more with youth.

 

What was your personal knowledge/perception of BMI testing in schools before the film and how did it evolve throughout your filming of The Student Body?

BW: One of my favorite things about documentary filmmaking is how much I learn through the journey.  When I started this film I didn’t know much about BMI or obesity.  I simply wanted to tell a personal story about a girl at my school and shed light on what seemed like government profiling and bullying.  But this led me to connect with top experts around the country who were willing to talk to me about BMI and obesity.  I learned so much through this process and the neat thing is the audience gets to come along with me as we take this journey together.

 

Can you share the most surprising thing you learned in the process of creating this film?

BW: The most surprising, and maybe most controversial thing I learned, is that all of the experts that I spoke to said pretty much the same thing – obesity is a disease and the cause in many people may not be as simple as we once believed.  Research is showing that it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories burned and that obesity is not only caused by poor diet and exercise.  The research is finding all of these other factors that play a big role in the obesity epidemic and yet we still are pointing our finger at kids and telling them they have done something wrong.  The experts talked with me about the disconnect between what their research is showing and what the general public believes.


Read Part 2 of our interview with Bailey Webber HERE.

Watch the trailer and reserve a seat at The Baltimore Screening of The Student Body on February 26, 2017 in Towson, MD.

 

 

Body Comparison: An Olympic Sport?


When cheering on the elite athletes at the Rio Olympics and in other high-profile sporting events, it can be easy to lose perspective and you may find yourself comparing your physical body to those at the peak of their sport careers. Lost in these comparisons, we too often become self-critical and forget the long journeys, support communities, financial resources, sacrifices and sheer hard work that comes with being an Olympic athlete.

Olympic bodiesEngaging in body comparison not only hurts you but serves to fuel the overall toxic culture of body shaming. After all, even Olympic athletes are subject to mean-spirited remarks about their appearance. In the most recent summer games, Ethiopian swimmer Nobel Kiros Habte faced some harsh comments for not matching the “look” of his peers, as did Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno. Many others have faced similar backlash through the years.
Just as athletes are not immune from body shaming, it’s important to remember the “perfect” athletic body does not equate to perfect health. Making snap judgments about someone’s fitness or health based on their appearance is misleading – it’s rarely possible to tell, for example, if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Athletes are not immune to eating disorders or struggles with body image. American cyclist and two-time national champion Mara Abbott has been open about her experience with anorexia. In a candid column for a cycling blog, she reflected on how it affected her performance: “Personally, having taking a hiatus from sport in 2012 due to an eating disorder, I can attest that my thinnest was definitely not my strongest. I really mean that. Please read that sentence more than once.”

As we gather around the television with our friends and families to celebrate athletic achievement, we can support the competitors, ourselves and each other by focusing less on physical appearance and more on the hard work and powerful accomplishments of these world-class athletes.  After all, Olympic bodies can be powerful, graceful, tough and resilient but they are also diverse.  From gymnastics to archery, swimming to shot put, let’s allow our athletes to be inspirations, not because of or in spite of their looks but for the attitude and spirit they project in aiming for their goals.  Let’s enjoy watching all sporting events – whether it’s a World Cup game or a pee wee soccer league – from a place of body appreciation and as part of a body positive summer.

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You might also be interested in reading:

Self-Care Resources & Coping with Mass Tragedy


Daily self-care is extremely important for individuals with existing physical and mental health diagnoses including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder. It can be even more crucial during times of high stress, uncertainty or exposure to traumatic events. Even indirect, or secondhand exposure, to violence or disasters can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health. Research conducted by Dr. Pam Ramsden in 2015 found that “viewing violent news events via social media can cause people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

In the wake of several national and international acts of violence over the past month, most recently the attack in Nice, France, it’s important to assess your own self-care practices and media use and to seek additional help when needed.

Below is a list of resources we’ve compiled that may help you and your loved ones cope in the aftermath of such tragedies.

 

RESOURCES FOR ADULTS:

RESOURCES TO HELP CHILDREN:

If you are experiencing intense or prolonged stress in the wake of violence you’ve experienced firsthand or via exposure through news outlets and social media please do not hesitate to seek help. Speak with a therapist if you have one. You can also seek more immediate assistance via the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990. 

A more comprehensive list of hotlines and articles is available in this article by Skyler Jackson, MS of The University of Maryland: 100+ Resources for the Aftermath of the Orlando Mass Shooting Tragedy.


 

"Look for the helpers." - Fred Rogers

 

 

 

 

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Body Positive Summer STEP 1: Stop critiquing your body. Start critiquing the thin ideal.


The myth that the size or shape of your body determines what kind of swimsuit you can wear or how much fun you’re allowed to have is entrenched in a culture that profits off of our insecurities. These insecurities may be related to weight or size but also extend to just about every aspect of our bodies – skin, body hair, nails and refuse to miss out on this season of lifemore.  Businesses know that anxious, sad or insecure individuals are better consumers.1  In other words, a person who feels badly about herself is likely to pay more for products she thinks may help her feel, look or be better. The farther she experiences herself to be from the culture’s thin ideal, the greater risk for body dissatisfaction.

The reality is that the answer to all of life’s struggles are not solved by dropping a pant size and cannot be found inside a tanning bed or by embarking on a juice cleanse. Marketers know that the key to their success lies not in creating a product that actually “works” but by keeping people dissatisfied and, thus, poised to keep paying for each new product or weight loss gimmick that comes along next.

Sadly, a focus on weight and appearance is introduced and reinforced quite early.  Recently, Discovery Girls Magazine, aimed at 8-12 year old kids, ran an article suggesting girls choose bathing suits based on “body type” and how they might look in their suit (as opposed to, perhaps, the child’s color and pattern preferences or simply, how comfortable the suit is while playing). Its unfortunate foreshadowing in a culture that tells adults a “bikini body” is something we must attain before engaging in life at the pool on a hot summer day. This is a culture that wants us to prioritize how we appear to others above our own need for comfort or functionality, and in many cases above health or well-being.

So what can we do?

  • Begin to pay conscious attention to the advertisements you are exposed to as the summer heats up. This includes ads on social media, magazine headlines and commercials during your favorite TV show.  But it also includes messages you might hear directly from friends, coaches or via favorite brands on Instagram. Take note of fat talk and body shaming messages that might usually seep into your self-evaluation without you even noticing.  For example, some television shows or swimsuit catalogs simply erase the natural diversity of bodies by choosing models or actors who all look quite similar (or have been photoshopped to appear that way).  As you create an awareness of this flow of information you can begin to consciously object to it AND celebrate the organizations and companies who actually do a good job of representing real and diverse bodies.
  • Each time you find yourself directing negative attention to your body, flip the switch and look outward. Pay attention to whether there are images and messages surrounding you that might be contributing to your feeling badly about yourself or your body. If you notice them, take some sort of opposite action. Remove them (unsubscribe, physically thrown them away, etc.) or challenge them. It could be as simple as blocking a particular kind of ad on your Facebook newsfeed, writing a letter to a magazine editor, or just venting to a friend about a misleading diet advertisement.

Even small acts can be empowering. Once your start, you may be surprised to see who responds or joins you in your efforts.  Self-acceptance and body acceptance may not be profitable for the beauty industries but you and your summer stand to benefit a great deal from these acts.

 

 

Need a little inspiration? Check out this great video from MTV’s Laci Green about the bikini body. Then, let others know how you are removing or challenging the negative or body shaming messages in your life using the #bodypositivesummer hashtag on Twitter or Instagram

Read more #bodypositivesummer posts here:

 

References

1. Cryder CE1, Lerner JS, Gross JJ, Dahl RE. (2008) Misery is not miserly: sad and self-focused individuals spend more. Psychol Sci. Jun;19(6):525-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18578840

 

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GLOSSARY of Terms: Body Image. Body Dissatisfaction. Body Shaming. Body Acceptance.

refuse to miss out


Having a #bodypositivesummer may sound relatively straight forward; however some of the accompanying language may require a bit more explanation. This guide is meant to help break down some of the vernacular you come across within the #bodypositivesummer movement and in other similar discussions about body image.

Body image refers to the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body. The key word being subjective. In other words, body image is how you see yourself.  Medical definitions of body image extend to include the individual’s emotional beliefs and attitudes about the image they perceive. The same feature might be experienced differently and thus, elicit different emotions from person to person. For example, to one individual, being tall might come with a sense of pride and a belief that his or her height is a strength, while another individual feels embarrassed about being tall and believes that it sets him or her apart in a negative way.  An individual’s body image state – negative or positive –  is shaped by lived experiences, peer groups, media and marketing, family, community and cultural attitudes, as well as other external sources of body ideals and expectations.

The divergence of one’s body image from sociocultural beauty ideals can lead to body dissatisfaction. Grogan (2008) defines body dissatisfaction as a person’s negative thoughts about his or her own body.  Negative feelings about body type, weight, body hair, and skin tone are known to be intensified during summer months due to an increased focus of marketing on these insecurities, greater body exposure due to warmer temperatures, and other socially influenced factors. Beauty standards (also referred to as the thin ideal or body ideal) are often narrow, unhealthy and down-right ridiculous for both women and men. These unattainable “standards” may also lead to dangerous behaviors, such as excess sun exposure, dieting, and potentially by extension, disordered eating. They also set the stage for forms of hurtful interactions such as body shaming.  Body shaming, also referred to as body bashing,  is any form of mocking, bullying, or insults focused on deviations from body or appearance “norms”. This type of bullying behavior can take place in person during face-to-face interactions or online across social media platforms. Body shaming is normalized and encouraged by advertisements that imply certain bodies are not suited for certain places (like the beach) or for specific articles of clothing (like shorts or a bathing suit).

The antidote to body dissatisfaction is body acceptance.  Body Acceptance is approving of and caring for your body despite it’s real or perceived “imperfections”.  This is inclusive of other terms like body positive, body neutrality and size acceptance.  Being body positive or working towards body acceptance, doesn’t mean you absolutely love the way you look all the time. It simply means you accept and honor all bodies – including your own – as good and worthy of care and respect.  It also means you are willing to confront your own internalized weight bias and challenge other stereotypes or assumptions based on a person’s appearance.

We live within a culture that encourages body dissatisfaction. But we have within us individually, the power to be body positive. In doing this for ourselves, we also create space for others, including friends and family members with eating disorders and/or serious body image disturbances, to re-engage in experiences they might be prone to avoid.

Be a part of the #bodypositivesummer movement.  Follow along on Twitter or Facebook for blogs, tips, resources and opportunities to tell us how you are creating a season of body positivity.

Find more info here.

 

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Welcome to a #bodypositivesummer


How will YOU create a #bodypositivesummerBy now you may have already considered whether you are “beach body ready,” but the seasonal push to pressure individuals into body conformity hasn’t even peaked yet, as it does each summer.  In hopes of increasing revenue, the diet companies, tanning salons and hair removal industries have created a standard bikini body goal they’d like us all to strive for. Typically for women this involves being smaller, thinner, toned, hairless and voluptuous in all the right places.  The same cultural undertow usually promotes height, muscularity, definition, and, increasingly body hair removal for men as well.  Both sexes will be bombarded with advertisements encouraging them to have skin that is “golden” or “bronzed”, or as one indoor tanning company so directly put it in their recent ads, “be a better shade of you”.

In the words of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey on SNL, “Really!?”

Help us set a new standard for summer bodies, one that is inclusive and enjoyable. Striving for a #bodypositivesummer is an ideal that involves using your body and brain to enjoy your summer instead of spending your summer and your brainpower trying to change your body. This is an opportunity to encourage yourself and your friends to stop skipping, missing out on, or postponing summer fun due to body dissatisfaction.  It’s also an opportunity to focus on well-being and self-care instead of putting your health at risk to meet narrow and arbitrary goals that include futile weight loss, unsafe tanning or even expensive hair removal procedures.

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating a #bodypositivesummer. There are no prerequisites for joining in. Despite what the advertisements depict, bodies of all shapes, sizes, shades and abilities can engage in summer fun.  Being body positive doesn’t mean you absolutely love your body right now.  In this case, being body positive just means you’re interested in helping to override negative body image norms that might otherwise hold you, or your friends, back from fun, important or beneficial moments in your life.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring tips and strategies for establishing a summer Body Dissatisfaction INFOGRAPHICremoved from socially constructed beauty ideals that reinforce body dissatisfaction, self-hatred and disordered eating . We’ve invited some of our body positive friends and colleagues to share what they’re doing to override body anxiety and make the most of summer so you’ll be hearing from them along the way too.

You can help encourage your friends and family to embrace body positivity too by educating them about the widespread impacts of body dissatisfaction. This infographic is an easy shareable way to get the message across. Feeling badly about your body is not just an inconvenience. It can have serious repercussions for a person’s quality of life at any age.

(Download Infographic as a PDF here).

If you are one of the many people who dread summer because of heightened body anxiety or you find yourself getting sucked in to the massive marketing campaigns telling you that your body isn’t good enough, stick around and follow the hashtag #bodypositivesummer on Twitter and Facebook for tips, strategies and stories from people who’ve risen above body shame in order to re-engage with life – even during the summer months!

These are just a few ways to get involved:

  • Educate friends and colleagues about the real scope and impact of body dissatisfaction.
  • Read and comment along with us as we share tips and ideas for maintaining a body positive summer, including upcoming guest posts from Erin Mandras, Dianne Bondy and others!
  • Share about your own summer adventures with the hashtag #bodypositivesummer.  We’ll be sharing helpful prompts along the way to get people thinking about their summer narratives in ways that don’t include body shape/size prerequisites.  At summer’s end we’ll be compiling all of the wonderful body acceptance stories and photos we come across to help keep the body positivity going long after summer is gone.
  • If you see or hear a body acceptance story or idea you think others could benefit from, send it our way. Send via email to kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org or tweet us @CEDSheppPratt.

Not sure what it all means?  Find a glossary of body image terms here.


Please note: we manage all of our social media sites from a recovery-focused perspective and try very hard to keep these spaces free from triggering content. When sharing your  posts, pictures, comments or tweets, we ask that you do so in a way that does not include before/after pics, specific weights, clothing sizes or descriptions of eating disorder symptoms. THANK YOU.

 

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Adventures in Self-Care with Melissa Fabello: Part 1

 

If you’ve ever seen one of her YouTube videos than you probably already know Melissa Fabello is a talented and passionate activist.  She also writes boldly and beautifully about eating disorder recovery, body image, diet culture and a host of other important issues. In advance of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and her presentation in Baltimore on February 21, we asked Melissa to share her thoughts on why self-care is not self-ish, the intersection of eating disorders and perfectionism, and her experience with recovery in a society obsessed with dieting.  We are honored to share her responses with you below.

 

 


Q&A with MelissA Fabello – Part I

 

Q: A lot of people assume self-care to be synonymous with personal hygiene or the daily chores of living. This can sound like a pretty boring topic. Given that you will be in Baltimore on February 21 to discuss the Adventures in Self-Care as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, can you explain more about what self-care really is and why it’s something we should be talking about?

MF: To start, I would actually argue that self-care should, indeed, be a daily chore of living. It should be an intentional practice that we partake in – every single day – in order to take care of ourselves. It really can be as simple as getting the right amount of sleep, drinking enough water, or eating a meal that fuels your body. It’s finding ways to insert self-care into those daily chores of living, which in turn, creates a life that may feel a bit more adventurous.

And when I say “adventurous,” I don’t necessarily mean thrill-seeking, but rather, simply, more livable. And what is more of an adventure than life itself? Self-care puts you in the position to live life more fully and to experience it more broadly because it cultivates your self-awareness and forces you to consider what makes you the happiest.


Self-care, really, is just any set of practices that are nourishing to you – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Those practices can be preventative (like taking care of your physiological and mental health needs to the best of your ability every day), and they can also be intervention methods (think: calling out sick just to spend the day taking a bubble bath and reading novels). But the point is that they are necessary to all of our lives, but especially necessary when we’re in eating disorder recovery.

 

Q: We often hear from patients who fear that engaging in self-care is a selfish act. How would you respond to someone worried about being, or being perceived as, selfish?

MF: That’s a real concern, and it needs to be validated as such. We live in a culture that’s driven by capitalism, and the number one value held by capitalism is that of productivity. Have you ever slept in because your body needed rest, but then berated yourself for not getting up early enough to start in on your housework? Or have you ever taken a much needed day off to marathon your favorite TV show, but then felt bad that you didn’t work on your school work, even though you hadn’t taken a day off in two weeks? That guilt is the product of believing that our worth is tied up in how productive we are.

670_06_NEDAW_TWITTER_01_2016_P12 This is especially difficult for women. In our society, men are frequently defined by what they do out in the world. Women, though, are judged by how they take care of others. As such, women’s moral development, according to Carol Gilligan, is all about how we understand ourselves in relation to other people. Women, in particular, are taught that taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves first is not only a selfish act, but even an immoral one. And that’s just straight up sexist.


One small shift we can make is to redefine what “productivity” means to us. I have an ex-girlfriend who was a hustler, trying to make it in the music business. As such, every day when we talked, she’d ask me, “What did you do today?” or “What did you accomplish today?” And sometimes that really overwhelmed me – because what if I didn’t “do” or “accomplish” anything? But the truth is that even if what I did that day was laugh while playing with my cat, or if what I accomplished was taking a trip to the bookstore for fun, then I’ve been productive. I’ve produced something: self-care. I think we need to remind ourselves that taking care of ourselves is an accomplishment.

 

Q: Perfectionism is one of several genetic traits that have been identified by research to be associated with an increased risk for the development of eating disorders. From your experience and observation, how does the topic of self-care intersect with tendencies toward perfectionism?

MF: I like to think of myself as a recovering overachiever, although I still fall back into those old habits sometimes. Again, in a culture where we’re taught to value our productivity, it can be hard not to fall into perfectionism as a way to prove our worth. But the truth is that we need to learn to be okay with the fact that none of us is perfect, that we’re all going to make mistakes.

One of the most valuable pieces of self-care advice I’ve received lately is that of learning to be okay with “good enough.” I’m one of those people who, when I give 75%, will feel guilty and ashamed for not giving 100%. What happens that’s interesting, though, is that no one can ever tell that I didn’t give something my all. As far as they can tell, I gave 110% because what I did was absolutely, positively awesome. Learning to be okay with “good enough” means giving something a shot, but not letting it run our lives, and feeling comfortable with the amount of attention that we were able to give something.

Part of self-care is being able to say, “I can’t (or don’t want to) work on this anymore because it’s possible that continuing to do so will damage my mental health. So I’m done now.” And that means letting go of the idea that we – and everything associated with us – has to be perfect.

 

Q: Another risk factor for eating disorders stems from the emotional and physiological consequences of dieting. What other impacts do you see from a culture that markets diets as a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance?

MF: I’ll be honest: The day that I actively decided to go through weight restoration was the day I realized that I could never be both thinner and happy. I could only ever be one of the two. I could spend every second of every day counting, measuring, and restricting in an attempt to achieve self-acceptance through (what I thought was) self-improvement, or I could attempt to apologize to my body and recreate a healthy relationship with food and within that freedom, find happiness. That concrete realization – that I couldn’t work toward a “better” body and experience day to day happiness – was a huge shift for me.

A spoken word poem that I really love, “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Blythe Baird, has a line in it that says: “This was the year of eating when I was hungry without punishing myself / And I know it sounds ridiculous, but that sh– is hard.” And it is. It is hard. Because we live in a culture that is so focused on dieting as, like you said, “a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance” that deciding to go against that grain and to seek validation and happiness from elsewhere is a radical act. And make no mistake: Giving up diet culture is a radical act, both personally and politically. Our culture thrives on making us feel small, weak, and less-than. Rebelling against that pressure, declaring that you will not be contained, and saying “no” to everything that our culture and media want us to believe? That is an incredibly courageous act.

 

Be sure to check out Part II of our discussion with Melissa in which she delves into body image and the concept of intersectionality as it relates to eating disorders.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #bmoreselfcare. 


MF 006Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed. is a body acceptance activist, sexuality scholar, and patriarchy smasher based in Philadelphia. She is currently a managing editor of Everyday Feminism, as well as a doctoral candidate at Widener University, working toward a PhD in Human Sexuality Studies. Melissa has worked closely with The National Eating Disorders Association, The Representation Project, and Adios Barbie on campaigns related to body image, eating disorders, and media literacy. Find out more about Melissa and her work at melissafabello.com.

 

 

 

THE ILLUSIONISTS Film Screening – Meet the panel of experts…

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On June 7th, hundreds will gather in Baltimore to be among the first to see an exclusive screening of the much-anticipated international documentary The Illusionists. In addition to viewing the full-length film, event attendees will have a unique opportunity to ask questions and converse with a panel of experts including the film’s director.  Meet the panel members below and be sure to reserve your seat for the event.

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Panel Members:

elena_headshotELENA ROSSINI
Writer & Director of ‘The Illusionists’

Elena Rossini is an Italian filmmaker and multimedia producer. Notable film projects include DOVE SEI TU, a feature-length narrative film set in between Milan, the documentary DIRECTION, and IDEAL WOMEN, an experimental short film juxtaposing beauty ideals in the art world vs. mass media, commissioned by ARTE Web and the Louvre Museum. In 2009, Elena launched a multimedia platform – No Country for Young Women – whose aim is to promote the visibility of professional women and to provide real role models for young girls from entrepreneurs to NASA engineers, illustrators, architects, filmmakers, non-profit directors, award-winning novelists, and more.

Since 2011 when The Illusionists was funded through a crowdfunding campaign, Elena has worked tirelessly as writer, producer, cinematographer and director. Elena is also a photographer and a blogger. Her photos and articles have appeared in Jezebel, indieWIRE, Adios Barbie and Gender Across Borders.  Elena will travel from her home in Paris to be a part of this exclusive advance screening and panel discussion.

 

tmaronickThomas Maronick, JD, DBA
Professor of Marketing
Towson University

Dr. Maronick is a Professor of Marketing in the College of Business and Economics at Towson University in Towson, Maryland.  He holds a BA in Philosophy from St. Thomas Seminary, an MBA from the University of Denver, and a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) from the University of Kentucky with a major in Marketing. It also includes a JD from the University of Baltimore, School of Law. Dr. Marnonick is also an inactive member of the Maryland Bar. At Towson University he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in strategic marketing and marketing research and has also taught graduate and executive development courses in marketing, consumer behavior, and marketing research at a number of universities in the Baltimore and Washington DC area. In addition to his role as professor, Dr. Maronick’s professional background includes serving as Director of the Office of Impact Evaluation in the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from 1980 – 1997 where he served as the in-house marketing expert for all divisions of the Bureau, advising attorneys and senior management on marketing aspects of cases being considered or undertaken by Commission attorneys. Dr. Maronick was also responsible for the evaluation of research submitted by firms being investigated by the Commission and for the design and implementation of all consumer research undertaken by the Bureau during that period. Since leaving the Commission in 1997, Dr. Maronick has served as an expert witness in marketing-related cases and has testified in Federal and State courts.  His areas of expertise include: marketing, deceptive advertising, public policy, research, and expert witness/litigation support.

 

Laura.Sproch.2015a_portraitLaura Sproch, PhD
Psychologist & Research Coordinator
The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Dr. Laura Sproch is a licensed clinical psychologist who serves as the Research Coordinator and outpatient individual, family, and group therapist at the Center for Eating Disorders. Currently, Dr. Sproch is initiating treatment outcome studies, managing quality improvement projects, and developing novel research projects in an effort to contribute to the field’s understanding of effective eating disorder treatment methods. Dr. Sproch received her Ph.D. in Clinical/School Psychology from Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY where she completed her dissertation examining cognitive similarities between differential eating disorder diagnoses. Dr. Sproch originally joined the CED team in 2011 as a postdoctoral fellow on the inpatient and partial hospitalization units acting as a family, individual, and group therapist. She has also worked with adolescents and adults struggling with disordered eating at a variety of levels of care, including at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, PA and ‘Ai Pono: The Anorexia and Bulimia Center of Hawaii in Honolulu, HI. Her professional interests also include cognitive behavioral therapy, family-based treatment, behavioral modification, and school psychology.

 

Panel Moderator:

Dr. Crawford headshot_portrait

Steven Crawford, M.D.
Co-Director
The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

In addition to his leadership role at The Center for Eating Disorders, Dr. Steven Crawford serves as Assistant Chief of Psychiatry at St. Joseph Medical Center, University of Maryland and as an Associate Professor at The University of Maryland where he helps to train medical students on effective screening and care for individuals with eating disorders. As an extension of this commitment to professional training, Dr. Crawford also serves as Director for Eating Disorders fellowship at The Center for Eating Disorders. He is Past President of the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Chair for the Committee on Scientific Activity for MedChi.  Dr. Crawford has participated in numerous research studies including NIMH federally funded research for an international collaborative study on the genetics of Anorexia Nervosa as well as the Family Therapy Treatment of Adolescents with Anorexia Nervosa. His numerous publications include the chapter on Eating Disorders and Substance Use Disorders for the fifth edition of Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook. After more than 25 years of specializing in the field of eating disorder treatment, Dr. Crawford has become a trusted resource for his patients, colleagues and the community.

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Questions about the panel or the event?  Call (410) 427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org