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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It’s Diet Season: Are You Prepared?

girl with unbrella

Diet season is officially upon us.
Weight loss companies are well aware that millions of Americans are actively making New Year’s resolutions. Armed with teams of marketers and millions of dollars, they’ve spent the last twelve months crafting their year-end advertising.  And year after year they are wildly successful, at least in terms of revenue. According to this report, global weight loss markets were expected to be worth $586.3 billion in 2014. The U.S. is the largest contributor to that figure and was projected to reach $310 billion last year.

Yes, the weight loss industry has been preparing for an entire year. But, you can be prepared too. The first step is anticipating the messages that you will be bombarded with so you’re not caught off guard. Here are just a few of the diet industry’s strategies you are sure to encounter in the new year:

  • They will make a lot of promises for a “better” you, a “more successful” you, a “happier” you, but most emphatically, a “thinner” you. They will use those terms interchangeably to try to convince you that you cannot be better, happier or more successful without weight loss. You can.
  • They will pay celebrities enormous amounts of money to endorse what they are selling. Average salaries for celebrity weight-loss endorsers range from $500,000 to $3 million via ABC News.
  • They will tell you this time will be different.
  • They will make faulty connections between weight and health.
  • They will use scare tactics and personal stories to appeal to your emotions.
  • They will use before and after pictures that may or may not be the same person, are often retouched and photoshopped, or might just be stock images of someone who never used their product.
  • They will try to convince you that your body cannot be trusted to do one of it’s most basic jobs.  They will insist you need to pay them money to rely on external rules or charts for when and how much to eat.
  • They will ignore the natural and healthy diversity of bodies by telling you everyone can be thin if they work hard enough. This also happens to be one of the four toxic myths that promote most body image and weight concerns. This cycle works very well for diet companies because the more concerned people are with their bodies, the more likely they are to engage in weight control behaviors. In other words, it is in their best interest to keep you dissatisfied with your body so that you keep buying their product and it keeps being ineffective.
  • They will share short-term statistics from studies funded by their own investors to show how well their diet plan works for the first 3-6 months. They will not respond to requests for independent, long-term outcome studies.
  • They may tell you their product is “not a diet but a lifestyle”.
  • They will tell you your health is at risk. They will not tell you about studies like this which found the risk of mortality was higher among people in the underweight category than it was for those in the overweight category OR like this one which showed increased health behaviors led to improved health markers even in the absence of weight loss.
  • They may even include the phrase “results not typical” in fine print at the very bottom of their full page ad or in speedy verbal disclaimers at the end of a commercial.
  • It is only January yet still, they will tell you that summer is just around the corner and then attempt to make the case that your body is not “ready” for the beach. Spoiler Alert: If you have a body and you have the chance to go to a beach, then you are ready.
  • Are we missing anything? Can you think of other trends or predictable marketing slogans used by the diet industry to try to sell their products? You can add to the list on our Facebook page.

Why is it important to be prepared?
The National Eating Disorder Association reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting, and 20-25% of those individuals will develop eating disorders. This is not because eating disorders are simply “diets gone too far” but because diets trigger biological, emotional and mental shifts in the way you process food and information about that food. It is well established that diets can…

  • Dysregulate and weaken your body’s natural cues for hunger and fullness.
  • Trigger obsessive thoughts about food and weight
  • Cause intense cravings for off-limit foods
  • Create anxiety about certain types of food and in response to specific situations involving food such as eating with other people or in public places when the diet-safe food is unavailable.
  • Establish a pattern of failure, low self-esteem and distrust of one’s body
  • Assign moral judgment to foods
  • Develop a system in which exercise is used as a form of punishment instead of a fun or social activity

Clinging to the diet mentality or getting caught up in weight cycling is futile, not to mention potentially harmful to your health and your wallet. For individuals at risk for eating disorders, or for those in recovery, these dieting side effects can be even more dangerous and may create risk for relapse. This year, don’t let the diet season bring you down. Be prepared to stand up against diet pressures by knowing exactly what to expect.  If you find yourself getting overwhelmed or tempted by the ads this season, print out the list above and try checking off all of the marketing tactics you notice.  Then choose to move towards nourishment, self-care and non-judgment by inviting a body-positive friend to lunch, scheduling a massage, setting the table for a mindful eating experience or reaching out for extra support from a treatment provider.

Other Helpful Resources:

  1. Mindful Eating on Campus: Parts 1 & 2
  2. The Resolution Solution
  3. A Message for People Considering Their Next Diet (pdf) from Linda Bacon, PhD
  4. Ringing in the New Year in a New Way
  5. What is Intuitive Eating?
  6. www.eatingdisorder.org

Join CED on Facebook for body image inspiration and recovery support.

*Above image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and a454

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.

Photoshop Does Not Cause Eating Disorders – Media & Body Image

Media Literacy Infographic

Click to View (pdf)


National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
(Feb. 23 – March 1, 2014)

Did you know that photoshopped bodies and the unrealistic beauty ideals set forth by the media DO NOT cause eating disorders?  While these unfortunate elements of our society CAN contribute to widespread negative body image and promote an internalization of the “thin ideal”, they cannot be blamed outright for the development of the serious and complex illnesses such as anorexia, bulimia,  binge eating disorder and EDNOS or OSFED.

When it comes to Eating Disorders there are actually a variety of contributing factors, of which the strongest are likely to be genetics and biology. In fact, research suggests 50-80% of a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder is due to genetics which includes factors associated with heritable personality traits such as perfectionism.

That being said, some studies have documented a link between exposure to westernized, thin-ideal media and an increase in eating disorder behaviors.   So while Photoshop may not cause eating disorders outright, the bottom line is that we all stand to benefit from more positive and realistic bodies in the media.  After all, individuals who feel better about their bodies take better care of them, regardless of weight, shape or size. Plus, positive body image and media literacy CAN serve as protective factors against disordered eating which is one reason why The Center for Eating Disorders supports projects like the Love Your Tree Campaign and The Illusionists documentary.

The infographic above from the National Eating Disorders Association breaks down some of the important elements of the media’s effects on body image. Click on the image to open and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Read more about the etiology of eating disorders here: Underlying Causes and Contributing Factors

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Integrating Art & Body Image in the 8th Annual Love Your Tree Campaign

The President’s Committee on Arts & Humanities released a report in 2011 entitled Reinvesting in Arts Education. The report included a long list of evidence to support the benefits of integrating art throughout various disciplines in schools by “teaching ‘through’ and ‘with’ the arts”.  These benefits included fewer discipline problems, increased graduation rates, and improved test scores.  Even more interesting, using artistic mediums to teach, led to more interest in the subject matter, increased motivation to learn the topic at hand, and even the “advantage of embedding knowledge in long-term memory”.  Simply put, art not only makes things more fun and enjoyable to learn, it helps the brain to convert information in deeper, more meaningful ways that we remember longer.

While the President’s report encourages schools to use these benefits to improve learning in subject areas such as science, math and language arts, there are great  implications for learning other things – like positive body image and media literacy.  These are the goals of The Center for Eating Disorders’ Love Your Tree Campaign.  Now in its 8th year, Love Your Tree is arts-based campaign open to middle school, high school and college-aged youth, many of whom subscribe very strongly to our culture’s “thin ideal”.

“Thin-ideal internalization refers to the extent to which an individual cognitively “buys into” socially defined ideals of attractiveness and engages in behaviors designed to produce an approximation of these ideals.” (source)

Love Your Tree utilizes the creative poster-making process, media literacy skills and cognitive dissonance theory to help students internalize new ideals that support body diversity and self-acceptance.  Based on the President’s Report, using art as the educational tool helps to convey this knowledge in an effective, enjoyable way.  It also means that positive changes in body image that take place throughout participation in the campaign are more likely to be long-lasting.  Why is this important?  A positive body image is associated with higher levels of self-esteem overall and can serve as a protective factor against the development of eating disorders.

The 8th Annual Love Your Tree (LYT) campaign launches officially on July 12th.  Visit the LYT website to find out how your school or community organization can get involved and schedule a Love Your Tree workshop.

Questions?  Call (410) 427-3886

*Love Your Tree posters from past years will be on display in a traveling exhibit on August 25th through September 2nd, 2013 at The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, MD.  We invite you to stop by to view the artwork and get more information about the campaign.

 

 

 

 

The 7th annual Love Your Tree campaign ~ Promoting positive body image and self-acceptance through art

“Like a tree, my body is ENDURING.”

2012 Artwork by Meghan Cain, Notre Dame Preparatory School

WHAT is Love Your Tree?

Love Your Tree is an arts-based body image campaign based on the work of author and activist, Eve Ensler.  Ensler’s award winning play, The Good Body sends a message to stop hating our bodies and encourages us all to challenge society’s narrow definition of beauty. The Love Your Tree program was created seven years ago as a creative avenue for this important message to reach young people in schools and organizations throughout our state and beyond. Middle school, high school and college students from across Maryland are invited to create and submit original posters that illustrate their positive response to the phrase, “Like a tree, my body is…”. This campaign provides students with an opportunity to use art as an avenue for learning about and expressing messages of self-acceptance and appreciation for body diversity.  Center for Eating Disorders staff are available to provide free, on-site Love Your Tree workshops for schools and youth organizations wanting to take part in the campaign.

WHEN:

Love Your Tree workshops are offered to schools, clubs, and youth organizations August through December of 2012.  Call (410) 427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org to schedule.  Poster entries must be submitted by December 14th, 2012.

August 9-12, 2012 : Join us for a community Love Your Tree exhibit to highlight the campaign at The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, Maryland…read more here.

WHO:

Middle School, High School and College-age students throughout Maryland can participate.  One poster per person.  Educators, counselors, youth leaders and parents are encouraged to help facilitate participation in the campaign.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED:

Schedule a workshop and/or download the following documents for details on how to submit a poster:

  • 2012 Call-for-Posters (pdf)
  • Student Artwork Registration Form (pdf) – must be handed in with artwork
  • All artwork MUST reflect original student ideas and designs.
  • Poster entries must be no smaller than 9″x12″ and no larger than 12″x18″.  Only two- dimensional media will be accepted. Please be sure your name is on the registration for and the artwork itself.
  • For more information, contact the CED Outreach Department at (410) 427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org.

MORE INFO:

The campaign will culminate in February 2013 with a special recognition ceremony and a public exhibit of student artwork.  Students will receive awards for their artwork and one poster will be chosen for professional reproduction and promotion of the Love Your Tree message.  You can check out photos of past exhibits and receptions  on our Facebook page.

The campaign’s central theme, Love Your Body, Love Your Tree encourages self-awareness, media literacy, health and well-being, advocacy and an appreciation for the diversity of beauty.

Body Image Friend or Foe? How is Facebook affecting the way you feel about your Body?


Over the last year, major social networking and blog sites have taken steps to protect users from  dangerous Pro-ana and Pro-mia communities online.  These are sites that promote eating disorders as a way of life, instead of a genuine mental illness, and create an atmosphere that normalizes and encourages extremely dangerous weight-loss behaviors.  Most recently the popular photo sharing site, Pinterestupdated their policies regarding inappropriate content to include Pinners and boards that feature “thinspo” or “thinspiration” – images of dangerously thin bodies meant to motivate or inspire users to pursue greater weight loss.   While banning this content won’t cure eating disorders, it can certainly help to protect vulnerable individuals from tapping into these dangerous websites.

Though somewhat hidden in “underground” niches across the web, the dangers of online pro-eating disorder sites have been well-documented, and we commend Pinterest, Facebook, and Tumblr for taking a stand to protect their users from these sites.  But perhaps more unsuspecting in their effects, are mainstream social network communities: general sites like Facebook that we all use everyday to keep in touch with friends and family across the world, to post pictures of our kids and pets, to share birthday wishes or follow favorite organizations.

Have you ever thought about how Facebook use is affecting your relationship with your body?

Recently, The Center for Eating Disorders commissioned a public survey of Facebook users age 16-40 and found that, for most Facebook users, the answer to this questions is actually quite concerning.  In response to the survey we found:

  • 51% of respondents said that seeing photos of themselves on Facebook makes them more conscious about their own body and their weight
  • 32% said they feel SAD when comparing Facebook photos of themselves to their friends’
  • 44% spend time wishing they had the same body or weight as a friend when looking at photos on Facebook
  • 37% said they feel that they need to change specific parts of their body when comparing their bodies to a friend’s body in Facebook photos

Now consider that 80% of the respondents in our survey reported that they log on to Facebook at least once a day and more than half of them log on several times each day.   Thus, we see the set-up  for a daily stream of negative body image thoughts which could potentially impact one’s self-esteem.

Recent articles on CNN.com and NYTimes.com have drawn attention to the heightened role that online social networks play in adolescents’ relationship with their bodies, specifically with regards to the sexualization of teens’ online photos.  Most recently, the self-esteem website Proud2BMe.org  featured a collection of sobering quotes  from real teens regarding their body image and Facebook use, a few of which are excerpted below:

“People get positive attention in the world by losing weight. And you can do it to an even greater extent on Facebook.”-Anika, 18

“It’s only the ‘standard beauty’ who gets the ‘likes’ I feel like to be the hot girl, you have to be like that, or wear your shirt too low and your skirt too high.” -Kirby, 18

“When looking at images of girls in a magazine almost all us know that they are altered electronically to appear perfect. When it comes to social media such as Facebook, most believe that they are looking at raw pictures, or ‘real girls.’ Whether this is true or not, they are ultimately used as a standard of comparison.    -Mary

What may be even more sobering is the reality that this mindset is not unique to adolescents. Survey results indicate that this is not just a phase we pass through or something teens will necessarily grow out of.   Respondents included adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s confirming that they experience similar patterns of body negativity and weight obsession when using Facebook.

Body negativity on Facebook is not to be considered just a women’s issue either.  In this survey commissioned by CED, 40% of the male respondents agreed that they sometimes write negative comments about their own body in photos posted on Facebook (whereas 21% of females agree to doing so).

What do we gain from publicly, or privately, criticizing our bodies and constantly comparing our bodies to one another?  Does anyone really benefit from congratulating or praising people when they post about weight loss or diets in their Facebook updates?  Weight obsession and body shaming certainly isn’t new, but online social networks are creating a new frontier that seems to be publicizing our body insecurities while magnifying society’s love affair with diets and weight loss. CED’s associate director Dr. Steven Crawford had this to say in response to the survey results:

As people spend more time thinking about what’s wrong with their bodies, less time is spent on the positive realm and engaging in life in meaningful and fulfilling ways.  When people become more concerned with the image they project online and less concerned with holistic markers of health in real life, their body image may suffer and they may even turn, or return, to harmful fad diets or dangerous weight-control behaviors. We hope the results of this survey encourage people to really look at how their online behavior affects their outlook, and we caution them against being overly critical of their own bodies or other people’s bodies while on Facebook and other social networking sites.

Consider reflecting on your own Facebook use and how it could possibly be affecting your relationship with your body.   We suggest asking yourself the following questions to discern whether certain online behaviors or patterns are harming your self-esteem or body image:

  • How often do you publicly or privately criticize your own body while online?
  • How much time do you spend comparing your body to other people’s bodies online?
  • What percentage of your status updates focus on weight, diets or exercise?
  • Do your comments on other people’s photos regularly focus on weight or appearance in a negative or positive way?
  • How do you feel when you look through friends’ online albums? Do you ever get overwhelmed by this?

It’s important to remember that Facebook, and social networking in general, is a wonderful way to stay in touch with and connect to other people and organizations.  Facebook certainly doesn’t cause negative body image in and of itself.  It does however, provide lots of fuel for the weight-obsession and body criticisms that already burn out of control in our larger culture.  This can be particularly worrisome for individuals who already struggle with severe negative body image or eating disorders.  During a recent interview with ABC-2 News regarding the survey results, CED Director, Dr. Harry Brandt added that,

Facebook may be another step in our culture that promotes self-consciousness about appearance and feelings of low self-worth around [the] body, and those are significant factors in the proliferation of eating disorders.

If you find that you’re using Facebook as an outlet for feeling badly about your body, comparing yourself to others physically, or hyperfocusing on appearance and weight in your posts, it may be time to renovate your page.  Check out these follow-up posts:

Do you have suggestions? Want to share about you own experience?  Join the conversation, and start the movement towards online body positivity on our Facebook page.

You can findmore information about The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt on our website, www.EatingDisorder.org

When Someone You Love Has an Eating Disorder

CED LeafThis is a special blog in advance National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb 26th – March 3rd) and an upcoming free workshop, When Your Loved One has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery. You can find details about all of our upcoming NEDAWeek events at the end of the post.

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Guilt.  Shame.  Frustration.  Sadness.  Fear.  Anger.  These are just some of the emotions commonly experienced and expressed by support people when someone they love is struggling with an eating disorder (ED).  While each family experiences an ED, and the recovery process, in a unique way, there can be some commonalities that are important to talk about. Attending support groups, information sessions, and community workshops facilitated by treatment professionals are all great ways for support people to gain understanding and insight into the difficult journey their loved one is on.  It’s also a great way for family and friends to get feedback and support around their own feelings while they help their loved one navigate their way back to health.   A few of the most common struggles faced by family members are discussed below.    

Often times, parents and caregivers feel guilty and express concern that they may be to blame for their loved one’s eating disorder.

It can be terrifying for caregivers to find out that their loved one has an ED, especially as they begin to understand the level of suffering that comes with that.  A common reaction among parents is self-blame or intense guilt over the possibility that they may have contributed to their daughter’s or son’s illness.  This guilt can understandably create resistance or defensiveness and can be paralyzing for loved ones in the treatment process.  As long as the focus remains on “It’s all my fault.” it can be difficult to move towards “How can we as a family work together to support our loved one’s recovery?” 

While these illnesses have a complex combination of contributing factors, research has found them to be highly heritable, meaning 50-80% of one’s risk for developing an ED is dependent upon genetic factors. It’s important for families to receive reassurance that they are not to blame for their loved one’s illness while understanding that there are important ways they can help in the recovery process.  In fact, evidence-based treatment of EDs suggests educating family members and involving them in the treatment process greatly improves outcomes.  By identifying ways in which the ED has affected the family functioning and discussing dynamics that may be maintaining some of the person’s symptoms, families can work together towards improved communication, positive interactions and healing that extends far beyond the eating disorder.

Support people often feel anxious or frustrated about what to say vs. what not to say to a loved one with an eating disorder.  This can lead to fear that they are making their loved one worse because they don’t know how to respond in difficult situations involving food or body image.  Support people report that they often feel that they are “walking on eggshells” around their friend or family member with the eating disorder.

One of the most common examples of this dilemma occurs during the recovery process when support people may say something like “You look so much healthier,” but it is interpreted as “You look fat”.  Anyone who has been through an ED will tell you that they often feel irritable, and so much of their energy and time is spent thinking about weight and food that most comments people make about their appearance will automatically be construed in a negative way, even when they come from a place of care and concern.  Alternative comments that may be easier for your loved one to hear as they recover might be, “I’ve noticed you have a lot more energy lately” or “It is so nice to see you smiling today.”  One of the most helpful things support people can do is to communicate with their loved one by asking for a specific list of things that they can say or do that would be helpful to them when they are struggling.  Examples of things that are triggering or are not helpful to recovery could be useful as well.  Keep in mind that these lists may change at various points in the recovery process; communicate and revise often.

Also important to note: supporting someone through recovery from an ED is uniquely difficult compared to some other illnesses because of the cultural environment we live in.  Our society encourages and applauds hyper vigilance around weight, food and perfection yet recovery from an ED involves giving up some level of control over all three of those things.  Learning to filter unhelpful information and help your loved one resist damaging cultural messages about weight/food can feel like an uphill battle.  However, it does get easier with continued education about media literacy and guidance from therapists and registered dietitians who specialize in treating individuals with EDs.    

Support people are often so worried about the individual with the eating disorder that they focus 100% their energy on their loved one’s safety and recovery.   It becomes very easy to forget to seek their own support, neglect to keep up with their own self-care or let other personal priorities fall to the wayside. This can lead to mounting  feelings of exhaustion, depression or hopelessness.

Helping a loved one through the process of recovery from an ED can feel all-encompassing, especially when it’s your child or a spouse.   It often must become the family’s priority to get them back to a place of safety and stability, both physically and mentally.  However, support people can only offer stable, strong support when they are caring for themselves and staying stable, strong and rested themselves.  It’s important for caregivers to stay connected to their own friends, to seek out their own support and to set aside time to replenish themselves emotionally.  It could be as simple as sending a quick email to a friend every night before bed or scheduling a day trip to a favorite place. Whatever it is, remember the advice you get when you fly…you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can effectively help those around you.

The truth is recovery can be a challenging process for all involved.  Even as progress is made, there are often set-backs or plateaus that can be confusing and frustrating .   Can you relate to the experiences discussed above?  Did you encounter other difficulties and roadblocks while learning to support a loved one in recovery?  Leave us a comment below or join in the discussion on our Facebook page.

At the Center for Eating Disorders, we recognize that there is a special need for education and support for the supporters themselves.  When Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery is a FREE workshop designed to help family members and friends receive specialized education about EDs and their treatment, as well as insight into various care giving tools that can help facilitate the recovery process. Check out the details below, and don’t forget to RSVP by calling (410) 427-3886.

MARCH 1st, 2012  ~ When Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery [download the event flyer]7:00 – 8:30 pm in  Baltimore, MD

 

 

Visit our Events Page for a full listing of upcoming events, including our NEDAWeek kick-off event, Invisible Victory: An Athlete’s Story of Hope & Triumph in Eating Disorder Recovery.

 

Invisible Victory

 

 

 www.eatingdisorder.org

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.

The 6th annual “Love Your Tree” Poster Campaign

Love Your Tree

Merging positive body image & creative arts in schools and on campuses across Maryland

July 15 – December 16, 2011

WHAT is Love Your Tree?

Love Your Tree is an arts-based body image campaign based on the work of author and activist, Eve Ensler.  Ensler’s award winning play, The Good Body sends a message to stop hating our bodies and encourages us all to challenge society’s narrow definition of beauty. The Love Your Tree program was created six years ago as a creative avenue for this important message to reach young people in schools and organizations throughout our state and beyond. Middle school, high school and college students from across Maryland are invited to create and submit original posters that illustrate their positive response to the phrase, “Like a tree, my body is…”. This campaign provides students with an opportunity to use art as an avenue for learning about and expressing messages of self-acceptance and appreciation for body diversity.  Center for Eating Disorders staff are available to provide free, on-site Love Your Tree workshops for schools and youth organizations wanting to take part in the campaign.

WHEN:

Love Your Tree workshops are offered August through December of 2011.  Call (410) 427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org to schedule.  Poster entries must be submitted by December 16th, 2011.

WHO:

Middle School, High School and College-age students throughout Maryland can participate in groups, classes, organizations, or as individuals.  One poster per person.  Educators, counselors, youth leaders and parents are encouraged to help facilitate participation in the campaign.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED:

Schedule a workshop and/or download the following documents for details on how to submit a poster:

  • 2011 Call-for-Posters (pdf)
  • Student Artwork Registration Form (pdf)
  • All artwork MUST reflect original student ideas and designs.
  • Poster entries must be no smaller than 9″x12″ and no larger than 12″x18″.  Only two- dimensional media will be accepted.
  • For more information, contact the CED Outreach Department at (410) 427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org.

MORE INFO:

The campaign will culminate in February 2012 with a special recognition ceremony and a public exhibit of student artwork.  Students will receive awards for their artwork and one poster will be chosen for professional reproduction and promotion of the Love Your Tree message.  You can check out photos of the 2010 poster exhibit and reception here on our Facebook page.

The campaign’s central theme, Love Your Body, Love Your Tree encourages self-awareness, media literacy, health and well-being, advocacy and an appreciation for the diversity of beauty.