NEDAW speak out opens discussion on body image

By Shannon O'Brien '15

On the evening of Monday, Feb. 24, students formed a powerful circle in the Sadove living room where they shared personal stories of struggle with and triumph over eating disorders. The speak out event, called “EveryBODY Has a Voice,” was held as a part of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW).

Schools across the country held speak outs during NEDAW, and Hamilton started hosting a speak out three years ago in 2011.  Since then,  Hamilton’s “EveryBODY Has a Voice” speak out has been an annual event that has continually grown in popularity. This year, over 30 people attended the speak out as either participants or listeners.

Many of the participants at Tuesday night’s speak out talked about the difficulty of facing eating disorders and body issues. Soozy Adelman ’14, who organized this year’s speak out, explained, “For many people, eating disorders are very private and secretive.”

While eating disorders are widely covered in high school health classes, they are rarely talked about outside of the classroom. “People rarely speak about them with some of their closest friends and family members,” said Adelman. “Yet, they cause people so much pain each day.”

Adelman’s sentiments were echoed by participants in the speak out, who discussed the shame and guilt that kept them from talking about their eating disorders with others.

However, the goal of the speak out was to allow people a safe space to talk about their past and current struggles. Adelman stressed, “It is important for people to express how they feel about their eating disorder as part of the healing and recovery process.” By hearing others tell their stories of hardship and recovery, or perhaps even continued struggle with body image and eating anxiety, people with similar insecurities were encouraged to speak out as well. In this way, the speak out provided a space for people to express feelings and articulate shared experiences in a sort of dialogue. “For some people still battling an eating disorder, a speak out can serve as a forum for them to begin feeling comfortable discussing and acknowledging their issue,” said Adelman, “and hopefully taking the next step to get help.”

Though the speak out promoted an open discussion of body image, social pressure and mental health among the College community, the possibility of continuing such a discussion outside of NEDAW remains a challenge. Eating disorders are still a stigmatized topic in society, meaning that people who suffer from them do not feel that they can easily talk about their struggles. Adelman argued that on a day-to-day basis, Hamilton does not foster a community that allows people to feel comfortable talking about body insecurities or eating disorders, stating, “If anything, I think Hamilton’s active culture sometimes intensifies or worsens people’s conditions.”

Adelman said that after NEDAW comes to a close, the committee is looking to begin a weekly student-run discussion group that would provide mutual support for people with eating disorders and continue to raise awareness about such issues. For now, NEDAW offers support through Peer Advocates, who have been trained to help students with eating disorders.

Students are also encouraged to go to the Counseling Center, the campus nutritionist or the Health Center for further help and support.


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