Speak Out gives voice to eating disorders

By Kaitlin McCabe '16

The stigma associated with eating disorders as a result of media misrepresentation and unrealistic definitions of beauty has had the devastating effect of causing those experiencing such illnesses to feel ashamed and alone. And so, Hamilton College’s National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has brought National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW) back to the Hill this February with a reminder that “EveryBODY has a voice.”

NEDAW, which  the College community has now observed for three years, was created to prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders through disseminating visual and statistical information.

The week’s programming included a screening of the groundbreaking documentary Miss Representation and the welcoming of guest speaker Maggie Bertram—who previously suffered from anorexia nervosa comorbidly with major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder—to Hamilton.

On top of these events, NEDA decided to include a way for students to talk and connect about their own experiences with eating disorders and body dysmorphia—a “Speak Out.”

While “Speak Out”s have been held in the past, Suzanne Adelman ’14 insists that they “had a very different vibe. The one two years ago was a smaller event in the Glen House and more of a discussion.”

This year, NEDA sought to bring students together in a larger group forum. According to Hannah Tessler ’14, co-president of the College’s branch of NEDA, the “Speak Out” was intended as a “safe space” for students to share their experiences or their loved ones’ experiences with eating disorders and body image—experiences that “[have] such a huge impact on our lives but that [are] rarely ever talked about.”

The Sadove Student Center Living Room, where the “Speak Out” was held, proved to be the safe haven of support that the members of NEDA hoped for. Students, both participants and listeners, formed a circle of trust with the Living Room’s couches and chairs, filling the entire room to full capacity.

As the event progressed, more and more students found within themselves the courage to share their extremely personal stories with the rest of the crowd. The “Speak Out” was both an inspiration for students to reveal their struggles with body image and an opportunity to “highlight the complexity of eating disorders” and “to show that eating disorders do not happen out of nowhere but rather are a product of many different individual and societal level factors,” said Tessler.
Hannah Fine ’15, an active member of NEDA, pointed out the ability of the “Speak Out” to help individuals discuss their experiences as a group of nonjudgmental listeners, many of whom has similar stories.

Fine explained, “Together, we opened up about our experiences with an issue that truly changes lives. It was the first step in confronting disordered eating, and beginning the conversation about how to change the way our society views beauty.”

Yet, as the statistics hung conspicuously around the Hamilton campus this week show, eating disorders and negative body image are issues that will not and cannot resolve during the days that we recognize NEDAW on the Hill. The prevalence of such struggles on a college campus is disconcertingly high and will continue to be so without proper treatment of these taboo subjects and the availability of resources and guidance for those suffering from them through the school community.

Those individuals who have suffered from an eating disorder and negative body image, or who know someone who has, understands the overwhelming feelings of isolation and despair that the illnesses create. NEDAW 2013, however, successfully articulates and emphasizes to the school community that their voices—their stories of self-loathing, depression and fear—will always be heard on the Hill.


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