Finding comfort in your own skin

By APRIL DIODATO

OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor

A week geared toward finding freedom from limitations and learning to love oneself begins today.

A group of SUNY Fredonia students is leading an initiative to help everyone feel more comfortable in their own skin. The Delta Phi Epsilon sorority is launching Eating Disorders Awareness Week on campus, starting today and ending on Sunday, March 3.

“We really just wanted to do more,” said Jenny Capitano, vice president of programming for the sorority and a SUNY Fredonia senior. “Too many of our sisters have suffered from eating disorders and negative body images. It is time to make a change.”

The sorority is holding a week of fundraisers and educational events to raise awareness about eating disorders and to promote positive body image. All proceeds collected during the week will be donated to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and alleviation of eating disorders. All students and community members are welcome to participate.

A candlelight vigil “to help bring eating disorders out of the dark” has been a longtime annual tradition for the sorority, which was chartered at SUNY Fredonia in 1985. This is the first year Eating Disorders Awareness Week is being held on campus.

“I saw there was a need for it,” Capitano said. “A lot of people deal with these struggles … I thought it was something we could do to benefit everyone.”

According to the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. The American Journal of Psychiatry reported that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder.

Throughout Eating Disorders Awareness Week, the sisters will be providing education on eating disorders and the importance of having a healthy body image. The sorority is inviting all to add a note about what makes them beautiful to a large poster that will hang in the lobby of McEwen Hall.

Delta Phi Epsilon will be holding a can and bottle collection in all of the residence halls on the SUNY Fredonia campus. There will be a free aerobics class to promote staying fit in a healthy way, held in the lobby of Alumni Hall on Tuesday at 7 p.m. This will be taught by Michaela Maselli, a sister of Delta Phi Epsilon.

The week will culminate in a candlelight vigil and a presentation on Thursday at 7 p.m. in McEwen Hall, Room G26. Dr. Tracy Marafiote will speak on body image and anyone in attendance will be invited to take the ANAD pledge. There will be a $1 donation collected at the door.

“The ‘ideal’ body we commonly see in the media (including the fashion industry) represents an extremely narrow range of actual body types, shapes and sizes,” said Marafiote, a professor in the SUNY Fredonia Department of Communication.

Marafiote explained that the people seen onscreen, online or on the pages of any publication are not representative of normal American bodies. The National Eating Disorders Association says that the average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds; the average American model is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds.

“Even those images are nearly always smoothed, thinned, and highlighted in Photoshop,” Marafiote said. “In short, the bodies we typically see have, literally, no flaws. It’s no wonder, then, that most women (and many men) report extreme dissatisfaction with their appearance, which frequently begins in pre-adolescence and can continue into old age. The goal of my presentation is to draw attention to the reality behind this perfectionistic mirage so we can all be more mindful – and somewhat more skeptical – consumers of these manipulated images.”

The event in Fredonia coincides with ANAD’s national Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The theme for 2013 is “Freedom to…” During this week, ANAD is encouraging all to eschew limitations on their worth, value and integrity. The organization is “challenging everyone to give themselves the ‘freedom to…'” This may be the freedom to stop critiquing appearance and body shape, the freedom to focus on health and wellness instead of weight, the freedom to exercise for fun and not by compulsion. According to anad.org, “Our challenge for everyone is to define what freedom would mean for you and the steps that you will need to take to get there. If you are not struggling with an eating disorder, you may still suffer from body image anxiety or concerns over eating that still hamper you from being free.”

“We want to put a focus not just on the disease itself but having everybody become instilled with a positive body image,” explained Donna Rostamian, community organizational manager at ANAD, based in Naperville, Ill. “When a lot of people think of eating disorders, they think of just anorexia, one extreme or another.”

There are many other afflictions which fall within a wide spectrum, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, cachexia and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). The EDNOS category is for people who do not meet the strict criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa, but who have significant concerns about eating and body image.

ANAD was founded in 1976 by an Illinois nurse, Vivian Hanson Meehan, who struggled to find resources for her daughter who suffered from anorexia nervosa. She was advised that the condition was so rare, her quest to find help would be fruitless. She placed a classified ad in her local newspaper attempting to find others affected by eating disorders and received eight replies. Thousands of phone calls and letters began pouring in when Meehan’s story was picked up by a national magazine. She started the first helpline and referral service in the nation, holding a small support group in her home. There are now more than 200 support groups through ANAD across the country. In Western New York, there is an ANAD support group in Amherst that meets on Sundays. (Some local groups unaffiliated with ANAD but geared toward individuals with eating disorders, such as Overeaters Anonymous in Dunkirk, can be found in the OBSERVER’s Community Calendar).

For more information about Eating Disorders Awareness Week, contact Capitano at 512-5000 or capi5092@fredonia.edu. To learn more about eating disorders and ANAD, visit anad.org.

Send comments on this story to adiodato@observertoday.com