Note: A version of this post published in the Huffington Post on 9/26/12: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-armstrong/bulimia_b_1914788.html
In the past week, Katie Couric spoke about her past battle with bulimia in an interview with young star and current center of the eating disorder conversation, Demi Lovato, and Lady Gaga has engaged conversation about her struggle with anorexia and bulimia after being targeted by paparazzi weight hate.
Because I care about the swimming world, I know that Olympic hopeful Dagny Knutson pulled out of the running this year because of the toll bulimia had taken in her life. In doing so, she joined the ranks of swimming stars Dara Torres and Amanda Beard who have both come out about their battles, too.
Seeing these headlines in the news got me thinking about who else – Princess Diana, Paula Abdul – so I Googled “famous bulimics” to find this very long list (check it out, I bet you’ll be surprised): http://edreferral.com/Celebrities_who_died_or_have_Eating_Disorders.htm.
I was shocked at just how many of our favorite starlets (and stars) were included there, and those are the ones who have spoken out. Then think about your own world – have you had family members or friends who have been silent sufferers or have you suffered silently, too? We know there’s a problem. Whether you want to face it or not, eating disorders are pervasive.
But this all got me thinking: What the heck is going on??
So many people suffering alone – fear overcoming the need to speak out. Little girls are strangled in silence. I believe there is more we can – and must do.
When working with a group of teens recently, I was both inspired and quietly alarmed. As we talked, a conversation about the challenges they were facing unearthed between them – from parents fighting cancer to their own insecurities, to dealing with negativity and drama around them.
Their solution was strength – they would need to be strong. And, what did “strength” mean to them? All gave answers that circled around a strong girl being one who always smiled, never let negativity bother her, and helped support others.
The innocence and beauty in a young girl can light up a family in turmoil, a sick parent, or fighting friends. Girls can light up a country, as young Amanda Beard did when she carried her teddy bear to the starting blocks in her first Olympics at 14 and our beloved Team USA gymnasts do, and did especially this year.
Can we protect our girls more? And how can we get underneath them as support so they don’t feel like the weight of their worlds relies on their smiles. Can we give them the space to be WHOLE girls with feelings, flaws, and failures, or will we continue to idolize the sweet little princess who can and must do it all?
There is pain hiding behind perfection that needs to be let out. Abusing food does help to placate; but these girls – these people – need compassionate guides to come alongside and let them know that even the painful parts are lovable more than anything else. They need to know that their worth does not come in their perfection, and that their smile is not meant to stand guard between the struggles of the world and their precious hearts.