What the heck is going on?

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.

I felt like I had fallen into the middle of Rachel Simmon’s The Curse of the Good Girl or Steven Hinshaw’s The Triple Bind.  These girls were holding their worlds up on their smiles.

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.

[Photo Credit]



  1. Toni Smith on October 3, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Does “not too thin and not too heavy” imply yet another perfection goal – that of being the perfect middle-size? I’m not too sure that gets to what is at the heart of this problem. Tying self image to body image, even the wonderfully middle image – is that just another form of looking at externals and judging/valuing ourselves and others by them? – Please discuss.

    • Stephanie on October 3, 2012 at 9:55 am

      Great question, Toni!

      I suggest that we focus on BEING HEALTHY, which may look different for different people at different times of their lives. Focus less on body size and more on the following:

      – Eating healthy, whole foods
      – Exercising regularly. Find ways to exercise that you enjoy! If you like swimming, swim. If you like talking to your friends and being out side, make regular walking dates (like I do!). If you like dancing, do that. Exercising out of obligation never lasts long.
      – Keeping healthy, accepting, and uplifting friendships and relationships. Always be aware of the relationships that drain and the relationships that sustain! Be proactive in choosing with whom you spend your time.
      – Character counts. If you are a good person, you will be happier and healthier.

      I believe that health starts with a healthy heart. When we are nourishing our hearts with the love we really need – from relationship with God, through connection with others, through serving, by using our gifts – we are healthy and the too big, too small conversation becomes less relevant.

      I may need to write a whole blog on this! Thanks for the great question. Let me know if you have others.

      With heart,

  2. Rachel on September 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Great post, Steph! Ally and I discuss positive self body image a lot!! :)) Not too thin and not too heavy… just right. :)) She knows neither extreme is healthy. Love you and your amazing quest to help others in life. You are BEAUTIFUL inside and out. xx

    • Stephanie on September 26, 2012 at 7:31 am

      Thank you, Rachel! Open lines of communication on all issues support healthy development. Grateful to know both you and Ally. Keep it up!

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