Dear Zoe, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated the article you wrote for voice. It takes an enormous amount of courage to publicly attach your name to anorexia, a disease that is so normalized on this campus (and all over the country) and so often trivialized (and, so often denied). I transferred to Scripps from Boston College largely because I had developed an eating disorder while there. It wasn't until my third semester that I finally realized how terrible a condition I was in, both physically and mentally. I ended up leaving BC, coming home and spending a large amount of time in therapy, which, in hindsight, was actually one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I had hoped that in coming to a women's college especially, the environment with respect to weight and body image would be somewhat different. This is not to say that the environment at BC led me to develop an eating disorder, because there were a gazillion factors involved in that, but it seems that eating disorders and disordered eating persist no matter where one goes.
What I find most difficult about Scripps women is their willingness to speak out on how terrible eating disorders are, how we should all appreciate our own bodies, how we should grant ourselves permission to enjoy food because we deserve to nourish our bodies—and yet these same women engage in disordered eating and constant exercising. I have shared my experience and the extensive knowledge I have gained in therapy about food, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc., with many of my friends. While they are incredibly supportive at the time and agree with almost everything I have to say, these same women clearly struggle in their relationships with their bodies and food. I hardly believe that it's possible to have a completely healthy relationship with one's body all of the time, so I certainly don't blame these women for struggling to reconcile their bodies with the images our culture constantly thrusts in our direction. I am at least willing to admit that I struggle sometimes. Many women are completely closed off to the idea that they themselves could have any semblance of disordered eating at all. They are all talk, and seem blind to their own habits. Unable to see themselves from an outside perspective, they deny that they struggle at all.
The problem is that we don't talk about our struggles openly. Sitting at the dining hall with my friends, disordered eating is the elephant in the room. We see it in each other (and perhaps, for some, in ourselves), but no one says anything. I have one particular friend with whom I would love to discuss disordered eating habits, but I know how unlikely she is to respond receptively. Everybody knows, and no one talks about it. And if they do talk about it, it's from a distant, that-isn't-me perspective. The result is covert competition with one another, a constant measuring of others' eating and exercise habits against our own.
Scripps women need to break the silence surrounding disordered eating and eating disorders. We need to cultivate an environment in which we can talk to one another about what we see in others and particularly about what we see in ourselves. Thank you so much for starting the discussion—I know how much courage it takes to talk about your own personal struggles with your body and it inspires me to speak out as well.
Alicia Jovais (‘09)
The irony of the situation is almost too much to bear. Here we are, a college full of bright, engaged women, who have chosen to attend a women's college for the empowering benefits we know it will offer us, and yet, looking around the gym, the pool or the dining hall, it is clear that many of us are struggling with some form of disordered eating. Maybe it's the highly competitive nature of Scripps that pushes so many women into trying to control their bodies, shaping them into the "perfect" form. Maybe it's the media pressures and glossy photos of starlets that we know are fake but we still strive to mimic, but it is undeniable that there are larger forces at work. Perusing our assigned feminist readings, we know that what we are engaging in is not only harmful to ourselves, but to all women. As we attempt to conform to the beauty image we are simultaneously aware of our subversive act, and yet, something compels us forward, thinking that the next five pounds will somehow validate our efforts. And while it is tragic that so many Scripps women feel the need to comply with these unobtainable, photo-shopped versions of perfection, it is hard to imagine the millions of other women struggling with these issues who do not have the same understanding of body image and feminist issues that we do. If here in this intelligent, informed, feminist environment, we are engaging in these acts of female subversion, the problem outside our cloistered campus must be much worse, for we know better, and still we persist. How can we leave Scripps, alumnae of a women's college, having the knowledge and power to be role models for other women, when we are consumed by the most controlling aspect of our patriarchal society?
Margo Parks (‘09)