What it takes for one girl to completely lose herself
Alice Mungyu ’19
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in America are affected by eating disorder regardless of their age, body size, race and economic class. Karlie Davis*, a student at Smith College is one of the twenty million.
“This illness takes over my mind, strength and will. It’s a battlefield every single day,” Davis said. For the first 18 years of her life, Davis questioned her body and appearance because the standard of beauty imposed by society made her lose sight of reality and her natural beauty.
Davis grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, with her mother, a successful lawyer. Her parents divorced when she was two years old and she spent weekends and summers with her father, an accountant, and a house full of half-siblings. When Davis was seven, her mother enrolled her in gymnastics, where she first experienced body insecurities.
“When I looked around me, my body was nowhere as slender like the other girls,” Davis said. “My thighs felt unusually large and my stomach would always fold forward. I remember eating less and feeling more self-conscious about my body.”
What started as a concern with her body image eventually morphed into an eating disorder at the age of 12. She began to obsessively count calories, measure food portions and weigh herself at least once a week.
“In the early stages of my eating disorder, I was in denial. My eating disorder convinced me that things will be better if I lose X amount of pounds. It was like my friend who I could always count on to be there to numb me from all my troubles. But in reality it wanted to kill me. That’s what eating disorders want to do. They want to kill you.”
At 12, Davis was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, the third most common illness among teen girls. Twenty-five percent of college age women report that they have binged and purged to lose weight. Her low food intake and inadequate nutrition eventually slowed her metabolism to conserve energy causing irregular menstruation, constipation and abdominal pain, irregular heart rhythms and low blood pressure, along with other health problems. Throughout high school, she lived on salad dressed with vinegar, rice cakes and sugar-free Jello.
“From the outside this might have looked like a diet gone wrong or an extreme level of vanity,” Davis said. “But this was definitely not the case. I lived in the clutches of a mental illness that controlled everything in my life.”
Cultural pressure played a big part in Davis’s eating disorder. She says that popular culture and media images often tie being thin to popularity, success, beauty and happiness. When Davis got older, the pressure to look “good” was greater than ever, and the eating disorder consumed her entirely. Social media such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram became her way of telling the world that she was in control of her body. Her online persona depicted the life of a thriving high school student, filled with friends, family and a love for sports.
“I like the validation of other people liking my pictures and my posts. I still constantly check back to see if the number of likes increased or if there was anyone complimenting me in the picture.”
The overuse of social media on a daily basis produced adverse effects on her mental health triggering low self-esteem and producing a false sense of connection. Through the process of dieting and stressing about her weight, Davis lost herself. She knew that she needed to take a step back to reevaluate her goals and her life before her illness will make her resentful towards the future.
“I have come to understand that I was engaging in a deceitful and unforgiving relationship with myself. I became a prisoner in my own skin,” Davis said. “I don’t have any wonderfully compelling reason why I wanted to get better but it was more of a what do I have to lose.”
In the summer of 2015, she started her treatment at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. Anorexia is difficult to overcome, but with treatment, Davis was able to restore her healthy weight and eating habits. Recovering is not impossible, but it does take commitment.
“The process was hell though,” Davis said. “Anorexic was already a part of me so changing old habits and instilling better ones takes a good deal of practice and time.” During her time recovering, she noticed that there is not enough awareness about eating disorders and the effects.
“Even people who don’t appear to be suffering are struggling,” Davis said. “One thing we all had in common that contributed to our eating disorder habits is self-hatred. We all thought that there was something wrong with ourselves because we didn’t look a certain way.” After feeling uncomfortable with herself for years, Davis can now proudly say that she has learned that it is ok to eat and it is ok to struggle.
“Self-love is crucial in dealing with body image,” Davis said. Every person should “embrace and love the things that make you different.”
* Name changed to protect student’s privacy