January 29, 2003

Models Discuss Battle With Eating Disorders

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Claire Mysko, an eating disorder awareness activist, and international model Magali Amadei described their trials with eating disorders and body image portrayals in the media to more than 400 people packed into Uris Hall last night.

Mysko briefly described her work with the American Anorexia Bulimia Association and the National Eating Disorders Association, then recounted her personal struggle with anorexia.

“I know firsthand what it’s like to deal with these issues,” she said. “It’s a big part of who I am.”

Beginning to diet at 12 years old, she developed anorexia as a teenager and did not realize she had a problem until her freshman year of college. Unfortunately, her attempt to end her eating disorder only resulted in a devastating cycle of bingeing and purging.

“I was extremely depressed. I was stealing food from my roommates and lying about it,” Mysko said. “Eating disorders aren’t about food and weight. Those were the surface obsessions. It was a coping mechanism.”

Eventually, she received counseling and committed herself to helping others in the same situation.

Like Mysko, Amadei considers herself a perfectionist who used eating to deal with other issues in her life. While appearing on the cover of fashion magazines including Vogue and Elle in the past, she was silently suffering from bulimia, bingeing and purging up to seven times a day.

“Most people thought I must have been very, very happy at that time in my life. But I wasn’t,” she said.

She described herself reaching “rock bottom” when she collapsed in a bathroom during a photo shoot in France. Having taken 40 laxatives earlier in the day, she suffered from such severe cramps that she feared for her life. She eventually reached out to her boyfriend, who helped her seek further assistance.

“I felt relief. That was an amazing moment in my life because there is no relief when you are suffering from an eating disorder,” she said.

After she received professional counseling, Amadei returned to modeling, working only with photographers and companies that supported her recovery.

Amadei then focused on the way the fashion industry sets up photographs to create the “perfect” look. In addition to the 10 to 15 rolls of film needed to produce a single picture, the industry uses a great deal of photo manipulation, she said.

She then described bulimia’s physical effects on her body, hidden in the photographs. In addition to brittle hair and nails, Amadei’s teeth and intestines suffered permanent damage from the disease.

“The stomach acid … was literally eating my mouth away, my teeth away,” she said.

After Amadei and Mysko joined together to speak about eating disorders, they organized a national tour, traveling to high schools and staging media events.

“What I got out of it most was the sad realization that no matter where we went … eating disorders were an epidemic [that] touched men as well as women,” said Amadei.

They then showed a video of their first media appearance together on the newsmagazine 20/20, where Amadei described her struggle.

According to Amadei, her purpose for the tour was to spread the message that people need not “suffer in silence.” She also encourages women to speak out if they are unhappy with a particular image used by the advertising or fashion industry.

“It’s a very empowering thing to do,” Mysko agreed. “[Advertisers] want to know what you think.”

They then answered questions from the audience, which ranged from suggestions on how to reach out to people suffering from eating disorders to the nude photo shoot Amadei did for Glamour magazine that accompanied an article about her disorder.

“The whole point I was trying to make was that I had nothing to hide … [and] that it wasn’t retouched,” Amadei said about the shoot.

For those recovering from an eating disorder, both Amadei and Mysko strongly encouraged establishing a strong support system and reaching out for help.

The audience seemed to respond favorably to the speakers.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” said Lauren Robinson ’04. “I have a lot of friends who deal with similar issues and I have dealt with issues in the past of body imagine and self-esteem.”

Sam Davis, a senior at Ithaca High School, had similar sentiments.

“It was really informative,” he said. “They didn’t try to swamp you with statistics. It was much more real, on a personal level. They spoke about a lot of things people would be uncomfortable or afraid to speak about.”

Alexandra Weininger ’03 felt the lecture also reinforced important values and ideas.

“I think [it is] a reaffirmation that it is important to be realistic with yourself about the way that you look and that when you have frustrations … you need to examine your personality and yourself, not your body,” she said.

Cornell Fitness Centers and the Panhellenic Association Delta Series co-sponsored the event. Jenna Lewis ’03, former Vice-President of the Panhellenic Association, and Barry LeVine ’04, student outreach coordinator for Cornell Fitness Centers, worked together to organize the lecture.

“I thought this is a very relevant topic for the college campus,” Lewis said. “I thought this was a new and different twist.”

LeVine organized the Health Awareness Week (HAW), running from Jan. 27 through the 31, of which the lecture was the main event. With over 20 events drawing on both local and national resources, the 2003 HAW is the largest health week on any college campus in the country.

“It is an outreach program in its most true and pure form,” LeVine said.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher