Airing “Dirty Laundry:” A Latina Woman’s Fight Against Eating Disorder Stigma


Originally published in Feminspire:

Trigger warning for eating disorder, mental health and suicide

While most of my friends were running to third base or performing the steps to Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time choreography, an 8-year-old me was staring at myself in the mirror, noting all the parts of my body that needed to be erased.

By middle school I realized that those parts that I hated so much could disappear if I just stopped eating. So I did.

I started purging in high school and continued throughout my first two years of college.

I didn’t realize I was suffering from an eating disorder — or “worse,” a mental illness – until I sought professional help.

I was 19 years old, and after a decade of suicidal ideation, I had finally decided to take my own life.

My story is one historically told by white, middle to upper-class women. Mental illnesses, like eating disorders and suicidal ideation, are generally not the province of young Latinas, or so “they” say.

Last week, Erika L. Sanchez highlighted the high depression and suicide rates among young girls in the Latino community in an article for Al Jazeera. The individual stories she spotlighted and the statistics she shared, rang so true for me, and I knew it was time that I opened up about one of the darkest aspects of my life, one that’s been hidden to all but three people.

Although 13.5 percent of Latina female students in grades nine through 12 admitted attempting suicide, which is significantly higher than Black girls (8.8 percent) and non-Hispanic girls (7.9 percent), the topic is extremely taboo in Latino communities.

There is a stigma associated with mental illness in the Latino community that leaves sufferers feeling ashamed, forcing young Latinas to hurt in silence.

In high school, I decided to open up to my parents about my self-hate, purging and thoughts of suicide. I knew there was something wrong with me. I wanted to go away. I wanted to disappear. I needed to die. That was the only way. I wanted my parents, the people I cared about more than anything, to understand that I loved them and that they never failed me; I was just no good and unworthy of this world.

Of course, they didn’t understand. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the notion that someone so “beautiful,” with stellar grades, vast talents and so much love to give could hate themselves to the point of self-destruction.

El diablo is messing with your head,” they’d tell me. “Just pray, mamaPapa Dios is stronger than those demons lying to you.”

My strong faith in God had helped me put the knife down numerous times. But the hours I spent on my knees crying out for supernatural intervention wasn’t helping.

I hated myself. And as someone who was always told that I was the apple of God’s eye, I felt guilty for not appreciating that.

As I locked my door, stopped talking and closed myself up, my parents’ concern quickly grew to frustration. I was over their religious advice. That wasn’t working for me. This was going to be a lonely fight, I predicted. And it was.

My friends were aware of my body image issues. They knew I’d rather spend my days and nights locked in my room than at a pool or a movie theater. They understood that I suffered from extreme social anxiety, but they had no idea what I was battling. They still don’t.

My silence wasn’t peculiar, though.

In 2012, the New York State Psychiatric Institute found that there is greater stigma toward mental illnesses among non-whites, including Latinos, who often seek help from family members or priests before reaching out to professionals.

That explains why only 27 percent of Latinos in need of mental health care services seek treatment, compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

My story is recognized in white communities, but Latinas and other young girls and women of color are suffering from mental illnesses as well.

Although national statistics on Latinas with eating disorders are not available, it would be inaccurate and harmful to believe that Latinas do not suffer from eating disorders. Mental illnesses like eating disorders and the suicidal ideation that sometimes stems from these disorders hold no boundaries; they exist in all cultures.

Some researchers attribute the rise in eating disorders among Latinas to acculturation. As Latinas become more ingrained in the culture of the United States, researchers argue, they are likely influenced by the pressure to be thin. But, again, not much attention is afforded to Latinas when discussing eating disorders.

This is part of the problem.

If the media are telling Latinos that this is an issue only afflicting well-off white girls, they’ll never think to understand the complexities of mental illnesses or be prepared to handle them.

They also may not believe, even when their children open up to them, that this is really happening and that it deserves professional attention. In many Latino families, you don’t air your dirty laundry. You don’t talk to people about your problems.

But we need to.

We have to get over the stigma. It can’t continue to be the elephant in the room. Seeking professional help doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it means you are doing your absolute best to avoid failure. For some, it really is a matter of life and death.

Why Your Instagram Feed Shouldn’t Cause Fear of Relapse


Article originally published on Feminspire:

Trigger warning for discussion of eating disorders

#selfie #smile #picoftheday

Instagram has taken over my life.

You wouldn’t know that if you followed me, as I rarely add any new images, and I haven’t used its embedded video feature.

But any chance I get between my internships and freelance work I’ve been spending on Instagram.

It has sort of replaced my teenage obsession with celebrity magazines.

Now, instead of flipping through glossy pages of Photoshop-manipulated images of J.Lo, I tap through photos and videos of “real-life” women who meet what I’ve always considered the ideal body type: super curvy, but still slim.

But similar to the way corporate media aided my eating disorder as a middle-schooler, photo-sharing social media like Instagram are making relapse an arduous feat to beat.

I’m starting to wake up with what my partner calls “powerpuff” eyes, caused by tears that dropped till 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or even 4 a.m.

I love the term, but there’s really nothing powerful about the way I feel. Those familiar voices screeching, “you’re inadequate,” “you’re a joke,” “look how disgusting you are” are making a comeback, and it’s been really difficult trying to quell the thoughts of purging.

After choosing recovery three years ago, I, like all of us, have had tough days. But lately my anxiety has been rushing over me like a tidal wave.

Brushing my teeth has become a war. “It’s so simple. You’ll feel better. Just do it” battles “You’ve come so far. That person has no power over you anymore. Stop.” So far, the latter has been able to block the jabs, but it’s no easy fight.

Then there’s my other adversary: over-exercising.

Because “working out” and “health” are almost always written side-by-side, I sometimes forget (or ignore) the dangers of obsessive fitness.

But four days ago, when I was lying on the bathroom floor after my knees, moist and trembling, finally gave out, I was reminded of all the times I had awoken to different tile patterns.

Passing out from over-exercising had – at one time – become the norm. A week without at least one blackout meant I didn’t push myself far enough.

But I’m a feminist and body positivity advocate now. I’ve read the literature. I’ve seen the stats. I know what’s up.

Still, social media, like all forms of media, is powerful.

And although mediated images don’t cause eating disorders, they can, and often do, negatively affect body image, which can lead to disordered eating.

The same is true for the images posted on social networking sites like Instagram.

Studies show that 93 percent of teens are on the Internet, with 11 percent of them on Instagram. Young adults make up the social networking site’s largest user base, with 28 percent actively taking and sharing pictures on the app.

Women, as with most photo-sharing platforms, are more likely than men to use Instagram.

As they gape at images of the Internet’s young, cyber celebrities, it’s likely that they don’t know that, though not as extreme as the Photoshopped-photos of mainstream celebs in magazines, these “real-time” photos are often altered too.

As digital natives, numerous teens and young adults have and use photo-altering apps and filters and have even mastered the “art” of posing for a camera. But even if it takes 20 snaps to get the perfect picture, all users see once it’s published is another flawless face or kick-ass body on their feeds.

Although it still stings like hell when you can’t “measure up” to a celebrity who has a team of makeup, hair and digital experts perfecting their look, you sometimes do feel a little better after seeing their original, unaltered photos. These images show that celebrities often do look a lot like we do.

But in the world of social media, where everything is supposed to already be real, the self-hatred and body-shame that spurs for not measuring up to “real-life” people can almost seem validated.

If hundreds of teen girls and young women around the nation naturally look like Hollywood’s beauties IRL, then what’s wrong with me?”

If this is you, then I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with the way you look. And considering that 90 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 are unhappy with their bodies, it’s likely that those you hold up as an ideal are spending the same amount of time gawking at your images as you do theirs.

But this doesn’t make it OK. Spending hours flicking through images can still be damaging.

Last year, multiple public surveys commissioned via Facebook took place in an effort to understand how social media affects body image. The results showed that just looking at photos on social media made users more conscious about their bodies and also illustrated that young girls who use social networking sites have higher rates of depression.

Social networking sites like Instagram have definitely been contributing to my fear of relapse, and they’re definitely causing body image anxiety among countless other users.

A social media detox could do anyone good from time to time. But as a digital media professional (and a total social media nerd), just giving up social media is not reasonable.

Luckily, other photo-sharing forums like Tumblr and Pinterest are homes to a host of body image coaches and body positivity activists who counter #thinspo, #fitspo and all body and self-esteem issues with hourly, sometimes up-to-the-minute, posts of images, articles and videos of body love and self-acceptance.

Whenever I’m feeling low, I turn to blogs like Recovery is Beautiful or vlogs like Actively Arielle: A Voice with a Commitment for digital support.

Some days it works, while other days I wake up with “powerpuffs.” But for the past year, I haven’t made myself hurl – and that alone is a reason to both celebrate and remain ED-free.