As a parent, you try to protect your children from anything that might harm them. When they are young, you try to protect them from falls, when they start school, you try to protect them from bullies and as they grow into young adults, you try to help them become strong individuals who will help others. This is a story about a little girl who’s earliest memory was getting called “fat” at a sleepover when she was six. Her excitement quickly turned into sadness when she overheard her two “friends” whispering that she was “too fat” to fit in the bed with them. This was the start of a childhood of uncertainty in regards to her body image. Most people brush off bullying at a young age as just “something kids do”. However, they don’t realize the impact it can have on someone’s life. As she started growing older, other “friends” would try to help her lose weight even though she didn’t ask. It was all meant as an innocent gesture, but it just made her feel worse about herself. But through it all, her bubbly personality and sunny disposition never let on what she was feeling inside. At the age of 7, she started cheer leading, a sport that she truly loved and excelled at. She was a true cheerleader in every aspect of her life. Elementary school can be tough on kids, but middle school can be brutal. She went out for the middle school cheer team and found out just how terrible the kids in middle school could be. She was called the “fat cheerleader”. When she made tri-captain of the cheer team in 8th grade, “friends” started rumors that they had to sew two skirts together, just so she could fit in it. This deeply devastated her. Understand that she wasn’t actually obese, there were other kids bigger than her. But she was always kind to people and always went out of her way to compliment others and make them feel good, possibly because she was so sad inside, that this made her a target for the “bullies”.
The summer between 8th grade and 9th grade was when she started to “watch what she was eating” and started to exercise every day. People just thought that she was being healthy and weight conscious, but it was the beginning of a serious problem. By the beginning of 9th grade she had lost 40 lbs in two and half months. She started cheering on the high school team and one day in a bathroom at the school, mean girls still made comments. “Your a cheerleader? Wow! They must have lowered their standards a lot.” Another comment was “That uniform looks terrible on you, you need something bigger, take my advice”. The boys were no better. A friend told her that two boys on the football team said “They hate you because they think you’re too fat to be a cheerleader and so does half the freshman football team”. Well, with friends like that, who needs enemies? Imagine that she had already lost 40 pounds and even that wasn’t enough. Who do these kids think they are? How did their parents raise them? All she wanted was to be happy and make others happy. She wanted to have the high school experience that all kids dream of. Then she was asked out by a boy who after a week broke up with her because his friend told him that she was “too big for him”. She was devastated but she continued to hide her feelings from everyone. She only confided in her journal. A place that helped her unload all the negativity that others kept feeling the need to throw her way. As the next few years went on, her image of herself continued to become distorted. She looked in the mirror and saw someone extremely obese even though she wasn’t. It didn’t matter what people told her. She was fat, she wasn’t good at anything, she wasn’t someone that people should be friends with. This was not true of course, but from years of being picked on it was all she could believe.
Just a few months ago, after struggling for years with her body image, she started to restrict her food again. After having a minor surgery which served as the trigger, she began to eat smaller portions of food and would eat foods that had no nutritional value. This lasted from the end of September until we finally had the courage to ask her what was going on in December. She struggled to explain what was going on with her, convinced that no one could understand. She had lost over 50 lbs in a small amount of time and still didn’t think that was enough weight to lose. Every time someone complimented her, she smiled and thanked them, but truly didn’t believe that she looked good. We found her a therapist that specialized in eating disorders and body image issues, and after one visit, the therapist was convinced that she needed more extensive care. She was enrolled in an intensive outpatient eating disorder program that lasted a few weeks. Through this program, she still struggled to find a reason to eat, but slowly began to understand that she wasn’t alone. There were other girls in the program, who struggled as well and all had different stories. After she was discharged, the struggles still continued at home. This has been a hard thing for us as a family to understand. We have never seen her as she sees herself. To us she has always been a beautiful and wonderfully caring person, who always looks out for others. She continues to struggle with this and our hope is that one day she will be able to love herself just as we love her.
Wanting to help others understand what an eating disorder is, she started researching ways that she could help others and in essence help herself. She wants people to understand that “Sticks and Stones may break your bones, but words CAN HURT YOU!”
An Eating Disorder is something that people don’t talk about. It’s a disorder that people don’t recognize publicly because they think that the individual is “just dieting”. People need to know that this is real. There are many components to these disorders not just physical, but mental as well. These disorders can be life threatening if not treated in time.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this story is about my daughter, Cassie. After learning about the National Eating Disorder Association Walk, Cassie formed a team called “Free Yourself” and this team will be walking in the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Walk in Kingston, RI. Her friends and family will walk beside her as she strives to make a difference not only in her life but in the lives of others. To bring awareness to these disorders which affect so many people, but who are afraid to talk about what they are feeling.
If you would like to make a difference too, please support Cassie in her efforts to raise money for this cause. Please click on the attached link to make a donation to Cassie’s team. http://www.nedawalk.org/donate Click on donate to a team and select the Kingston, RI walk and type in her team name “Team Free Yourself”. Click on the team and click on the donate button. These donations will help fund programs to help raise awareness and also help treatment for individuals with these disorders.
I appreciate everyone who took the time to read her story. Please help us to spread the word about eating disorders and maybe one person at a time we can end the stigma of eating disorders forever.