By JESSICA LANTHIER
A sad truth about today’s generation of women is that it would be difficult to find one who has never been insecure about her weight or body image. What’s more, according to a study by Statistics Canada, the majority of females who have a negative body image are between the ages of 11 and 15. But as National Eating Disorder Awareness Week approaches (Feb. 3-9), there are brave survivors who feel compelled to share their stories about this potentially deadly mental health issue.
Natalie Lawson, for example, overcame anorexia nervosa and feels it is her duty to help other women find the strength to do so as well.
Lawson, who is a 26-year-old manager at a retail store in Waterloo, was blessed with athletic talent when she was in middle school. She was an avid basketball and soccer player and played on both teams in her hometown of Thornhill, Ont. While her parents were supportive of her passion for sports, Lawson said they always put pressure on her to stay in shape. Her father, the coach of the basketball team, was especially hard on her.
“I knew at the time that he just wanted me to do it to the best of my ability, but he would always make little comments whenever I would eat junk food,” Lawson said.
At the age of 14, Lawson weighed 120 lbs. and started to feel like she needed to lose weight.
“I was starting to grow into my natural curves and take on a more feminine shape,” she said.
“But what I was seeing in the mirror wasn’t pretty to me.”
She began reducing her calorie intake by giving away the majority of her lunches at school, eating only the fruits and vegetables that her mother packed. At dinner time, she would eat very little and fill up on water.
Lawson’s mother, a restaurant owner at the time, wasn’t home often and didn’t have a close relationship with her daughter.
“My parents never realized at this point,” she said.
By the time Lawson was 16, she was down to a fragile 105 lbs. and still felt like she wasn’t thin enough. People around her were beginning to notice her frail appearance and some even questioned her about it. Although she knows how horrible it was, she felt victorious when people would comment on her weight.
“It’s ridiculous to even think, but the only time I actually felt good about myself was when people would come up to me and tell me how skinny I was,” she said.
The breaking point came when her soccer coach finally became concerned with her gaunt appearance and called her parents. They arranged a meeting and tried their hardest to convince her to see a counsellor for her eating disorder.
“When my coach forced my parents’ eyes open to the situation, they were stunned,” she said.
“My mom cried and kept telling me how sorry she was for not realizing that I was quite literally skin and bones.”
Lawson started seeing a doctor and a psychologist and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
She went to support groups with other teen girls who were trying to find stable relationships with not only food, but with their body image as well.
“There is a lot of shame around eating disorders because it’s a mental health issue and it’s such a personal problem,” she said.
“But girls need to know that there is a way to get out of the problem with a healthier outlook on everything.”
She is never shy about telling her story and hopes more women feel the same way.
“We’ve got to stick together on this because only we know what it feels like to be women.”
Anyone on campus with an eating disorder or who is insecure about his or her body image should make an appointment to see a counsellor in Counselling Services, located in Rm. 1A101 at the Doon campus.