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The Pursuit of “Perfection:” Eating Disorders in the San Francisco Bay Area #RedefinePerfection

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The San Francisco Bay Area, as many are well aware, is a pressure cooker for teenagers, and mental illness among young people is extremely common. Today, teenagers are increasingly encouraged to speak out about challenges they face with their mental health, and the community has become very open and accepting of these conversations and supportive of each other. However, when it comes to eating disorders, the conversation is much further behind those surrounding anxiety and depression. And while the support for eating disorders is lagging, the high stress environment of the Bay Area fosters eating disorders just as much as other mental illnesses, leaving many teenagers struggling with not nearly as many resources. The Bay Area is “a very affluent area where there’s not expectations for balance and happiness, it’s for achievement and competitiveness,” as Dr. Laura Hamilton, a local psychologist who has worked in eating disorder treatment programs, schools, and grief centers, put it. “With young women, growing up in this area, it used to be you had to be pretty and nurturing. Now it’s pretty, intelligent, and if you play a sport or are in [the arts], the pressure is to achieve high,” she continues, providing context about the culture specifically surrounding women in the area. She also explains how eating disorders, particularly in this area, are perfection and goal oriented, saying that “especially for a goal oriented [woman, with] disordered eating [that] tends to move in the anorexic mindset, there’s perfectionism.” Dr. Hamilton’s insights emphasize just how important this issue is in the Bay Area, and the importance of starting conversations and raising awareness.

Because eating disorders are most commonly considered to be pursuing bodily “perfection,” the most effective way to combat this thinking is by simply redefining perfection. Self improvement and health shouldn’t be looked down upon or discouraged, but when it it unhealthy or unrealistic and ultimately hurts an individual it becomes dangerous.

#RedefinePerfection is a grassroots movement to help young girls understand that there is more than one “perfect” body type, and that their body is “perfect” as it is. To get involved, simply write encouraging notes with these themes to young girls with body positive words of affirmation, and place them in visible areas. A great example would be placing them on mirrors in girls bathrooms, so that the reminder is in a place that is usually used to pick apart one’s own appearance.

Below are both pictures of examples, and ideas for notes people can write to get involved.

Body Positive Words of Affirmation Ideas

  • You are perfect as you are.
  • Perfection is a construct
  • Your body is beautiful
  • You are bold, brilliant, and beautiful
  • What do you love about yourself?
  • Healthy is beautiful

If you believe that you or someone you love is in danger of an eating disorder, seek help. This screening tool can help determine the risk, and if necessary, reach out to a hotline or trusted adult or peer.

Works Cited

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COMMENTS: 16
  1. April 25, 2019 by Ashli.Jain

    I will be sure to start/keep practicing these affirmations! The post-its were fabulous, and I hope they helped students at your school. Do you think this problem is more prevalent in the Bay Area or in other places around the world?

  2. April 25, 2019 by sophia.Beardsley

    Thank you this was a great look into the problem of body image and eating disorders in your area. I wonder how people in your school reacted to the post it notes? I really think anyone who sees this will feel a little better. I think the infographic with statistics was a nice touch in proving your point of how prevalent this problem is.

  3. April 25, 2019 by Minea.Hill

    I really love your sticky notes on the mirror idea I think that is a super smart and cute way to bring about the change you desire. I also found the statistics in your poster extremely eye-opening and effective in painting a picture of the situation. I will make sure to keep the above statements in mind and try and integrate them into my everyday life. How large of a role do you think the media has in the development of this desire for perfection as you describe it?

  4. April 26, 2019 by Addie Behrens

    Hi Emma! Your idea of putting sticky notes on the mirror is so positive and smart, I love it. Your whole presentation flows so nicely together and I love your visuals! Overall, great job!

  5. April 26, 2019 by Anthea Wong

    Hi Emma! What stood out to me the most is when you emphasized the overlooked fact that teenage girls who are suffering from eating disorders are also suffering from mental disorders as well. I think that this is a very important piece of detail people miss all the time. Also, I really like your idea of encouraging messages in places such a the girl’s bathroom just to remind them that they are beautiful just the way they are. What other places do you think these messages could be publicized? Do you think these type of encouragement sticky notes could be used for other purposes as well, such as bullying etc?

  6. April 26, 2019 by Anthea Wong

    Hi Emma! What stood out to me the most is that you emphasized how teenage girls who are suffering from eating disorders are too going through mental illnesses too. I think that is an important detail that a lot of people miss when looking at this problem. I also really like your act of placing inspiring messages on bathroom mirrors to remind these girls that they are beautiful just the way they are. What other places do you think you can place these sticky notes? And, do you think this method of messages on sticky notes can help other problems such as bullying etc. too?

  7. April 26, 2019 by Vedica.Chopra

    Hi Emma! I love your call to action in this and I’m thinking of starting something like this at my school. Someone did it last year at my school, and it made people happy. I was wondering what made this more prevalent in the bay area compared to other parts of America. Do you think that social pressures there are more significant? I also wasn’t aware that eating disorders could be with other disorders (though it makes a lot of sense) and I liked that you included it, because eating disorders tend to be less talked about in a co-occuring way.

  8. April 26, 2019 by Abigail.Carlton

    Hi Emma! You have an amazing project! You did a great job incorporating visuals, personal experiences, and facts. My favorite part of your project was seeing how you put sticky notes on your mirror because it gives a partial solution to the problem. Something as simple as that can make a huge difference. I wonder what other types of problems could be solved by doing something similar to this approach.

  9. April 28, 2019 by Josephine.Kovecses

    Hey Emma! Your project was really compelling and totally drew me in with your bright statistics infographic at the start of your page. As someone who’s interested in body image and lives in the Bay Area, your work was a great introduction into the topic but also had an incredibly interesting personal touch. I like how your solution was a viable one, and that you actually ended up taking action! Maybe if we all went out and actually did our solutions some of the problems addressed through this conference would be solved?

  10. April 28, 2019 by Jenny.Zhao

    Hello! This project was really interesting with it’s focus on eating disorders and I really liked your idea about positive sticky notes. Even with these, do you think people will be impacted. Everyday, we can easily find sites that say positive things about ourselves. In fact, we hear it over and over again that we don’t recognize the comment as sincere. Or at least that’s how I view it. I think that if these positive things came from a person who has a significant impact on our lives, the effect may be different. What do you think?

    • April 30, 2019 by Emma.McGaraghan

      I absolutely agree, simple sticky notes can absolutely become meaningless in some situations! However, I think beginning with simple reminders like this help instill a more positive inner monologue, especially when placed on a bathroom mirror, a space that girls typically spend time scrutinizing themselves. From smaller efforts like these, we can work on developing a more positive conversation around physical beauty, and more people might begin sharing comments like these with their friends in person, as you mentioned. Good point!

  11. April 29, 2019 by Mai

    I was interested in the same topic so seeing your project was really interesting, I really like the approach you took in addressing it 🙂 5% is actually so much more than it sounds when you think about it, since it’s 5 for every 100 people. the sticky notes idea is a great idea, our health department took a similar initiative a couple years back. At one point though they even covered up the mirrors for a day to encourage students to forget about their appearance for a day and I wonder if that’s more help or harm?

    • April 30, 2019 by Emma.McGaraghan

      Covering the mirrors sounds like a great idea! The idea behind my sticky notes was to work on redefining what beauty means to achieve a less rigid standard, but I love the idea of finding perfection and beauty in things non-physical, and covering mirrors would absolutely achieve this. What a cool addition!

  12. April 29, 2019 by Siena.Martin

    Emma, as someone who lives in the Bay Area I found your project particularly relevant. Thank you for bringing this to people attention. Your project was well done and easy to understand. I think I might add some sticky notes to my school mirrors as well.

  13. April 30, 2019 by Jeffrey.Zhu

    Hi Emma, I thought your project was very good and interesting! I really liked how much information you put in your infographic. I also really liked your idea of putting post it notes on the bathroom mirror. I thought it was very simple and cute. It’s a great idea and simple enough for other people to do it at their own school. Great project!

  14. April 30, 2019 by Olivia Reichl

    Emma, what an amazing conference topic. I really like the layout of your page and your many visuals made reading more interesting! Thank you so much for sharing some positive ways of how people can get involved. I remember at my sleep away camp we used to say positive affirmations everyday when we woke up and they really helped, so I will definitely start doing that again. I think your approach to helping others is so amazing. Keep it up!

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