By Tiffany Hammer, Community Outreach Specialist
Perhaps one of the most culturally ingrained normative about our culture is the emphasis that we receive from media regarding how one should feel, dress, or behave with regards to our relationship with our bodies and food. In my own personal experiences, even before making eating disorder awareness a professional pathway, I notice that when I get together with my friends, often over food and drinks, how much of a regular topic of conversation it is to discuss: exercises–what we “should” or “have to” be doing, food–the “good” or “bad” of what we have been or are consuming, and body image–what we “can” or “cannot” wear or feelings of “fat.”
Now, I feel hyper-aware when these topics come up, and how much I notice myself or those around me, making this subject an introductory topic of conversation. These topics, like “how are you doing?” or “what do you do?”, have come to be placeholders in our interpersonal connections, where we feel obligated to answer “fine,” “ok,” “good” and then launch into a discussion about all the things we “should be” doing. If we lift the curtain a little further just beyond what we are already discussing with the people in our lives, we can start to see that body image, exercise, and food, is not just on the tips of tongues, but also bombarding our senses via all platforms of media. How are we to feel great about ourselves when we are personally exhausting the topic, then screen, ads, and even radio are labeling our habits “good” or “bad”?
I recently sat down with Ellen Tailor, morning radio show co-host of 100.7 The Wolf, Seattle’s leading country station. Ellen has been very public about her own weight loss journey, often talking about it on air and in her blog. I reached out to her specifically because I wanted to hear about her self-professed “lifestyle” transformation because, more importantly than lost pounds and inches, is her sparkly, positive attitude that comes with it. Unlike visual media like TV or print, radio is dependent on being entirely likable and relatable. This is what makes Ellen shine so brightly in the morning–her candor, humor, and honesty in talking about her journey to treating her whole self well.
Ellen relocated to Washington from Michigan and unfortunately experienced the well-known, but much denied, “Seattle Freeze”. While navigating this new city and creating her sense of comfort here, she acknowledges that fast food was one of the common threads. When talking about this aspect of fast food, I heard a common theme that certainly relates to me and many others, that those drive-through windows can be filling a void of something that we are missing on a deeper level. It’s not necessarily about the food, but it’s the familiarity that seems to placate the deeper sense of yearning for community.
Even after becoming gainfully employed, and a rock star host, Ellen still found herself using fast food to nurture her feelings of missing home. Now, many months later, I find it difficult to know that version of Ellen. In front of me, and who I hear on the radio, is someone who radiates optimism and confidence. Ellen and I talked about why it’s important for her to share her story, something that many people keep so private, and her response was: “It’s cathartic to me and helps me process through my own feelings as I am going through them.” Through sharing her own insecurities, highs, and lows, she continues to be authentic and relatable, which brings her joy. In her earlier blogs, she describes her weight as a physical manifestation of an emotional barrier that she put between herself and the world as a means of hiding herself. By discussing her own journey, she is slowly, piece by piece, tearing down that wall.
Over the past years, Ellen describes how the industry that she works in has evolved, more public appearances and social media creates a visual element to a once purely audio one. Expectedly, that puts new pressure on these radio hosts, no hiding behind the airways. For Ellen, she is now able to communicate that her walk matches her talk: “I think one of the best things I have learned is that it’s not about making yourself feel bad about where you are at within your journey–it’s a process. Once I learned that I noticed myself being nicer with how I talk and treat myself.” This lesson is one that resonates with me, and the sentiment is echoed by The Emily Program staff.
Whether it’s recovery from an eating disorder, or your own journey to self-care, like Ellen, the mode of getting there is similar. I spoke with Stacy Schilter-Pisano, site director of our South Sound (Lacey) location, and asked her what she says to clients who are on their own independent journeys. One of the best things I heard from Stacy was to take care of the person you are today. This can look different for each person, but this concept gives us the permission to stay present and to treat every day as an opportunity for self-care. What Ellen made very admirably clear is that her responsibility in talking about her journey is that it “has to be 100% for myself, in my own voice, with what is a 100% reflection of my lifestyle change.” This is why when you hear her speak about anything related to her personal journey, it’s not a gimmick, it’s her voice speaking authentically. Which, as I interpret it, is a wonderful philosophy of encouragement that you can make positive lifestyle changes too. So much of what we teach our clients is to find their voice and listen to yourself to find the things that are positive ways to care for yourself. This attitude, plus taking care of you today, manifests differently for everyone, and what Ellen and I talked about is how she appreciates her body.
One way that is very clear with how Ellen cares for herself is that she loves styling. Dressed impeccably well when I met her, she and I talked about the feng shui idea that clearing out the old clothes in your closet is actually great for energy flow towards the progress you seek. According to this principle, clearing out the old clothes, either too big or too small, ones you hide behind or you don’t feel comfortable in, helps to clear out the attachments that those pieces of clothing represent. “I just thought about this recently,” Ellen responded. “I just bought a couple of new things because I want to feel good now.” One of the challenges with self-care is how does it manifest? I, like Ellen, get a huge boost of confidence by putting on something that makes me feel good. It’s not just about feeling pretty, it’s an opportunity to take the time and treat my whole person well. It’s an outward reflection of my self-respect and a reminder that I am ok with the person I am today. If you are feeling great in what you are wearing, then it’s one less thing to stress about during the day, which provides a nice respite and an ability to stay more present.
“So much of what I have learned through this experience is having people around me who inspire and support me,” Ellen explains. She has a wonderful trainer who empathetically understands what she strives for: a permanent, lifestyle change, and she has friends who have a knack of reminding her why she is doing this: for herself. One of her friends is a Seahawks Super Bowl Champion who helps motivate her keeping her perspective clear and positive: “You know, he will text me about whatever routine he’s doing for that day, because it’s his job, which might be something crazy like going an extra mile literally, yet he’s always one to keep me levelheaded and not let the other negative nay-saying voices in. In turn, that non-judgmental support is motivational.” This community support is another important and similar step that we encourage here at The Emily Program.
Taking the first step to make a lifestyle change, or getting help for an eating disorder, is a courageous and sometimes daunting task. However, what makes that journey possible and sustainable is by having people you can rely on and trust. To cultivate that community is by communicating what you are going through, to whatever degree you are comfortable with. Through sharing your experiences, it helps to allow others to understand what you are going through, and if you are like Ellen, create a supportive dialogue on a larger scale about the importance of finding your own sense of self through the process. Either way, I believe it to be one of the most encouraging ways to build a positive sense of self and break down the walls that we put up. Through sharing her experiences, Ellen is dismantling that wall that isolated herself and is able to enjoy the journey. On a platform that reaches so many, her vulnerability, story and voice is a catalyst for how we process our journeys. And, from where I am listening, her honest perspective is delightfully refreshing amongst the white noise of “shoulds.”
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