Art revealing the life behind eating disorders
Photos and commentary by Maddie Binning
Up to 30 million people in the United States struggle with an eating disorder according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and yet it seems as though conversations about eating disorders are few and far between.
Every year for Advanced Placement Studio Art, students decide on a subject on which to center a portion of their portfolio. This portion is termed the concentration and is made up of 12 images.
For my concentration, I decided to explore the topic of eating disorders visually. With the desire to avoid cliches and create authentic works of emotion, I contacted local support groups for those with eating disorders. Several young women came forward and decided to help me create my project.
I met with each of these women and listened to their stories. I spent several hours with each of them, whether in coffee shops or on walking paths, learning the details of their lives and their struggles with eating disorders. One woman in particular, who has been struggling with an eating disorder for about a decade, had never told anyone else that she had an eating disorder, much less had she shared with them the intricate details she shared with me.
From these conversations, I drew inspiration. I attempted to avoid exploitation by using the various facets of their lives to create subtle representations of their struggle. I was humbled in the realization that more often than not, the art we create is not created for self-gratification or acclaim. The purpose is often much deeper.
The purpose of my project became clear as I compared the lives of these women. The first row represents sickness and the chaos that comes with mental illnesses, the second row represents transition and the third is the beautiful clarity of recovery. Each row has meaning and a woman who inspired it. More than anything, what became abundantly clear is that regardless of how close to or far from recovery a person is, support is imperative. The conversations that are now so few and far between have to become a part of our lives.
The purpose of my project was to provoke contemplation and raise awareness of the fact that every person around you is struggling with something and for some, that something is an eating disorder. Whether you are currently affected by eating disorders or not, simply be attentive and be available because sometimes that’s all it takes to save a friend.