Eating disorders are psychiatric conditions that are characterized by extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviours surrounding weight and food (1). These disorders are incredibly serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect day-to-day life a great deal. This book deals with young women who have suffered from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss (1). Health issues that can be associated with anorexia include slow heart rate, low blood pressure, osteoporosis, and kidney failure (1). Bulimia nervosa is characterized by cycles of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviour including self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or over-exercising (1). Health issues associated with bulimia include electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to heart failure; tooth decay, inflammation of the esophagus, pancreatitis, and peptic ulcers (1).
According to a 2002 survey, 1.5% of Canadian women ages 15-24 had an eating disorder (2). Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness – it is estimated that 10% of individuals with the disorder will die within 10 years of onset (2).
When I was quite young, a woman very close to me suffered from an eating disorder. My understanding was limited at the time, and as a result, I grew up wondering about these diseases. When I began this project, I expected to learn very much from the women I photographed, and intellectually I have; I now know much more about eating disorders than ever before. However, since getting to know the beautiful, confident, captivating, intelligent women in this book, the disease makes less sense than ever. How and why does this happen to our girls and women?
This project explores the juxtaposition between true beauty – that is, inner strength, intelligence, vitality and confidence – and indescribable suffering. The words found on the left-hand side on the book are selections from interviews I conducted with each woman; they do not necessarily match up with the image on the right. Rather than being a group of portraits of individuals, these images are a complete portrait of the strength of the human in the face of incredible mental and emotional distress.
(1) National Eating Disorders Association. National Eating Disorders Association: Information and Resources. 2005. Accessed March 2011 <http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/>.
(2) The National Eating Disorder Information Centre. National Eating Disorder Information Centre: Statistics. 2008. Accessed March 2011 <http://www.nedic.ca/>.