The power of committed citizens in addressing eating disorder problems
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
This statement by famed anthropologist Margaret Mead was always the tag line to my friend Dr. Lori Irving’s emails. A recovered person, Lori was deeply involved in preventing eating disorders. Along with her unborn infant daughter, Lori died tragically while pregnant in late April of 2001. I miss her still. I admired so much the passion, skill, and grace with which Lori approached her teaching, research, and advocacy for prevention. “Grace” (cf. gracefulness) refers here to a “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency”.*
In her work, her relationships—her presence—Lori was quick to laugh heartily, grace-full, and overtly bold, as seen in her creation of The Bolder Model of Prevention(Irving, 1999). Twenty-one years since receiving the first draft of that chapter, it remains inspiring to share it, so others can read how Lori herself grew into the embodiment of a feminist who boldly combines the personal, the professional, and the political. Lori left the eating disorders field a rich legacy of scholarship, friendship, courage, and hope.
I wish I could ask Lori now what the implications of Margaret Mead’s rallying cry are for the eating disorders field, where World Eating Disorders Day celebrates the thoughtfully committed, heartfelt, bold work of tens of thousands of people across the globe. I wish I could take back what I said to a graduate student in 1974 about the title of Carl Jung’s autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (Jung, 1963) – that it was “deeply shallow.”
Another of Lori’s gifts, in her connection with me, is, well, connection; or more specifically, the now awkwardly named Levine Prevention/Sociocultural Factors TinyLetter email Group. It was 1998 and email seemed as exciting to some of us, raised on electric typewriters or the potentially dire financial consequences of long-distance calls made on rotary telephones, as the recent proof of Einstein’s hypothesis concerning the existence of gravitational waves rippling from the collision of giant black holes in deep space. Lori and I began exchanging emails about developments in prevention, including risk factor research. I would copy my colleagues, such as Dr. Linda Smolak or Dr. Margo Maine or Dr. Niva Piran, all of whom were Lori’s inspirations for the Bolder Model.
By January 1999 our email Group consisted of seven people in two countries, the USA and Canada. It helps me to think that Lori’s gifts to me—hope, open-mindedness, connection, and what grace my Type A personality can muster—have facilitated the expansion of this tiny network to 788 people in 43 countries.
The Group includes members of the education-support-advocacy organization in northwestern Oregon and southwestern Washington that Lori helped to found. The Group also includes a number of Bolder Models who serve as leaders of the World Eating Disorders Day connections. In fact, members of this email Group range from undergraduates in recovery, to graduate students in clinical psychology or public health or fashion/design, to parent advocates, to experts in mass media, to medical anthropologists, to many of the world’s foremost prevention researchers.
The roots of eating disorder development are a complex and a tricky, shifting mixture of cultures, subcultures, interpersonal dynamics, and neurobiology. Thus, it is not surprising that the prevention, treatment, support, and advocacy networks tapped by this email group have taken me, as well as, I hope, others in the Group, in many directions that represent . . . the Personal, the Professional, and the Political.
I like to believe that my presence in her life provided Lori with experiences that mattered. She, shoulder-to-shoulder with her mentors, certainly gave me a lot: fostering relationships with non-academic people I would ordinarily avoid or dismiss, teaching me research skills (not to mention people skills I sorely needed), guiding me to make decisions instead of telling me what was right, raising my awareness about many topics, and challenging me to stand up and out for what I believe in, even when—or especially when—I am uncertain or frightened.
I took years to see that these processes represent not only Lori’s meaning in my life, but also what I now advocate as the essence of effective prevention and the essence of the Bolder Model. In my life’s work I call them the 7 Cs:
- A Critical Social Perspective
- Using one critical social perspective, developing competencies, and connections to help oneself and others make Choicesabout ways to Changenegative sociocultural influences, including obstacles to social justice, including stigma.
- Similarly, helping oneself and others develop theConfidencenecessary to make health-promoting, life-affirming changes in themselves, their relationships, and their cultures.
- Helping oneself and others find the Courageto pursue positive goals (such as those of World Eating Disorders Day), accepting that it is not true courage without doubt, anxiety, and inevitable criticism.
A Final Thought
As I write this essay, I now see (with a smile and possibly through a few tears) that these are also a key aspect of a large number of my important memories, my meaning-full reflections, and my dreams for those committed to treating and preventing disorders, and to supporting journeys of recovery. I suspect—no, I am pretty certain—that the 7 Cs are a fundamental part of the vision of those contributing to World Eating Disorders Day.
*Miriam Webster Online Dictionary, retrieved 8 April 2019 from m-w.com.
Irving, L. (1999). A bolder model of prevention: Science, practice, and activism. In N. Piran,
- P. Levine, & C. Steiner-Adair (Eds.), Preventing eating disorders: A handbook of
interventions and special challenges(pp. 63-83). Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor &
Jung, C. J. (1963/1989). Memories, dreams, reflections(rev ed.; recorded & edited by A.
Jaffe; translated by R. & C. Winston). New York: Vintage Books.