17 'Selfie-Free' Photos That Show What Eating Disorders Really Look Like
We often see eating disorders represented in the media by bodies — with both those currently struggling and those in recovery continually defined by their physical appearance.
But eating disorders are so much more than what someone looks like — they have complex causes and motivations that go beyond reaching a “perfect” beauty ideal. A person’s shape or size does not determine whether or not they are struggling — just as recovery is not wholly defined by being weight-restored and looking “well.”
Although there’s nothing wrong with taking selfies and posting pictures of your body, this year for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we wanted to talk about eating disorders in a different way. Because for someone who has never struggled with their relationship with food, exercise or their body, it can be difficult to understand what an eating disorder is really like. And for someone who is struggling, it can be just as difficult to explain.
That’s why we asked our community to submit art and images that explain the mental and emotional aspects of eating disorders — without focusing on “before and after” pictures.
Here is what they shared with us:
1. When an eating disorder holds you hostage.
2. When parts of your physical body are challenged by your mind.
“This image speaks to the parts of me that are often being challenged by my eating disorders.” — Kay LeBlanc
3. What people see on the outside versus what’s going on on the inside.
Artwork submitted by Molly Rizzuto
4. The intrusive, cyclical thoughts.
“Because this feeling and perception of self often drives disordered behavior. ‘This feeling’ is often associated with failure, being too much, frustration, and judgement. ‘Cyclical Mind Warp’ depicts the thoughts and judgments that can plague someone struggling with eating disorder behavior.” — Elisa Alvarado
5. The feeling of shame you’ve carried with you for as long as you can remember.
“‘My First Big Lie’ is a watercolor painting I did today. It is a story of me eating a cake my mom had for herself in the refrigerator and I ate almost all of it. She told my dad what I had done when he got home from work. I knew I was in trouble and I tried to hide in the basement. He asked me about it and said, ‘Did you eat all of the chocolate cake?’ I had brown marking on my fingers and he asked if that was the chocolate cake. I said, ‘No, it is brown shoe polish.’ I was about 8 years old at the time and still remember this clearly.” — Cathy Jeffers
6. When clothes become your enemy.
“Having ‘nothing’ to wear because I hate the way I look in everything I own, buying things I like in my current size or the smaller size I want to be. Then never taking the tags off because they don’t fit or because I refuse to wear the bigger size.” — Katie Christensen
7. How recovery can feel both hard and beautiful at the same time.
Artwork submitted by Katelin Bamford
8. When you can’t tell where you begin and the ED ends.
“I drew these photos while on a psychiatric ward for suicide watch, and my eating disorder thoughts were stronger than they had been for a long time. They capture the loss of control I experienced and the driving force/personality/voice behind every decision I made at those times.” — Rosie Bogumil
9. Feeling trapped in your mind and disordered thoughts.
“The problem often starts in the mind not the body.” — Becky M.
10. How an eating disorder can warp your perception of time.
“It Takes Time” submitted by Reina Mora
11. Obsessive food rituals that serve as a sense of control.
“This was a performance piece I conducted while studying fine art. It highlights the obsession and control anorexia withholds. For five days I sat aligning rice so they didn’t touch, rice being the food staple highlighting struggle, greed and guilt. Anorexia is so much more than the strive to be thin. By accepting help willingly I still hold that tiny bit of control that a section would diminish.” — Amelia Baron
12. Recovery means nourishing yourself in all aspects of your life, not just food.
“Feeding Love and Hope” by Reina Mora
13. The cloud of negative thoughts that follows you around.
“This drawing is of a person who has an eating disorder and many of the thoughts that go with it. I know from personal experience all the negative thoughts that can fill your head. So often we see people with eating disorders represented as dangerously thin, but there are those of us who have an eating disorder, food issues or disordered eating who are overweight. You feel like a failure because not only are you overweight and feeling unattractive, but you feel like a failure at an eating disorder because you are still overweight. This was, and at some level, still is me. I have struggled with my self-esteem for as long as I can remember. Things are better now but not 100 percent. I will still use behaviors from time to time. It can be so hard, but I know if I keep working at it and working on myself, I will get there. It just takes time and some really good support.” — Julia K.
14. The chaos of your emotions when you’re struggling with ED.
“These are a series of paintings I did when I was in the midst of my struggle with anorexia. I feel like they portray the cold, the loneliness and all in all just utterly miserable place I found myself stuck in at the time. Even more so than pictures of me at my lowest weight. The painting in the middle is a visual representation of the complete mental chaos happening inside my head. A chaos I did not understand in the slightest, nor did I have the words for it. A chaos that far surpassed any of the directly visible effects of my eating disorder. Most importantly, this chaos only got worse once I started looking better, something that people have a hard time understanding. That’s why art was such an outlet at the time. Just looking at this makes me so happy that I’ve been well on my way to recovery for a while now. Eating disorders are miserable in all shapes and sizes.” — Laura V.
15. The isolation.
“This is a representation of feeling trapped within myself and trapped within my own isolation.” — Christina Rodriguez
16. The lifelong journey that is recovery.
“I drew, painted and collaged this piece I call ‘The Road to Recovery’ for my RD. I have been working at finding recovery from my ED for three years, and am finally in a place where I feel liberated from my ED. This was therapeutic for me and a coping mechanism I have used during my recovery. I have learned that this journey is an everyday battle and I continue to keep battling, but I know that I am stronger than my ED. I use quotes that have spoken to me throughout this process and describe the journey through all its ups and downs, twists and turns, and ins and out. Remember to take everything one day at a time, that healing is not linear and you are enough! — Annie Clarkin
17. The hidden side of healing.
“This is the hidden side of my eating disorder. These are all different vitamins and supplements that help my body when various levels are low because of my eating disorder.” — Kateri Collins
A special thanks to everyone who submitted their artwork!