Nancy Pickett

@nancy-pickett | contributor
Nancy Pickett is an aspiring film producer fighting dysautonomia, gastroparesis, colonic inertia, and more. She advocates for chronic illnesses and is currently working on a feature length, non-profit documentary about pediatric cancer called The Golden Truth.
Nancy Pickett

Gastroparesis The Problem With Victoria Secret's Perfect Body Campaign

It’s that time of year again — the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is about to premiere. Millions of people are expected to watch the Victoria’s Secret “Angels” walk the runway on December 8. I have always been outraged by Victoria’s Secret. They are known for promoting unrealistic body images to women everywhere; their “Perfect Body” campaign is one example. But this year, I have a new form of disgust for the society that’s objectifying women. In January, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a gastrointestinal disorder that leaves my stomach paralyzed and unable to digest food. By June I’d lost enough weight that my thigh gap was huge, and all of my bones were clearly visible. I must’ve felt great about myself, right? I finally met society’s unattainable beauty standards! My summer vacation consisted of twice weekly infusions, countless doctor’s appointments and long hospital admissions. I was so malnourished that it was hard to get out of bed, let alone party with my friends. When I did go out, I got lots of comments like, “I wish I had your problem,” “You look like a supermodel,” and “I love your figure.” I wish those people knew what it really felt like for me to be that skinny — weak, nauseous, isolated, unable to do what I loved. I wouldn’t wish this kind of malnutrition on anyone, but it’s promoted by the media daily. Of course we’ve all heard the arguments for positive body image. Everyone knows you can “be your own beautiful.” But do we want to be? “Love yourself” campaigns only go so far when society’s ideal body is continually defined by one body image type. I believe it’s almost like we’re saying, “These girls who are under a size 2 — they’re beautiful. But I guess you’re beautiful, too — for someone your size.” As if anyone above a size 2 is in a whole different category! Plus-size clothes are on the runway, but they’re completely separate from other clothes. You rarely see a runway of all shapes and sizes. No wonder not everyone is happy with society’s “acceptance” of other body types. Now that I’ve experienced it firsthand, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show is absolutely nauseating to me (or maybe that’s gastroparesis — haha). I wonder how those girls feel as they strut down the runway in stilettos and lacy underwear. I doubt they feel as beautiful and sexy as they look after the “training” they might’ve been through. There are stories of modeling agencies pushing their clients to be anorexic. Some supermodels admit to fasting for days, eating cotton balls, even going hours without water before a big show! Any teenager with a smartphone can find these unhealthy diets and replicate them — just look at any “pro-ana” blog or hashtag. That’s right, there are “anorexia lifestyle” websites all over the Internet. They’re filled with “thinspiration” pictures and tips for training your body to starve. Anorexia is a serious mental illness, and it shouldn’t be promoted by the media. I got my GJ feeding tube in August, and I am still building back my strength in physical therapy. I had become so weak that it was hard to walk. But in the eyes of society, that was beautiful. Now that I have nutrition I can drive, go to half-days at school, spend time with friends and volunteer. I don’t look like I’m starving anymore, but I feel remarkably better. I’m back to doing what I love — and that is so much more important than looking like an “Angel.” After all, is the perfect body really that perfect? Author’s note (added September 12, 2016): Since this piece was published, Victoria’s Secret’s “Perfect Body” campaign has been amended. I hope that this is a step in the right direction for fashion brands around the world to uphold healthier beauty standards. Editor’s note: This story has been edited since publication.

Nancy Pickett

When People Assume a Feeding Tube Means an Eating Disorder

When I got my first nasal feeding tube, everyone started asking questions. I didn’t mind — I would ask questions too if my friend pulled a giant piece of spaghetti out of her nose. People asked things like, “What happened?” “What is that?” or “Are you OK?” and I explained I have gastroparesis. Occasionally, people freaked out or gave me sympathetic cop-out lines, but I had a relatively easy time dealing with people who don’t understand. I was actually more surprised by those who were familiar with with nasal tubes. They asked things like “Do you have a digestive disease?” or “Are you recovering from an eating disorder?” To which I would answer, “I have gastroparesis.” Many of their responses were immediate, even if they’d never heard of my disease. “Oh, good! I was afraid you were one of those girls trying to starve themselves;” “I’m glad it’s a real illness and not just an eating disorder;” “Oh, so you actually have a problem…” and other disturbing remarks that made mental illness sound like no big deal. Let me assure you: mental illness is a big deal. I don’t have an eating disorder, but that doesn’t mean I’m “more deserving” of a feeding tube than someone who does. That doesn’t mean I’m “sicker,” or that someone with a mental illness isn’t actually sick. It is a mental illness. Your brain can get sick just like your stomach, heart and lungs can. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to respond to the questions I’ve gotten while actually having with a mental illness. People have gone as far as apologizing for making an assumption about my tube, as if the very idea of having a mental illness should disgust me. To constantly battle your own mind is exhausting, physically and mentally. How dare you undermine the struggle of someone suffering from a mental illness. Gastroparesis is one of many chronic and debilitating physical illnesses I fight every day. My conditions cause me to be in and out of the hospital, permanently tube-fed and dependent on multiple medications. I have several friends who have chronic mental illnesses. Many are frequently hospitalized and dependent on medication — some are too sick to attend school. See the similarities? No matter what the malady, a chronic condition is hard to deal with. Especially when you’re talking about an “invisible illness” (when someone looks healthy despite having serious health issues). The mental illness stigma in our culture has to change. An eating disorder is so much more than a girl who wants to look like a supermodel. Anxiety is so much more than worrying too much. Depression is so much more than being sad all of the time. You would never tell a person with cancer or heart disease to “get over” his pain, so why would you say that to someone with a mental illness? Every 40 seconds, someone in the world takes their own life. Approximately 12 people harm themselves for every reported suicide attempt. And although millions of people around the world are affected by mental illness, it seems like people still don’t take it seriously. If we could change that, maybe we could change those statistics. No, I do not struggle with mental illness. My feeding tube is the result of a progressive gastrointestinal disorder, and I am not ashamed of the thing keeping me alive. Those in treatment for mental illness should not be ashamed either. As a matter of fact, they should be proud of the courage it took to seek out that help. The only people who need to be ashamed are the ones who have the audacity to belittle someone’s fight.