An intimate gathering of 30 students and the woman dubbed “the next Oprah” provided the backdrop for a discussion of eating disorders and self-image Thursday afternoon.
Jessica Weiner, an author and host of the syndicated talk show “Jessica” that will air next year, performed a program called “Do I Look Fat In This?” at a Pierson College Master’s Tea in the Swing Space basement. She discussed her own experiences with eating disorders and her self-proclaimed role as an “actionist” to inspire people to change their own lives.
Weiner said she began dieting with her mother at age 11 and struggled through her adolescence with anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating before she found support and therapy in college. Recently dubbed “the next Oprah” by The Hollywood Reporter, she now leads discussions focused on dealing with eating disorders, drug addiction, school violence, hate crimes and other issues.
“Inside I was really dying,” she said of her eating disorders. “I was really struggling.”
She referred to Thursday’s Sept. 11, 2001, memorial services, which she watched on television, and drew a parallel to the need for dealing with other issues through discussion.
Weiner also addressed body image specifically.
“What does it feel like when you no longer have to ask the question ‘Do I look fat in this?'” she asked the audience. As an answer, she urged the audience to “create an atmosphere and community where that’s not the common language.”
Weiner said most people in the United States have disordered eating, if not clinical eating disorders, and said body image problems frequently affect men as well as women.
About one-third of the audience was male. Students of both sexes responded by discussing their own experiences dealing with eating disorders, bringing up the question of social pressure and insecurity. Problems with eating and ideas for solutions varied widely.
“I wrestled in high school, and have always been weight and health conscious because of it,” Young Wang ’07 said. “I felt pressure from my teammates in that I didn’t want to let them down.”
Weiner facilitated the discussion and offered advice about how to help and support friends with eating disorders. But she qualified it with a comment: “No matter how much we love them, we cannot love them enough to make them love themselves.”
Beth Dickinson ’07 said she hoped Weiner’s message would gain a wider audience someday.
“I’ve have dealt with this issue [of eating disorders] in high school, and it was really underaddressed,” Dickinson said. “I wanted to hear a new perspective. It’s great that this might raise awareness on campus.”