In conjunction with Southern Smash founder McCall Dempsey, USC students Imani Roberson and Mills Hayes shared their stories of realization and recovery in a panel addressing eating disorders as a part of Carolina BeYOUtiful Week.
“There was something going on in my life that wasn’t going the way that I intended,” said Roberson, a fourth-year sociology student. “I didn’t fit this idea of beauty that I was supposed to.”
Southern Smash is an organization that raises awareness for those suffering with eating disorders and promotes healthy body image.
Roberson‘s disorder began to manifest itself in middle school. Remembering that she believed boys wouldn’t like girls who looked like her, Roberson said she engaged in disordered eating habits at a young age. Her habits went with her into high school and college because she believed she could never tell her parents.
In her second year at USC, Roberson reached her breaking point.
“I’m 19 years old, and for the past ten years, I have just been a slave to this condition. I have just let it crush me and let it turn me into a person I don’t recognize,“ Roberson said. “I started looking toward the future. In a couple years I could be someone’s wife, I could be someone's mother, and how am I going to raise my children to love themselves and value themselves if I’m not doing the same?”
Roberson went on to seek treatment and was put into recovery. Together she and Hayes related the difficulties of recovering from an eating disorder.
“I used my eating disorder as a coping mechanism to make me feel like I had control,” said Hayes, a fourth-year broadcast journalism student. “The first thing I wanted to do was go and indulge in my eating disorder behaviors when something was going wrong, and even now, even to this day I have the urge, if something's going wrong in my life, I have the urge to engage in it, but I know that I can’t do that.”
Amy Reyner, a third-year exercise science major, had a close friend in recovery from an eating disorder. At her friend’s recommendation, she attended the panel and was moved by Hayes and Roberson’s stories.
“Seeing them be so vulnerable and so willing to share everything is just so impactful,” Reyner said.
In addition to Hayes and Roberson’s testimonies, USC therapist Nicole Matros and Amy Chen, a dietitian at Eating Recovery Center in Greenville, South Carolina, spoke on diet culture and the term “freshman 15."
”Your body isn’t done growing yet, so it makes sense if you gain a little bit of weight, regardless of what our behaviors look like,” Chen said. “But there’s still a lot of pressure to not have our bodies change.”
The panel discouraged diets and instead tried to promote listening to bodily needs.
”Food doesn’t make us more moral,” said Chen.
As Hayes and Roberson relayed their experiences and road to recovery, students in the audience were moved to tears. Kaitlyn Finn, a third-year psychology student, recalled feeling especially touched by the students’ stories as a personal friend of Hayes.
“I think hearing Imani and Mills really kind of drives it home for everyone,” Finn said. “I think it's important to realize that there isn’t a look for an eating disorder ... everyone who looks like they might have it all together really might not have it all together.“