By Pierangelly Del Rio
Eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other form of psychological illness. In the UK alone, 1.6 million people are affected by an eating disorder. Such issues have gained more recognition in recent years with plenty of services available to assists those who are affected and more people willing join the conversation.
From 26th February – 4th March, Eating Disorders Awareness Week will be celebrated internationally with the goal of fighting the myths and misunderstandings that surround anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS. Kelsie Silverstone, an English and American Literature student at Manchester Met, has launched a fundraising appeal to support Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity. Kelsie has shared her story as an ED survivor in her ‘Kelsie’s Bald and Beautiful’ Just Giving campaign and is inviting donors to support the appeal.
Humanity Hallows caught up with Kelsie to ask her about her fundraiser and the importance of raising awareness about eating disorders.
What’s the goal of your fundraising appeal?
“The goal of the fundraising is to raise awareness about eating disorders and mental health. My initial aim is to raise 1500 pounds to the charity (Beat) and it’s expanded really quickly. It’s because there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health at the moment and I thought, after I’ve come so far from my own recovery, it was time to start talking about it a bit more and breaking down the stigma so we can talk about mental illness more feely. The goal is not only to spread awareness to my friends and family who might not have known about my full process of recovery, but also extending it out to universities, and in my work.”
As part of the fundraising, you’re going to shave your head. Why have you chosen to brave the shave?
“The reason behind me choosing to shave my head is that is when I was ill, my hair fell out quite a lot. So, when I had my hair cut afterward, to get rid of the dead hair, the first thing I said was “I’m going to shave it all off.” I thought I’d never have the guts to do it and then, I thought it was the right time for me to shave my head and really embrace myself in my most basic form to be able to accept myself in with makeup, and not having to worry about my hair or anything like that, just fully embracing my appearance.”
When did you decide to take action and start collecting funds for charities?
“I decided years ago but I never really acted upon it. I always thought about doing charity events about eating disorders, I’ve done charities events before for breast cancer awareness, but I didn’t know whether I felt comfortable enough to start speaking about it and share my story with so many people. And so, recently, I’ve met with family and we were talking about fundraising and after that, I decided to do my own fundraising. After that, it snowboarded and I feel it’s a good time because of the university as well. You’re coming to university and this is a time when we can openly talk about lots of different things.”
Do you think websites like Beat are getting enough recognition for the work they do?
“I don’t think it does. Maybe more over the past couple of years. When I was suffering myself, my mum used that website as a mean of helping her because it advises families and loved ones as well as people who are suffering. I think smaller charities need some more recognition for what they do because they’re specific in the area that they’re treating. So it’s not just the general idea of mental health but about the specific person and what they’re suffering from, what I think is more important.”
You’ve mentioned before you didn’t know whether you’d feel comfortable enough to speak and share your story. Would you advise any people suffering from similar mental health issues to open themselves about it?
“I think you should open about your experiences and not feel scared to share them, and I think it helps a lot more people. I know with sharing my story with other sufferers. I went back to the hospital, to help other people about after a year or two. I’m sharing my story with others because they can see people at the other end, see somebody who has come out all of that and progress in their recovery. I think talking and sharing your story is the first step to recovering yourself.”
It’s widely believed that the media, particularly in its portrayal of women and celebrity culture, are among the biggest causes of eating disorders.
“I’m skeptical about that. People have a predisposition to have that sort of mental illness and I know for myself I didn’t really focus on looking like anybody else, it was all inwards, it was all focused on my body. So, I think girls might have low self-esteem as a result of what they see in the media and that might contribute, but I don’t think seeing somebody who’s size 0 on a runway might necessarily lead to somebody having an eating disorder. But media does contribute to it; there are things such as “pro-ana” and “thinspiration”, in which images of emaciated men and women are meant to be set as a goal to achieve. I think that’s more damaging than celebrity culture.”
Next week is eating disorders awareness week. Do that kind of events make it easier for people suffering from ED to open themselves and come together?
“It tends to be like that. Next week, I will be posting about my experiences. It does bring people together because it gives you the freedom to share your own story because you’re seeing others sharing theirs. Sometimes you need a little bit of a push get to that point and those days are really good for raising awareness, and it’s an opportunity to raise money for charities as well.”
Do you have any advice for people interested in supporting eating disorder charities?
“If you’re willing to do something yourself, charities welcome you and support you. For instance, my head shave is completely between me and one of the correspondents from Beat; we’ve worked together throughout the whole process. So, it’s possible to organise an event by yourself or in small groups. And it doesn’t have to be someone who suffers from mental health to do that, if you have a loved one who suffers from it or you’re just passionate about it, you can still raise money for charities.”
On the 1st of March, the fundraising reached its £1,500 target. Just two days after, Kelsie live streamed her head shave on social media, concluding the appeal. Supported by ninety-six participants, the fundraising achieved 116% of its original target. Donations are still open on Just Giving until the end of the weekend.