Proud2Bme | Not Defined By...A Social Media Campaign Built From a Personal Story

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Not Defined By...A Social Media Campaign Built From a Personal Story

By Rachel-Jean Firchau--I am basically your typical college student. I hate homework, love burritos, and have dreams of traveling the world and being successful.

Six years ago, however, I hated homework, I also hated burritos, and I had no other ambition than to be beautiful. To my younger self, being beautiful directly translated into being thin. That’s right. When I was 14 years old, I was anorexic.

In 9th grade, anorexia nervosa has overridden my life and become my mental dictator. Note that I said “I was anorexic,” not that “I had anorexia.” I had become anorexia—it would speak for me, it would make decisions for me, and never would I dare do something without anorexia’s consent. During that period of time, I had estranged myself from my friends and family, and I had even become distanced from myself. I hated myself. Every little "victory" with anorexia was short-lived—I would quickly find something else about me to scrutinize. I can’t think of any other single moment in my life that I felt so alone.

Flash forward six years. After being six years recovered, I had buried my memories of anorexia away. I looked back on the ordeal with contempt and embarrassment. My thoughts would forever be tainted by the eating disorder I suffered as a teenager, whether I wanted them to or not. I hated my past and I wanted nothing to do with it now that I was in college, living in a new state, and surrounded by new people.

But earlier this year, one of my professors introduced us to a social media competition being held by the Entertainment Industries Council—a competition called TEAM UP Generation Next. TEAM UP is a project that brings together mental health experts, entertainment industry professionals, journalists, and students with the purpose of encouraging deeper reporting and more accurate depictions of people living with mental illness. At first I thought, what mental illness would I know enough about to consider even entering this competition? And that’s when I realized that I could finally use my story for something good. I could reopen my memories and not be afraid or disgusted by them. I could do something to benefit young girls and boys like me, and, most important, I could tell young people who may be experiencing  eating disorders that they are not alone, and that they are strong enough to recover.

By participating in this competition, I created Not Defined By: An Eating Disorder Awareness Campaign. Not Defined By is a social media campaign focused on ending the stigma surrounding the fear of eating disorders and starting a productive discussions about them. The campaign is aimed at increasing awareness of the mentality behind eating disorders, both for those who have them and for those who may know someone with one. Finally, Not Defined By is a source of inspiration for those with eating disorders that need strength and a place to share their stories or ask questions.

When I was 14, I didn’t have an online community—or any community for that matter—that I could go to so that I could feel less alone. With all the thinspo content that lurks around the internet these days, now more than ever, we need venues where those who are suffering can find solace and encouragement.

Not Defined By revolves around the message that you are not defined by a number on a scale, an image in the media, the food you eat, or anything else. You are a person. A beautiful, unique person. Your worth is so much more than the limiting properties of definitions.

For the first time since I was anorexic, I decided to become completely vulnerable online through this campaign. I chose to share my story—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I was afraid at first to be judged for my past, but I then realized that one of the most powerful ways to make a difference is to share your story.

Through this campaign, I was able to finally turn my negative experience into something that could potentially help so many other people like myself. I realize now that when something bad happens to you, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you. When I was 14, anorexia defined me. Today, I am using it as a venue to strengthen and encourage young people everywhere. That’s more than I could ever have asked for. And I'm proud to report that Not Defined By won the competition, and was recently recognized at the Prism Awards.

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

Proud2Bme was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental health organization that has licensed the concept to the National Eating Disorders Association. Unless otherwise noted, all original content on this site is copyright The National Eating Disorders Association. The Proud2Bme brand, logos, and trademarks are property of Rivierduinen.