Speaker encourages reflection on mirror image

Jena Morrow struggled for years with an eating disorder. (Tom O'Dell/Photo Editor)

Glancing in the mirror can be a casual way to check one’s appearance, but for some it is a much more daunting task.

When Jena Morrow looks into reflective surfaces, she struggles to see a positive image of herself as an “evil twin” makes quips about her weight, goads her guilt and urges her to purge.

This personification of an eating disorder is how Morrow explained her incessant, internal battle at “Lovin’ The Body Your In” on Thursday, Oct. 27.

Hosted by the Center for Student Wellness and Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, the evening featured Morrow’s recovery story, a panel of counseling experts and a glow-stick vigil for victims.

The event was part of sorority Delta Phi Epsilon’s week-long effort to promote positive body image and raise awareness about their philanthropy with the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, INC.

According to ANAD, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness, including alcoholism and substance abuse.

After attending D Phi E’s national conference and speaking to other chapters, senior communication studies major Jessica Virga decided to bring ANAD Week to campus.

According to Virga, the week included a screening of the documentary “America the Beautiful,” about modeling and eating disorders, a jeans drive with Student Government and “Pie A Deepher,” where students paid to pie the sisters. All proceeds were donated to ANAD.

“We’re such an image-obsessed country, so it’s important to learn to accept yourself and others for who you are,” Virga said. “You don’t have to conform to a certain body image, and you really don’t have to push the limits with food and exercise.”

The event began somberly as Morrow, author and behavioral health specialist at Timberline Knolls, spoke to the crowd.

She read the introduction of her book “Hollow,” which was given to all attendees.

Categorizing college as a “hotbed for eating disorders,” Morrow said it was “when things really intensified for me as far as my eating disorder symptoms and really could’ve been the end of me. I have a personal interest and passion for speaking to people your age.”

Upon entering college, she skipped signing up for a meal plan to avoid eating. Within two and a half months, she lost 40 pounds.

“I couldn’t understand why everyone was being so melodramatic,” she said. “I didn’t realize the little kids at my church were scared to come up and give me a hug because they thought I looked like a monster.”

In 1996, Morrow was sent to an inpatient treatment center in Arizona for seven months, where she “fought (treatment) every step of the way” and pulled out her feeding tubes.

She deemed recovery a “slow process of deciding one day at a time, one meal at a time, one moment at a time to choose life rather than choose the counterfeit lies an eating disorder will try to sell you.”

These lies, she said, are pseudo promises of acceptance and love.

She offered a message to anyone thinking losing weight will fix their problems: “You can’t have both an eating disorder and a life. There’s no way. I tried for a long time to try to decide which one I wanted.”

After Morrow spoke, she joined a panel with Kimberly Dennis, Timberline Knolls medical director, Hue-Sun Ahn, psychologist for the College’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Holly Heller, family nurse practitioner at Student Health Services.

The panel explained that on-campus resources available at CAPS and Student Health Services are free of charge and confidential. There is also a “friends helping friends” program.

The experts urged students to approach friends of concern in an open, heartfelt way.

According to Dennis, “An angry friend is better than a dead one. The worst thing to do is stay silent about it.”

Mark Celentana, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and director of CAPS, moderated the panel.

Celentana said this event is part of an “ongoing effort on campus” to raise awareness and support for student wellness, especially with eating disorders.

“We care about students here at (the College) and are just trying to provide as many resources and have as many options available as possible,” he said.

After the event, Morrow signed books and spoke to The Signal.

“I want to have a message of realistic hope, which is that it’s hard work — recovery is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life — but it’s absolutely worth it,” she said.