Imperfect: A Story of Body Image
by Dounya Awada
Dounya, a Muslim girl living in Las Vegas, Nevada, shares her very personal story of battling eating disorders when she was a teenager, in order to help other young people suffering from this affliction.
Imperfect: A Story of Body Image is the fourth in a series of graphic novels written by young adults for their peers.
Dounya Awada is a 24-year-old, devout Muslim, happy, healthy, and very much alive. But just a few years before, she nearly starved to death.
Her struggle began when she was six years old.
Little Dounya wanted nothing less than to be perfect, like her mother. She pushed herself hard every day, excelling in schoolwork and at home. She had to be the cutest, prettiest, smartest girl in the room. The slightest hint of imperfection led to meltdowns and uncontrollable tantrums. Her parents loved her fiercely but were unable to understand what was happening to their little girl.
Being perfect all the time was exhausting. In Dounya’s culture, food is nearly synonymous with love. Food is nourishment, nourishment is love, love is life. Dounya began to eat to fill the growing need within her. She grew in size, eventually hitting over 200 pounds at just age 15. Food became her only friend. Her peers mocked her. She felt utterly alone.
As is the case for someone with dysmorphia, Dounya’s obsession with food did a turnabout, and she began rigorous exercising and dieting. But even a substantial weight loss didn’t satisfy her. She looked in the mirror and still saw the fat girl she used to be. She began the ugly cycle of bingeing and purging, eventually hitting a low weight of just 73 pounds.
Dounya’s horrific struggle with eating disorders has led her to advocate for boys and girls facing the same hurdles with which she struggled. She is now studying clinical psychology, and hopes to open an eating and dysmorphia disorder facility in Las Vegas for boys and girls with her disorder. If her story helps just one person to recognize the beauty of their imperfection, then her pain will have been worthwhile.
Publication Date: April 16, 2019
Five Parent Take-Aways About Body Image
Dramatic weight change can be the first warning sign of an eating disorder.
It’s important for an adolescent to be seen by a medical professional and have their BMI (Body Mass Index) checked. If it’s lower than 13.5, it’s important to assess what has led to this loss of weight. A significant weight gain in a short period of time, could be a sign of BED (Binge Eating Disorder).
Modeling a healthy relationship with food is crucial.
If mothers/fathers talk about dieting or food as good/bad, this can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s important for parents to have an abundance and variety of food in the house that is nourishing but also tasty. No food should be off limits unless one has a medical condition that prevents them from enjoying all kinds of food.
Commenting negatively on one’s own body can lead to development of negative body image.
It’s extremely important for mothers in particular to think about the comments they make about their own bodies in front of their children (especially their daughters).
Sometimes being connected spiritually or to a higher power can serve as a protective factor in the recovery process.
Being connected to a religion, being spiritual, or having a form of a higher power can sometimes help aid the recovery process from an eating or body image problem.
If parents suspect their child has an eating disorder they should seek help sooner rather than later.
Many times, it’s the denial of the reality or gravity of the problem that hinders the help-seeking process. It’s extremely important that parents seek out the help they need as early as possible.
Credit: Aviva Braun L.C.S.W., specializing in body image and eating disorders.
ABOUT THE EXPERTS
Aviva Braun, L.C.S.W., is in private practice in Manhattan. She works with adolescent and adult women who suffer from eating and body image problems. She has written for The Sisterhood blog of The Forward and for Parents.com.