Sunny Sea Gold knows all too well the many pressures that young women face with body image and their weight.
Gold, 34, the author of the just-published paperback book "Food: The Good Girl's Drug: How to Stop Using Food to Control Your Feelings" and founder of the blog HealthyGirl.org, struggled as a teenager and young woman with binge eating.
"When I was suffering the most, I was bingeing nearly every day, at least in some way, whether it was simply by eating an incredibly large dinner or by waking up in the middle of the night to eat a couple of bowls of cereal," said Gold, who also is a deputy editor at Redbook magazine.
And then there were the peanut butter M&Ms.
"I remember once in my early 20s, getting the urge to binge one Sunday, walking to a drugstore on the corner, buying a huge one-pound bag of M&Ms and rushing home," she recalled. "I could barely wait to get the bag open. Then I sat in a warm bath and ate handful after handful after handful until I was in physical pain. When the pain went away, I got the urge to binge again, so I ate the rest."
A combination of resources — including self-help books and support groups — helped Gold recover, but it was through therapy that she really developed her self-esteem so that she could stop focusing on her body size.
According to Gold, there are three main causes for
, environment and personality — and she said all three played a role in her case.
"What many experts say is that nature loads the eating disorder gun and nurture pulls the trigger," Gold said.
She said she was raised by a mother who was "very looks-oriented and valued thinness."
But she notes that cultural environment is influential too — "the images we see, the ideals of beauty we're exposed to."
"When I was a teen, we all swallowed the message that we had to look like the girls we saw on the billboards and we accepted what we were told by society," Gold said.
On April 19, Gold will moderate a panel discussion at
in River Forest titled "Perfection: Media and Body Image in the World of Fashion." The event is being presented by the school's apparel design and merchandising department and nutrition department.
Appearing on the panel will be Elisa Fischer, clinical preceptor in the nutrition sciences department at Dominican University; Abby Zupancic, fashion show coordinator at Zzazz Productions; Leslie Goldman, a blogger with
; and Andrea Wozniak, a fashion model for the Ford agency.
Gold's appearance is tied to a retail promotion and visual merchandising class taught each semester by Melissa Carr.
"Each semester students create a visual window at the university, and last spring, one group of four students created one on the media and body image in a window at the Fine Arts Building on campus," Carr recalled.
One of these students was Oak Park resident Sara Gretencord, 22, an apparel merchandising major set to graduate in May.
"We wanted to raise awareness about the apparel industry and body image," Gretencord said. "The back wall of the window had Photoshopped pictures of anorexic models and showed how the representation of women in the media has consequences that trickle down to young women who then feel bad about themselves.
"We also included images of normal-size women because we wanted people who saw our window to know that we are all beautiful without being retouched or without starving ourselves to fit an unrealistic mold of what a woman should be," she added.
It's a message that Gold, who once weighed 225 pounds but is now a healthy size 12 and expecting her first child, works hard to convey to young women.
"I consider myself completely recovered from my eating disorder and feel completely normal around food and don't have the urge to binge eat," she said. "But I want to tell young women that there is help, and that even if they are at a normal weight, they can have a problem. Every person overeats or undereats once in a while, but when it starts to affect your life, that's when it becomes a problem."
Gold notes that she has seen some positive changes in the media and the fashion industry, but says much more needs to be done.
"There's been a concerted effort on the part of several magazines to include women of different sizes, and some stores like H&M have cute plus-size clothes," she said.
"But I wear a size 12, and there are some high-end designers that I can't fit into," she said. "If a magazine like Redbook or Glamour wants to feature the latest clothing, most fashion samples are very, very small.
"It's time to say to the designers, 'Make us some samples that are larger so we can show some larger-looking girls.'"