Bill HenryThe Sun Times
Date Published: Saturday, April 28, 2012
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Chantel Casey is happy now with who she sees in the mirror.
But getting comfortable with that image again has been a struggle -- one the Grade 8 Sauble Beach student wants to help others avoid.
It started with media stereotypes promoting ultra thin as the way girls must look, made worse by some bad advice.
"I had a couple of friends say that I needed to start dieting and that I wasn't pretty enough," the 14-year-old said this week. "I'm not friends with those people anymore."
With support from her grandmother, Fran Low, she has launched an awareness campaign. It includes body image workshop sessions for senior elementary and high school students at several area schools all next week and a public session Friday night at the Sauble Community Centre.
Casey's troubles began early last summer. She started worrying about what she ate, watching for fat first then for calories. Soon she was eating just yoghurt, then almost nothing.
"It just kind of got out of hand and I wasn't eating anything," she said.
Weakened and ill, she ended up in a London hospital for three weeks diagnosed first with a weak heart and eventually with anorexia.
Everyone helping her at the hospital was an adult. She longed for a peer perspective.
"You would get more out of it rather than having an adult speak to you all the time," Casey said this week.
That thought seeded what became the Zero is Not Our Hero group she formed at her Amabel-Sauble school, and led eventually to next week's workshops for students at eight local schools. Nicole Clark, an LA-based former elite fashion model who now champions girls' self-esteem will lead the sessions.
Then Friday night at 7 p.m., Clark will speak at a community forum about body image issues and media stereotypes. She will show and talk about her documentary Cover Girl Culture, about the fashion industry and the sexualization of young girls by media and advertising.
That public session, intended for parents and teens of either gender, is from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Sauble Community Centre.
The whole thing began with Casey wanting to help other teenagers avoid "the pressure to look a certain way" and what she went through because of it.
"I just want them to understand that you don't have to be super skinny to be really pretty," she said. "And it doesn't matter what you like, it matters what comes from inside. And that's a really cheesy line, but it's true. It shouldn't matter what you look like."
Last fall, after seeing Nicole Clark on TV, Casey wrote about her own experience for a school speech competition. She and her grandmother contacted Clark by e-mail and were surprised by a quick response.
They exchanged e-mails and eventually through community support -- Casey wrote to businesses and clubs for funding -- organized next week's campaign.
"My signs slipped past the people who love me," Casey wrote in her letter seeking support. "Not only was my heart weakened due to my illness, but the hearts of my friends and family were too."
"I have been diagnosed with anorexia. It came to me. I didn't go to it, or did I subconsciously," she wrote. "If I can do my part from stopping one person who might fall into this mental illness, then I have helped in some small way."
Casey looks forward next week to tapping Clark's brain for ideas how she and her school friends with the Zero is Not Our Hero group might organize workshops sessions they can take to peers at other schools.
She said she was fortunate. Her diagnosis came early and although she still struggles and is unable to pursue school sports and other physical activities, she's on the mend. She still sees two physicians regularly and is in counseling.
"It's gotten a lot better. I'm really happy with the way I look now," she said. "It was pretty challenging. When I think about it and look back on it, I had a lot of struggles, but now that I'm up there and I'm confident it doesn't seem like it was a lot, but going through it was really tough." email@example.com
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