Section: Opinion

Eating disorder awareness fliers elicit painful feelings

By Katie Finnigan

Last Sunday, as I was finishing my share of the Lunar New Year Celebration vegetarian selection in Peirce’s Thomas Hall, I saw a few people I believed to be Peer Counselors walk around the tables and distribute advertisements for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW) that described the events that would be taking place throughout the week, in addition to debunking some misconceptions about eating disorders. “‘You don’t have to be skinny to have an eating disorder’ — FALSE.” “‘Eating disorders are caused by exposure to media’ — FALSE.”

As I read the paper advertisement placed in front of me, and watched as the students placed ads on every other table in Thomas, I felt a burning sensation in my chest — Fear? Anger? Heartburn?  — that I have never been able to articulate, and that I am still vaguely unsure how to.

To myself and others, the eating culture in Peirce has been a source of turmoil during my Kenyon career — not because of the food that AVI so lovingly dispenses, but because the constant exposure to an all-you-can-eat environment is taxing. I am sure that all students are familiar with this feeling, but when you have an eating disorder, the prospect of having to choose what to eat in front of your peers, and then eating with them, is often completely overwhelming.

Although I have appreciated the communality that is built in Peirce meal after meal, I can’t escape the fact that I feel that I am prepping myself for battle, against my anxieties, against the desire to consume too much or too little food, against the lingering remnants of the disorder that has sadly defined much of my Kenyon career.

So when I saw the NEDAW advertisements being dispersed in New Side, I had an urge to rip them up, not because I don’t support NEDAW or the Counseling Center, but because I felt that Peirce was not the place to explain what an eating disorder is, or what it is not. The building has been my personal Mecca of disordered eating, and I thought it was hardly necessary to remind those with eating disorders of the urges they fight against, when they are already hyper-aware of them.

When I tried to think of where the advertisements could go, so that students, faculty, staff and community members could see them, I was hard-pressed to think of a space that wouldn’t cause pain to someone with an eating disorder. Obviously not the bathroom, another hub of disordered digestion or purging of food. Wiggin Street Coffee or the Bookstore? Maybe, but not ideal, given that people still eat there just like they do in Peirce. Residence halls? I know I would not want to face a reminder of eating disorders in my place of residence, my “safe space.”

What’s left, then? The Gund Commons computer lab? The greenhouse? Other places on campus that most of the student body avoids or never comes into contact with? I soon realized that as much as I wanted to tear down the advertisements, I didn’t know where else to put them. Honestly, I wanted them out of my life, out of Gambier. Just as I want eating disorders to be out of my life, to be out of the lives of my friends, my family, individuals of all gender identities and ethnic backgrounds; to be erased from my past, present and future.

Am I being too sensitive, overlooking the need to raise awareness about a group of disorders that are largely misunderstood by the public? Probably. However, I hope this article will do as much to raise awareness about the prevalence of eating disorders in every sphere, but especially Peirce, as much as the NEDAW advertisements have. Simply put, eating disorders will not be out of my life any time soon. The process of making peace with that fact has been a long and arduous one, but I feel closer to peace than ever before — and that’s something to advertise.

Katie Finnigan ’15 is a psychology major from Valencia, Calif. Contact her at


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