OTHER VOICES: Help is available for youth struggling with body image, disordered eating

On behalf of the Family Services of the North Shore, I would like to thank your reporter Ben Bengtson for his coverage of our Eating Disorders Awareness Week event at the Centennial Theatre.  

The event featured a documentary called The Illusionists by Italian filmmaker Elena Rossini, which highlights the negative impact of media, advertising, and marketing on teen mental health and body image. Attendees also heard about Jessie’s Legacy, a program which provides eating disorders prevention, education, resources and support for B.C. youth, families, educators and professionals.

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Jessie Alexander was a young North Shore women who took her own life after a long battle with disordered eating and depression. Her parents, Neil and Diana, have entrusted Family Services of the North Shore with her legacy to ensure that others will not suffer as she did.

North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma attended and spoke at the event. During her remarks she surprised the audience and myself alike by speaking up about her own struggle with an eating disorder when she was younger. This was the first time she has opened up publicly about her experience. Her honesty was very powerful and provided inspiration to all who may also suffer.

Her disclosure was also very meaningful to Jessie’s parents who gave me permission to share their words to her after the evening:

 “As Jessie’s parents, we know too well the depth of the issues that surround an eating disorder but take some solace when we see and hear women or men willingly discuss the many complex issues when dealing with an eating disorder. There is no one path, but prevention and recovery are found in bringing underlying issues and steps to recovery out into the open. The measure of a person is often found in times of adversity. To have faced and overcome adversity, then to share ones experience with the public sends a powerful message of hope to those that may not be able to see recovery at that moment. “

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is, unfortunately, just seven days out of the year. We know living with an eating disorder is a complex and deeply challenging issue some young people and families face every day. It’s often hard to know where to start. We at Family Services of the North Shore want everyone to know help is available for young people and their families who are struggling with body image and disordered eating.

If you or someone you know is at risk, we are here to help. Please call Family Services of the North Shore at 604-988-5281 or check out our Jessie’s Legacy Eating Disorders Prevention and Awareness website at jessieslegacy.com​.

Julia Staub-French is executive director of Family Services of the North Shore (FSNS), a non-profit, community-based agency.  For over 60 years we have provided a wide-range of counselling, support, education and volunteer opportunities for children, families, and individuals. Family Services of the North Shore created and operates Jessie’s Legacy, an innovative provincial program which provides education, resources and inspiration to prevent eating disorders and address disordered eating.

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