Arts, Central New York, Government, Health

Woman fighting eating disorder finds beauty in body through self-portraits

By Carolyn Blackburne  SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS)— Joslyn Smith has been struggling with a restrictive eating disorder for 15 years. But she said you wouldn’t know it just by looking at her.

“It’s assumed that if you’re in a larger body, you’re certainly not starving yourself, so when people know I have an eating disorder but they don’t ask about that, the assumption is, is that I struggle with binge eating disorder and my struggle is the opposite of that,” Smith said.

Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS)

Smith said she was diagnosed in college with eating disorder not otherwise specified, or EDNOS.

“Symptomatically, all of my symptoms and behaviors were anorexia, except I was at a high weight,” Smith said.

Her wake up call came in college when Andrea Smeltzer, a friend and history classmate, passed away because of a private battle with bulimia that lasted just one year.

“We were both struggling at the same time but neither of us looked stereo-typically like someone who had an eating disorder…but when she passed away, that’s when it changed for me because it could have been me… That’s when I realized… this is real and I do have a problem,” Smith said.

Left her dream job to confront eating disorder

Smith worked as a senior legislative assistant on Capitol Hill for the  American Psychological Association (APA) in their Public Interest Government Relations Office. She said she loved her job in Washington D.C. because she had the opportunity to establish the APA’s legislative portfolio on eating disorders and she could directly help those struggling with the mental disorder. But Smith was still fighting with her own eating disorder at the time she was working with the APA.

“Being in a larger body and having a restrictive eating disorder I give myself enough mixed messages. Getting them from the environment and the healthcare field, it was just something I couldn’t balance with taking really good care of myself and staying weight neutral,” Smith said.

Smith said she eventually left the position to get treatment for her eating disorder.

“It was kind of this bitter-sweet decision where I had to choose my health over a career that potentially would have been very empowering and helpful to the eating disorders field and to myself… I chose to trust my gut and follow my instinct,” Smith said.

But Smith said her involvement with the eating disorders awareness did not stop when she left her job at the APA.

“I needed to move to Ithaca and still do body-positive work through my creative outlets because that nourished me rather than depleting me,” Smith said.

Found beauty in her body through painting nude self-portraits

After years of therapy and some creative insight, Smith learned to celebrate her body by painting nude self-portraits.

“I really liked the figures I was making and so I could find beauty in them,” Smith said.

Now, her self-portraits hang at Ophelia’s Place in Syracuse in a Love Your Body Art show. Spokesperson for Ophelia’s Place and organizer of the event, Jill Catherine said the art show was focused around the idea of being body positive.

“We’ve really started nailing the conversation around self-expression through the body, rather than objectification through the body,” Catherine said.

Learning to love the way her body looks in photographs

Smith said she loves the way her body looks in her self-portraits, but it’s still difficult to look at naked photographs of herself. So Smith scheduled a nude photo shoot with Jade Biel, a photographer focused on body positive messages.

“I feel like that’s kind of the next step for me, to give myself permission to look at an image and learn to love it,” Smith said.

Warning signs for EDNOS

Below are some behaviors someone with EDNOS exhibits, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

  • Restricting food intake
  • Binge eating and/or purging
  • Fear of weight gain, obsession with weight
  • Self-esteem relying on body image

How to help someone with EDNOS

If you think you know someone struggling with EDNOS, you can call the toll free National Eating Disorders hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

For those in Syracuse, there are free treatment options at Ophelia’s Place, a non-profit focused on helping those with eating disorders. Every Thursday at 5:45 p.m.-7 p.m., Ophelia’s Place hosts a support group concentrating on recovery for those with eating disorders. Ophelia’s Place can be contacted at 315-451-5544. 

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, The Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service and Ophelia’s Place host outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment. The Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service can be contacted at 877-765-7866.

Self-portraits of Joslyn Smith hang at Ophelia's Place in a Love Your Body Arts Show. (c) Blackburne, 2014

Joslyn Smith's self-portraits were featured at Ophelia's Place in a Love Your Body Art Show. (c) Blackburne, 2014

Joslyn Smith smiles while talking about her road to recovery from her eating disorder. (c) Blackburne, 2014