Aurora James hopes our conversations get more real when discussing disordered eating.
Amid Mental Health Awareness Month and ahead of the release of her debut memoir, “Wildflower” (out May 9, Penguin Random House), which plunges deep into the background of the fashion designer and founder of the Fifteen Percent Pledge, James opened up to People magazine about her struggles with mental health, body image, and disordered eating, which she said began in the seventh grade.
James recalled weighing herself each day and keeping track by writing her weight each day on her calendar. She described growing up amid “complicated” relationships with her mother and grandmother, who both exhibited unhealthy behavior around eating and dieting, including her stepfather restricting her mother’s food.
Then, there was the fashion industry.
“As much as fashion magazines would transport me to another world — beautiful Kim Walker editorials with pastel-colored Persian cats and beautiful Chanel couture gowns — the girls in all of those ads were size zero,” she said. “So I think it was complicated because I didn’t feel like I fit into that body type and that perhaps because I didn’t, I wouldn’t be seen as attractive or accepted.”
Her environment, combined with the pressure from the media, contributed to James developing bulimia and anorexia as a form of control. She told People her unhealthy habits were also a coping mechanism.
“I definitely knew that it was wildly unhealthy, but to me, it just was what it was. I think most people who struggle from an eating disorder, that’s also partly depression. So I think I was depressed and just managing it the best that I could,” she said.
James, who is 39, said her weight fluctuated throughout her 20s and continued to do so until she reached a “turning point” in 2016 after working with a nutritionist who shattered her confidence and put her on an aggressive diet. At one point in particular, she said, while preparing for a major event, the nutritionist instructed her to eat nothing but watermelon for 10 days.
“And I did that. And I remember on day 10, I literally fainted,” she said.
It was then that James realized she needed to do deeper work and have deeper conversations with herself if she was ever going to get control over her disordered eating and body image issues. She sought refuge through traditional therapy and began unpacking the source of her struggles.
While James said she’s much better these days, she’s still worried for others. According to an NHS study, the number of Black people landing in the hospital for eating disorders rose between 2017 and 2020 by 216%, with over 200 cases reported each year. In recent years, Black people, and Black women in particular, have begun to recognize patterns of disordered eating and are pushing past stereotypes that claim these disorders only impact white people. James told People that despite the inroads of the body positivity movement, she sees signs that the culture could slip backward.
“I think that as a society, as a culture, as media, as people of influence, we need to start having some of these conversations and understand the risks to society by continuing to push certain narratives onto women,” she said.
She encourages others struggling similarly to do the inner work, adding that one should pay particularly close attention to how they feel when they are tempted to give into bad habits.
“What is that feeling you’re having at that moment when you decide to make an unhealthy decision? How can we work through that feeling and where that feeling comes from? And anyone that you can trust in your life to be a confidant to you to talk through some of that stuff — whether it’s a therapist, a psychiatrist, or a friend — is exactly who you should have on speed dial.”
If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or go to NationalEatingDisorders.org. For further resources, go to Therapy For Black Girls and/or Therapy for Black Men.
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