Last month we reviewed the amazing memoir Elena Vanishing, co-authored by Elena Dunkle and her mother Clare Dunkle. We recently had the opportunity to interview Elena and she shared with us some of her thoughts on body image issues and the media impact on young adults.
GeekGirl World: How do you feel about the “dadbod” hashtags that is so popular on the Internet now? A lot of women are trying to get the “mombod” hashtag trending. Do you think that is an effective way to combat the double standard in body images for men and women in the media?
Elena Dunkle: I answered a similar question recently, and I will summarize what I said there as well. I think I feel somewhat uneasy about the current viral media positivity. There is a proven link between health and weight. And focus should be less on becoming accepting of all body types and instead be more on proper education of health in relation to nutrition and exercise. I definitely do agree that breaking very selective ideals of beauty is important. But it can be a very short-term solution to purely celebrate everyone without educating them.
When I was at my lowest weight, I was the most confident and happy about my body than I ever had or have been. The doctors told my parents I was mere weeks away from death. I would have not wanted someone to come up to me then and tell me that I was healthy and perfect the way I was. Because I would have died. Both my parents and my doctors showed me love during that time in a very firm and tough way. And I was hurt by it then. But the gift they gave me through standing up for my health first, was the gift of life that I am still blessed to be enjoying five years later.
Loving yourself and others means genuinely and sincerely wanting what is best for them. And sometimes that can mean being tough and honest to yourself or your loved one.
I would rather have an environment that celebrates proper health than makes sure no one is subjected to any criticism. Being in an honest and tough love environment saved my life.
GGW: Do you feel the media is to blame for body image issues and body shaming among young women and teens?
ED: I personally do not feel that the media itself is to blame for body image issues by the way that models are portrayed. Humans have had an ideal beauty standard throughout all of history, and that has not changed. But I do believe that the utter access teens have to every corner of the internet can set them up to be ridiculed and judged much more easily. When I was a young teenager, I had no pressure to constantly photograph and upload my life to social media sites because they did not exist. So any silly thing I wore or did are lost in the sands of time. Unlike teenagers today who are subjected to massive amounts of bullying and stigma for anything remotely different or silly.
That constant pressure could make a lot of insecurities come to a head very easily. I think parents need to be aware of those environments on the internet when their children are online, and adults need to learn when to disconnect from such a critical eye.
GGW: What advice would you give to a young woman or teen struggling with anorexia? And what advice would you give their parents, particularly their mothers in helping them battle the disease?
ED: It is hard to say that my advice to a young woman or teen would be any different than the advice I would want to give to any person of any gender of any age struggling with anorexia. This is a powerful, deadly disease than can touch anyone and the stigma surrounding eating disorders makes it very difficult to seek help or be open about it.
And to anyone struggling at this moment I would say: The pain you are feeling now will never go away by pushing it deeper and hiding it. Seek out an authoritative figure you can trust and let them carry some of that weight. The anxiety and symptoms will get worse early on in the recovery process but the longer you wait to deal with anorexia, the more long-term physical damage you will cause to your body. Let professionals help you find the source of your pain that triggered your eating disorder, try to break your cycle of self-hatred early on, and learn to lean on others around you. And the more you open up to those around you, the more you will be amazed at how many people will come forward with similar journeys. You cannot live life with a little bit of anorexia. It will take over and consume you and your family. Seek help, and know that you deserve to seek that help.
ED: I was most certainly an avid reader as a child. Growing up, my mother worked as a librarian, so although any type of television or media in our home was out of the question, my sister and I had any book we could imagine right at our fingertips. Even before I could read, my mother would take the time to read the classics to my sister and I, and created a deep love of books right from the start. But her career as a writer was monumental in giving me the courage and resolve to embark on this memoir. She has been through the process of writing and knew all the steps involved, so being able to watch that process unfold helped inspire me a great deal.
GGW: Who is your most favorite strong female character in literature and do you feel there are enough heroines in YA lit?
ED: It is very difficult to just pick one! But one that jumps immediately to mind would have to be Kate Sutton from the book The Perilous Gard by Elisabeth Pope. Her character is so powerful because she does struggle with her responsibilities and has to work through her fears before discovering the strength inside herself. Characters that show the process of growth are the most important to me. It teaches readers that no one is born with any answers, and everyone falls a few times before they finish their journey.
There are many many amazing heroines in YA literature. As a voracious reader, I would never turn my nose up at a few more. But I think it is vital that the heroines introduced to readers have depth and character to them. The books that allow the reader to struggle and ultimately triumph alongside the heroine are the ones that should be sought after.