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Body image, social media shape essay contest

A Leigh High School student is helping to coordinate an essay contest about body image and eating disorders to inspire local youths to seek help and share their experiences.
Sophomore Celine Wang says the ninth annual “Everybody’s Beautiful” writing contest encourages Santa Clara County teens in grades 6-12 to reflect on the effects of media and social standards on their self-esteem.
“It’s an opportunity for students to look into themselves and think about how beauty is portrayed in media and how people really think about it,” Wang said.
An estimated 7,000 youths across the county have binged, purged or cut calories to dangerous lows to lose weight, according to a study done in 180 high schools by the Santa Clara County Office of Education and YMCA’s Project Cornerstone. The many extreme body standards shown in media became noticeable to Wang around seventh grade, which she said contributed to her struggle with anorexia nervosa.
“I started mostly because of the standards that people set,” Wang said. “Especially in middle school, because they get exposed to this unrealistic standard at a young age because of social media.”
Being constantly bombarded by the imagery was more than she could handle, and “it eventually got to me and caused me to start cutting my calories” down to only 500 a day, she said.
Many of Wang’s symptoms were not noticed for two years except by close friends and family.
“Eventually I started getting cold all the time and then I would be depressed and moody,” she said.
At one point Wang lost 10 pounds in less than a month and it became harder to ignore comments from her inner circle.
“After a long time, some debate and reflection on who I am and what I’m doing to myself, I got help,” Wang said, praising her family for helping her through recovery.
“My mom played a big role because she was probably one of the first who noticed my eating disorder,” she added. “She played a large role in helping me recover.”
Wang had a relapse, though, cutting calories even more until eventually deciding, “I didn’t want to go back down that path.”
She became determined to help her peers avoid the same pitfalls so she started searching around for organizations dealing with eating disorders and found the Eating Disorders Resource Center in Los Gatos. There she met executive director Janice Bremis, with whom she started organizing this year’s essay contest.
“It’s really important and it’s a good way to spread awareness because I’ve been through it myself,” Wang said.
In a statement, Bremis said she was glad to have Wang on board.
“I am thrilled to have Celine coordinate and lead this year’s event,” Bremis said. “It’s important to get the word out because it helps students recognize the effect that media has on body image and encourages them to see beauty in all shapes and sizes.”
The ninth annual “Everybody’s Beautiful” essay contest is open to all Santa Clara County students in grades 6 to 12.  Entries may be written in English or Spanish and will be accepted through March 3. Middle and high school entries will be judged separately, with the top three poems and essays from each category awarded cash prizes of up to $300. To learn more about the contest, contact celine@edrcsv.org.

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