“It’s because they are devoured by an absolute hunger for love that they do not accept food as a material substitute for love itself.”
It all started on a summer Sunday. I was at home cleaning it all when I heard the Mac in the bedroom that was constantly ringing: it was from Facebook chat. After a recent publication on National Geographic, my social networks went crazy and I reached maximum amount of allowed connections on Facebook in less than a month.
She was one of the many friendship requests, accepted by accident because I’m usually very selective (only people related to the world of photography). After she insistently wrote alone without receiving any answer, I decided to look at her profile. I understood the mistake of accepting her, not being in my business niche.
Anyway, in every photograph of her there was something wrong: comments of encouragement for hospitalizations, surgery and rehabilitations. I went back into the chat and asked her, as the first message ever sent, if she was sick. Her answer was “even if it’s not the best way to start a privity from illnesses, yes, I am anorexic”.
I was silent for a while, reasoning, thinking, while she continued to write incessantly. My second question was: “Would you like to jump into a photographic project with me about anorexia?”
Sure about her negative answer, I was amazed when a very positive and straight feedback arrived with enthusiasm. So in the following days we begun to think together on how to set it up with the only request by Elisabetta not to load other drama on an already dramatic condition. She asked me to represent the healing, the exit from the disease, the ability to say “I did it” and the message that anyone who really want it can do it like other done before.
And the project started.
Elisabetta was born in the province of Rome, 35 years ago. She has a sister named Ilaria and they are very close together.
The relationship with her parents is conflictual and difficult to maintain; she exit from parents house in old age to study at the National Academy of Fine Arts where at the same time she starts to attend gyms and environments where body control is everything.
The weight loss began and the belief that by controlling the weight everything else was controllable. The sick, distorted visions of reality, loneliness, tears, insecurity and fear come. She lost self-esteem and opportunities that could have made her happy.
Everything that Elisabetta was, now has gone. Since she was a child she had adult forms that attracted too much attention and prying eyes.
Unfortunately, she also attracted something else, something more concrete, which marked Elisabetta forever and instilled the idea that this body was responsible for attracting a monster. She wanted to live in another body but because it was not possible she started to destroy her own.
Teeth have begun to fall (there are only eight into the mouth today), many hairs have turned white, there has been a strong renal failure, an osteoporosis like a 95-year-old person, a compromised bowel, a weakened heart and muscles because the potassium is below the minimum, Vitamin D and calcium practically zeroed, enlarged pancreas, amenorrhea for years. Today, Elisabetta is a person who is changing the way she copes with life and decided to tell her story through my photographs.
This is the first video about this project, when I tried to stay discrete with Elisabetta in a pub near Rome, while she was drawing for me an eye. “The photographer’s eye that can see through things and souls” as she loves to say.
The relationship with their own image in photos and videos is hard to accept for those who suffer of eating disorders caused by the lack of acceptance of their appearance.
The second time we met we take pictures and video based on the anxiety of the anorexic girls trying out clothes and sizes.
Often the area to look at is that of infancy, the children’s department, where the choice is not appropriate to the real age of the subject.
The loneliness of an anorexic person can be disarming at times. But in addition to it must be considered also aspects that for a healthy person are obvious, as the impossibility of swinging peacefully on a swing without the fear of falling and causing irreversible damages.
Elisabetta contracted an osteoporosis that made her bone structure as fragile as that of a 95-year-old person. The doctors have been clear with her: you must not fall down, never again.
Feeling free for a few moments on a game for children, despite the risk of a ruinous fall that could cause her a life on a wheelchair, changed her mood for all day. And right here, maybe, Elisabetta began to let herself go more in front of my lens.
Going to a restaurant with an anorexic person can be a wonderful or disarming experience. I realize that as a photographer I am becoming a fixed point for the process of getting out from Elisabetta’s illness. As she says: “You tell about my anguish without having lived it, and you can pull it out even though I’m hiding it as much as possible to make me look good, I do not know how you do it, and I swear that this thing upsets me.”
She promised me she would not throw up the eaten food. She promised me also that there would be other opportunities to eat together out.
05. The Break
Even allowing yourself a tea and a trick can represent evasion from the routine and a clear signal to want to get back on track with life.
Outside the coffee there was this wooden wall that reminds me almost to a Canadian chalet with the typical gloomy weather that gave to my photos a unique mood, even more sad than the guilt for the calories just swallowed.
In recent times, Elisabetta has regained weight and is making efforts to eat more, more often and better. The common goal of getting she out of this pathology seems to be working.
Psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists. But also diet and drugs, drip. Often these last ones are done against every indication in total autonomy. Physiological, antibiotics and other supplements to keep alive who does not want to hear about life anymore.
The drugs are also indicated to control all the symptoms associated with anorexia, such as bone loss, depression, alteration of the menstrual cycle, dehydration, alteration of the physiological values of the blood.
Needles are perhaps a landmark in this disease. I can almost call them the true symbol of anorexia: a drip of supplements, physiological, routine blood tests but also the vacuous, almost ethereal, thin appearance that distinguishes them. But the needle also represents the compass and a precise direction to reach, a purpose for life.
And this time Elisabetta has decided to continue for her direction by expanding the tattoo that covers almost half of her body. She designed it all and even tattooed by herself some parts in complete autonomy, but today she left home and plunged into the study of the town where I decided to follow and portraying her.
Many muted colors. She was happy and it was as if she did not feel the pain of needles scratching the flesh: needles that give joy and suffering. And all this reminds me of her illness, which is often taken as the minor damage than many other life problems. And it is when one underestimates a damage that becomes the first cause of suffering.
I would never have believed that in a few months Elisabetta would have improved so dramatically. She quickly moved from her usual weight of 35 kilos (July) to 53 kilos (December), trying to eat without vomiting, looking at life from a different point of view, even if initially it was difficult and painful to accept.
She was ashamed to go out for weeks, failing to accept shapes of an adult woman who came back with overwhelming naturalness: after years here is the menstrual cycle back, the quadriceps are toned as well as the buttocks, the breast has been fleshed out, the face filled. She is a nice looking girl right now and it wasn’t long to get requests to go out with men.
I know I have played a decisive role in this rebirth, but I do not feel proud because if today she is physically and mentally coming out from anorexia, the merit goes exclusively to herself, which has done the hard work alone and continues to do it every day. What I did is give the initial stimulus, involving her in a photographic project that was, in fact, her personal healing project.
The real difference that I have noticed since I met her for the first time, is the most determined approach to life and how she face daily dynamics. She’s more relaxed, less worried about showing off herself, knowing that her current lack of acceptance of the new body shapes is going to end completely.
Even if the photo shoots are over, we will have really busy weeks for the creation of the book that will be presented by crowdfunding in March 9, organizing events for its presentation and all those aspects that serve to give echo to a project born to give voice to those who want to scream that they did it.
A story, this, which I hope is an example for those who are now where Elisabetta has been stuck for years.