by Megan LaCreta, Asst. Features Editor
On Wednesday Nov. 3, the Multicultural Center hosted Manhattan student Kyla Guilfoil as part of the Tiny Talks program. The sophomore political science and communication major and intern at the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center presented a talk focused on the misconceptions and stigma that surround eating disorders today.
Guilfoil is aiming to bring awareness to the issue through her talk, and through creating a handbook with the LWGRC to address eating disorders and nutrition. Guilfoil’s research for the handbook, as well as her personal experience with eating disorders, provided the basis for her presentation.
“What I wanted to do is look more into why this is affecting so many people, because I couldn’t tell you the amount of women that I’ve encountered on this campus alone that struggle with some type of body dysmorphia, body image issues, disordered eating or eating disorders,” Guilfoil said. “It’s something that is so deeply normalized, and I think truly that is because we’re not talking about eating disorders in the way that they are affecting people.”
Gulfoil stressed the point that eating disorders can present themselves in many different ways that may not align with cultural conceptions of what an eating disorder looks like. An athlete in high school, and now a member of the Manhattan College swim team, Guilfoil’s frequent exercise did not seem out of the ordinary, and did not alert others that she might have been struggling with an eating disorder.
“I think the real truth is that we have to acknowledge what’s going on underneath people’s skin,” Guilfoil said. “The whole point is loving yourself, but I think there’s still with that conversation an emphasis on the exterior.”
Guilfoil’s research has been focused on learning more about the internal processes that lead to eating disorders. One aspect that she focused greatly on was the idea of control. Guilfoil was brought up in a home environment when she felt she lacked control during her high school years, and she developed an eating disorder as a way to assert control over one aspect of her life.
“It wasn’t insecurity about my body, and while I thought it was that for many years, through my recovery, through my research, I’ve been able to discover that really what I craved was a sense of control,” said Guilfoil. “I wanted to reclaim my life in a way that only I had any say in it.”
Guilfoil pointed to food insecurity, PTSD and discrimination as examples of experiences that could lead to the development of an eating disorder as a way to gain a sense of control. She emphasized the importance of taking an intersectional approach to eating disorders and understanding the variety of factors that can contribute to one.
Hayden Greene, director of the Multicultural Center, led the audience discussion following Guilfoil’s talk. He explained why intersectionality is integral to the conversation surrounding eating disorders.
“When you start talking about intersectionality, you start looking at the fact that a lot of women are the ones who tend to be more publicly dealing with it,” Greene said. “Then you have the intersectionality of certain cultural aspects of it, where food is very much a prominent part of how people communicate with their family, and having a difficult relationship with food is not a place where they can have a conversation with the people who should be the biggest supporters of them. So there’s that mix of it as well. But when you then add on … men not being able to admit to themselves that they have a problem with the way that they’re eating, and then add cultural issues on top of that as well. It makes it doubly hard to talk about it.”
Guilfoil is working to ensure the LWGRC eating disorder and nutrition handbook is available for students. She is currently collecting anonymous submissions from students on experiences regarding eating disorders, body image issues, exercise or nutrition.
Fellow LWGRC intern and sophomore psychology major Emilia O’Neill attended the Tiny Talk, and took away from it the importance of having an open dialogue surrounding the subject.
“[Eating disorders are] still very taboo … and I think we need to kind of get around that as a society because it’s something that affects a huge portion of people,” O’Neill said. “It’s triggered by so many different things. And so I think if there was more of a healthy universal conversation surrounding it, then it could benefit those struggling with eating disorders, and those who are struggling with other things that may turn to unhealthy habits surrounding eating.”
Greene concurred, emphasizing the importance of having conversations like Guilfoil’s that tackle taboo topics.
“I think that the more we talk to each other, the more we find that we have similarities that will bring us closer together,” Greene said. “And where there are places where we are dissimilar, there is so much to learn from one another, but we can’t get there unless we talk to each other.”
Editor’s Note: Guilfoil is the assistant news editor for The Quadrangle.