If I had one Oscar to award this year or anytime, I’d give it to Diane Israel. I first met Diane at the National Eating Disorders Association conference in 2008. Of the countless seminars, films, speakers and wonderful people I encountered, none have stuck with or touched me as much as Diane or her award-winning film, Beauty Mark.
During her career as a world-class triathlete, Diane fought a far tougher competition with her body and self. Her decade-plus battle with anorexia caused physical and emotional trauma and could have taken her life; instead, she’s healed and turned it into a perceivable universe of good will, hope and inspiration.
As a filmmaker, psychotherapist, speaker and activist, Diane uses her skills and experience to brighten and enhance others’ lives. Beauty Mark is a courageous, personal film that brings context to her healing and features stories and insight from athletes, fashion models, inner-city teens and renowned authors, including Naomi Wolf and Eve Ensler. (For a sneak peak, check out the trailer below.)
With both the Oscars and National Eating Disorders Awareness Week upon us, I can’t think of a better time to celebrate Diane and her wisdom.
AM: What inspires you to share your story…reach out to others in such a personal way?
DI: My early years were filled with pain and confusion. I lived with daily fear and anxiety and it got projected on everything—the weather, school, my dog, my family… I felt like I lived on a playing field with no directions or rules. What I have discovered in going through so much pain and difficulty is it all counts. Nothing is for nothing. Now, at 52, I wouldn’t not return any of it. (We can’t anyway. Have you tried???)
So after working my butt off in so many directions—therapy, reading, support from friends and family, life experience and growing into myself, I want to share and give back. This is why I am alive and I feel we all are service. Joseph Campbell called it “the return” when we go through our “dark night of the soul” and want to share what we learned.
I love to share the lessons I’ve learned and what really works because there is a formula that I believe works: Feel and you will be free. Sounds simple but it’s not. It takes lifetime practice because we have preferences. We like to hang on to what feels good and move away from what feels bad, yet the freedom is in riding the waves of this incredible varied life.
AM: Beauty Mark is unlike any film I’ve ever seen. How did it come into fruition?
DI: Beauty Mark came out of my mission, energy and incredible passion to understand why we as a culture are so obsessed with beauty and, on a deeper level, how much energy and time we invest in it when there are so many incredible, precious things to focus on, like love, helping others, supporting our earth and creating new models to support the planet’s healing.
When I heard that these incredibly powerful women at Women’s Quest camp wanted to fit into a smaller pair of jeans and did not want their kids to have eating disorders even though they all hated their bodies, I became livid and said I have to make a film. I had to understand what to me felt insane. I have to help. And if Michael Moore can do it why can’t I? And so, having never made a film and knowing nothing about it, I set out on a five-plus year journey to make Beauty Mark. And wow, did I wake to myself up and gain a deeper understanding of the role of the media, culture, our biology and so many aspects of being human. What an exploration.
AM: Why is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 26th – March 3rd) important, whether we have experience with an eating disorder or not?
NEDAW is important for the support in what I call the shared club of life. We all need community. For those of us with eating disorders, it is a time to get education, find comrades, to feel not alone and to heal. NEDAW is also a week to talk about these issues and, this is key, to break the shame, break the silence and know you are not alone, that we have access to help and resources we did not have 40 years ago.
When we realize that we are not alone and have so many folks around the world that understand and live with what we know and think is unique, it helps to bring us home to ourselves.
AM: You and I chatted recently about orthorexia—an obsession with healthy eating. It’s estimated that millions of Americans struggle with disordered eating, without developing a full-fledged ED.
DI: Correct. When we are not at home with ourselves we turn to things in our environment in attempt to make us feel okay, feel whole. Our culture is designed, it seems to me, to focus on the doing and not the being human. We need both to thrive. In the doing we find orthorexia—if I don’t eat “abc” then I will be okay. Deprivation often seems like a virtue in our culture. I have found that we all are okay. We just don’t think we are, and then we are not. The culture makes its living off of those of us who believe we are broken and need to be fixed.
AM: What can we do to help make the world we live in a more accepting place—where we accept not only others, but our selves?
DI: Start with yourself end with yourself. Then get out of yourself and serve. Remember how awesome you are, that you were born awesome and you will die awesome. This acceptance of everything that you are, the entire package, will serve you well. What are you becoming? What are you living with this one wild and precious life?
AM: What would you say to someone in the depths of an eating disorder now?
DI: I would say you are where you are and it will change because life changes. Looking back, my eating disorder was one of my biggest teachers. Ask yourself how you can heal and get the support and help you need. I think a really big view here is to not see our ED as a monster or terrible thing. It is an expression of ourselves crying out to transform and to recreate ourselves. Most of us live with some addiction in this society. But we are not problems! We are not just sick. We are on a mission to wake up and be who we are. And most of us need support and help in knowing how to do this. I wasn’t given a map—were you?
I am honored to share my heartfelt expression with you all. This is just my own experience and ideas if it speaks to you awesome if not throw it out. I am grateful to have this opportunity to open my heart and soul with you. We are all in this incredible human family together. Welcome to the up and down and all around ride.
To learn more about Diane Israel and her ventures, visit BeautyMarkMovie.com and follow her on Twitter: @DianeIsrael.
Isn’t she phenomenal?!? I hope you’ll all take time this week to consider not only people struggling with eating disorders, but what you can do to make like Diane—live more fully, learn from your struggles and recognize your awesomeness. What struck you about her insight? Were you intrigued by the trailer? How do you use your own challenges to help others?
Write On, Jana! says
Thank you for the great posts on this important topic… I did an internship with Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention in college and found the experience really humbling. I naively assumed the “hard” part was done when I gained weight, but quickly realized the “hard” work was ahead of me. My eating disorder was more of a coping mechanism… I’ve never been overly concerned with appearances, but starvation kind of “numbs” you and helps you focus (in this case, on competitiveness with yourself).
Now that I am raising a girl, I am MUCH more aware of how I view my body (which is healthier, by far) and how I talk about and to myself (not nearly as healthy).
This looks like a fabulous documentary! Can’t wait to see it!
CC MacKenzie says
Wow, August, what an amazing woman.
We’re constantly being judged and judging others in our society, finding ourselves and others wanting if we don’t look a certain way, even if that way is unrealistic. As a mother of two daughters I’m relieved they haven’t bought into the ‘beauty myth’ and celebrate themselves and their friends for who they are deep inside rather than how they’re packaged.
Diane is really inspirational to share her experience with the world. As women, most of us feel that we simply do not measure up to the beauties we see on tv and in magazines every day.
Another example of working with what you have and overcoming obstacles.
Below is my response to your question about how I used my own After my recovery from injuries sustained during combat I started a PTSD group called Chess for Veterans. It was a therapy group to help veterans overcome their PTSD. I found that chess helped me. When gained control over the 64 square universe I was confident in the real world. I enjoyed sharing this with others and helping them deal with their issues.
August McLaughlin says
What a fantastic form of outreach, William. I’m inspired! And my hat goes off to you for taking what worked for you to uplift others.
Myndi Shafer...one stray sock away from insanity. says
“…Deprivation often seems like a virtue in our culture. I have found that we all are okay. We just don’t think we are, and then we are not. The culture makes its living off of those of us who believe we are broken and need to be fixed.”
Jess Witkins says
Wow. She is amazing. Most people wouldn’t have the guts to begin let alone complete a 5 year project that tackled such a strong subject. I’d love to see Beauty Mark and if I was still in college would have brought this to my professor and asked for a campus showing. Thank you for sharing this story August!
August McLaughlin says
Thanks so much, Jess! I so agree with you. Diane is not only courageous, but persistent and determined. Beauty Mark does make for a fantastic college presentation—such a vulnerable population.
(If anyone’s interested in organizing a showing, details are available via her website. :))
Gloria Richard Author says
“…Start with yourself end with yourself. Then, get out of yourself and serve.”
“What are you doing with yourself…this acceptance of everything you are, the entire package…what are you becoming? What are you living with this one wild and precious life.”
Profound. It prompts me to get moving in many facets of my life–both in and out of myself. To appreciate “in the now,” and focus on what I can do to leave this world a better place because I was here. To celebrate the good times, learn from the low times, and do no harm along the way.
WONDERFUL interview and thoughts, August and Diane.
KM Huber says
Excellent interview and once again, I learn from reading your blog. Orthorexia, unfortunately, makes so much sense as it is so obvious. Indeed, we all are okay just as we are; everything that is happening is happening as it was meant. Like your guest, I wouldn’t change one moment.
mj monaghan says
Great interview, August. It seems that a lot of people, myself included, go through deprivation (not excessive in my case, because I love me some food!), and poor eating habits over different seasons. I lost 37 pounds over the last two years, but then gained back ten in the last 4 months. It’s a fascinating topic. I don’t worry that much about it though, as I see more women struggle with this than men.
Marcy Kennedy says
“What I have discovered in going through so much pain and difficulty is it all counts. Nothing is for nothing.”
I’ve found this to be true more than once in my life. Even though at the time I can’t understand the purpose of what I’ve gone through, when I look back a few years later, I see how that suffering was actually an integral step to get me to my goals.
Patricia Sands says
August, thank you for bringing this wonderful woman and her important and powerful film to our attention. I’m off to check out her website right now.
Karen McFarland says
Thank you August and Diane for shedding light on this subject. For it to be given the attention of a whole week, it perhaps should viewed as if it was a form of cancer eating away at women. Yet, women like you both are helping to bring positive changes to help others.
August McLaughlin says
A cancer eating away at women—beautifully said, Karen. And sad-sounding, which it should be! Thanks for your wonderful support.
Great interview- thank you for sharing.
Tameri Etherton says
I can’t even tell you how much this interview gave me chills.
“Start with yourself and end with yourself. Then get out of yourself and serve.”
Simple and powerful. I’m going to put that on a sticky and paste it to my laptop.
Earning nomination from August is an award in itself! Thanks for covering such an important topic.
Natalie Hartford says
Ahhhmazing interview and women August. I had no idea so thank you for bringing this to my radar. Astounding and such an important topic. I’ve definitely got a few friends I am forwarding this along to. And I’ve definitely taken it to heart! Stunning…
Sheila Seabrook says
I was raised in a family of predominately girls and while we all battled weight at one point or another — and probably had some weird eating habits during those time — we were all fortunate to have escaped any eating disorders. Knowing what it’s like to be unhappy with one’s body or self image, I am thankful there are women today who take on these challenges and help young girls and women accept themselves for who they are.
Keep up the good work.
Louise Behiel says
Another great post on a difficult topic, August. well done. and thanks for sharing this incredibly important information
Kourtney Heintz says
Wow. Incredible post. I’ve often thought we should spend less time on how we look and more on how we are. This sounds like an awesome film. Where can I watch it?
Debra Kristi says
I completely agree with Karen. That’s exactly what it is, a cancer. One that gets in the mindset of women, and men, and it needs to be healed. Like any disease it will be a long road to the cure, but things like this, like your blog-fest, set people on the right path. Wonderful interview August. I say that sincerely. I felt it deep down to the bone.
What an amazing post! I’m so glad to learn about the film. I cringed a little when Diane talked about the women who hate their own bodies and want to prevent their children from developing eating disorders. I don’t “hate” my body but there are certainly things about it that I don’t love. I need to be more mindful of the messages, however subtle, that I might be sending to my daughter.
THANK YOU for this post!
Sara Walpert Foster says
Thanks for bringing this documentary to my attention. The more we expose the reality of how our culture impacts us, the closer we get to a safer place in which to live. And it is not just women who suffer from self-hate and body consciousness. More and more, men are also falling victim to this obsession with appearance over life experience. I look forward to seeing Diane’s documentary.