New monologues let students talk about struggles with eating disorders| Mar 11, 2018
A new series of monologues is soon to be presented on campus about students’ struggles with eating disorders.
“I’m always a proponent of when you can talk, you should talk,” said Zach Feig ’18, the organizer of the monologues. “When we talk, we find we’re a lot more similar, and we can solve a lot more problems than we thought we could.”
Feig is curating a series of monologues, submitted anonymously by students and performed by other students, on the topic of struggling with eating disorders and, more broadly, having a healthy relationship with food.
“I believe that everybody could take advantage of going to a therapist, I think everybody could take advantage of going to a nutritionist, and I think everyone has, to some extent, an unhealthy relationship with food,” said Feig. “I think that the more we talk about that, the more we realize that, the more we provide support for each other and provide spaces that are safe to express those anxieties.”
Feig expressed that the monologues could be of tremendous help to all students on campus in some capacity, believing that raising awareness could help students live and eat in a healthy way.
“Because we’re all in a space where we’re growing and developing, it’s important to develop healthy attitudes towards food and eating,” said Feig. “That’s something the University doesn’t talk about much.”
From his perspective, Feig said he believed there was a desire among many students for the subject to be discussed.
“The first night I sent out a request for submissions, I probably sent it out around midnight. By the time I woke up, there were six submissions,” said Feig. “Clearly this is something people on campus are thinking about and want to talk about.”
Samantha Shapiro ’21 joined the project as soon as she saw the email Feig sent out.
“I saw Zach’s email about the monologues, and a smile instantly came to my face,” Shapiro wrote in an email. “I was so excited by the project and the dialogue that the monologue project could potentially raise.”
Shapiro is a sports writer for The Daily Princetonian.
When asked about the overarching goals for the monologues, Feig said that the top priority is to start a conversation among students and allow voices that are not usually given a platform to be heard.
“The biggest goal is to raise awareness and start dialogue,” Feig said. “What I’ve been really trying to do is get voices out there, get people to hear about it, and get people to talk about it.”
Katherine Fleming ’19 organized an event for Mental Health Week in February through Princeton Students for Gender Equality called Eating Mindfully: A Conversation about Gender and Food. Looking back on her experience of the event and the dialogue it created, she emphasized the importance of creating a platform broad enough to include all people’s perspectives, no matter how they personally relate to the issue.
“There’s definitely a lot there that people want to talk about and need to talk about,” Fleming said. “I think that it’s a discourse that’s still pretty stigmatized; if you say ‘eating disorder’ it sounds clinical and scary … but we try to frame it as a broader conversation.”
Fleming reiterated Feig’s goal of creating a dialogue and letting others be heard, emphasizing the importance of open conversation on the issue.
“I think that it’s definitely a conversation that should happen more on campus that I don’t see happening,” said Fleming. “It’s a really fruitful conversation because it lets people learn how to help themselves and help others.”
Feig compared his current plans for the eating disorder monologues to his time spent working with the Sex and Religion Monologues, which focused on students experiences with the intersections of their sexualities and religions. Feig noted that despite the sensitivity of both of those subjects, the monologues were very successful in creating honest discussion.
“The conversations afterwards were very open, surprisingly so; people said a lot more than I expected them to say and were a lot more comfortable than I expected them to be and were very frank,” said Feig. “I was hoping to cultivate the same kind of dialogue around this issue, and that’s why I embraced this medium.”
Those monologues took place in April 2017. Feig said that, even though some monologues were challenging to hear, they also expressed student voices and helped others to understand their perspectives.
Feig said that he would instruct readers to listen to themselves as they read the monologue, so that they could be a model of “real, authentic listening.”
Shapiro and Feig shared an enthusiasm for the medium of monologue in particular, believing by verbalizing internal thoughts one can fight the disorientation within oneself that eating disorders so often make people feel.
“[Eating disorders] make you … become wrapped up in your own head,” wrote Shapiro. “This is why I think the concept of a monologue is so genius: it allows individuals to project the inner dialogue of their eating disorder outside of themselves. I feel like this action is almost fighting the disorder itself.”
According to Shapiro, the action of creating the monologues could be helpful for their respective writers, offering an emotional outlet.
“I think the process of writing can be tremendously therapeutic,” wrote Shapiro. “Being able to have a sense of ownership over your story with eating and your body is one of the most empowering feelings in the world.”
Feig also emphasized that creating dialogue around an issue like eating disorders was a team effort among a number of groups on campus. Feig had been working with the Mathey College Office, the Program in Theater, and professors who studied or taught classes on body issues.
He hopes that another positive change from the monologues will be an increase in resources allocated by the administration to help students who struggle with their relationship with food.
“A little bit of money could go a long way towards providing support for this problem,” Feig said. “When students get upset, the administration responds. I really do believe that dialogue can cause change.”
Beyond administrative action, however, Feig believed the biggest responsibility lies with the students. He said that while Counseling and Psychological Services and the administration can help, student awareness must be raised to address the issue.
“People just really want to be heard,” said Feig. “This is a way to be heard and a way to generate more hearing.”
The process of collecting submissions is still ongoing. The submission deadline is Friday, March 23.