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?