“For all those who battled the darkness of yesterday, may we give light for today and hope for tomorrow.”
That quote defines the mission for Ophelia’s Place, a center in Liverpool that provides educational and support services for people with eating disorders and their loved ones. The center, which opened in 2002, held its second annual “Revolutionizing the Runway” fashion show Sunday afternoon at Liverpool Community Church. The show, part of the center’s continuing effort to give survivors of eating disorders hope for tomorrow, focused on redefining standards of beauty in Central New York and beyond.
“All of a sudden, it’s like people feel that they have a choice in how they view themselves and their bodies,” said Mary Ellen Clausen, who founded Ophelia’s Place after watching her daughters struggle with eating disorders. “I think a lot of people felt that the fashion show gave them permission to look at themselves differently, to forgive their flaws and to start to develop a healthier body image.”
In other words, permission to start a revolution.
The revolution is long overdue. Approximately eight million Americans have an eating disorder — seven million women and one million men. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 to 10 percent of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18 to 20 percent of anorexics will be dead after 20 years.
The causes of this epidemic are numerous. They include depression, a history of abuse, troubled interpersonal relationships and feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life. There’s also the cultural factor — our society’s obsession with thinness and physical perfection.
“Revolutionizing the Runway” and events like it, Clausen believes, represent a step toward redefining that standard. The fashion show featured models from AMS Models as well as Ophelia’s Place staffers and family members and showcased fashions from Target, Maxed Apparel, New York Bride and Groom and Rescue Mission Thrifty Shopper. Hosted by local television personality Julie Abbott, the show included men and women of all ages, sizes and body types. It also included a performance by dancers from Wacheva Cultural Arts West African Dancing and Drumming.
Seeing beyond the fa ade
The fashion show continues the “got beauty?” campaign that Ophelia’s Place kicked off last year, something Clausen said has become much bigger than originally anticipated.
“Our goal was to start a discussion about redefining the standard of beauty,” she said. “Now it’s so much more than just a campaign — it’s an integral part of everything we do.”
It was also still an integral part of the fashion show. In her opening remarks Sunday, emcee Abbott said she knows all too well about the societal pressure to conform to a certain standard.
“It’s all about how you look,” she said. “I can remember only one time when someone complimented me on my writing or my reporting. Every other time someone came up to talk to me, it was ‘Oh, who cuts your hair?’ or ‘Where do you get your clothes?’ It’s all about appearances on TV.”
Abbott said that’s made worse by the cycle of “fat talk,” where people bash their bodies and those of people around them.
“We have to stop that,” she said. “We’re visual people, and we see with our eyes and we react. But we have to stop bashing our bodies, because it doesn’t do anyone any good.”
Changing the outside
Meanwhile, Ophelia’s Place is gaining some outer beauty. Thanks to a grant from State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a longtime supporter of the center, as well as Community Development grants, the building on Tulip Street in the village of Liverpool has gotten a makeover.
“We’re redoing the front and inside of the building,” Clausen said. “We’ve replaced some insulation and windows to make it energy efficient, and we’ve completely redone the fa ade.”
And Clausen hopes to add more features in the future, including a caf (c) and coffee shop.
“I want to make it as comfortable as it can be,” she said. “And I want people to know it’s a community place. I’d really like to open it up to everyone in the community.”
It’s all part of the center’s efforts to reach beyond its original mission. Ophelia’s Place has recently worked with Reach CNY as well as the local chapter of the Girl Scouts to empower women and educate them on the center’s mission.
“We’ve been working with other groups for a while,” Clausen said. “Obviously, we’re a very small non-profit organization with limited resources. We can’t solve the problem. But we can provide the resources and the connections to the community.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.