#MyAfter Portrait Series: Diana Denza

November 21, 2016 • #MyAfter, Eating Disorder, Exercise, Health, Mental Health, NEDA, Recovery • Views: 1504

With our #MyAfter portrait series, Body Boop is completely shaking up your perceptions about what having an eating disorder looks like, and what being recovered from an eating disorder looks like.

  • You do not have to be skinny to have an eating disorder.
  • You do not have to be bigger than you were previously to be recovered from an eating disorder.
  • Your life experience does not have to include in-patient or out-patient experience to have had an eating disorder.
  • A formal diagnosis is not required to validate your eating disorder experience.
  • If you are from a marginalized community including but not limited to LGBTQ, different ethnicities and cultures, and men, your eating disorder experience is true and valid.
  • If you are a white college-age woman, what everyone expects of an eating disorder, it is not just for attention or vanity. Your eating disorder experience is also true and valid.

If you say you have had an eating disorder or that you are recovered from an eating disorder, we hear you, we see you, and we believe you.

We are no longer interested in “before” pictures from when people were sick! Let’s see where you are NOW, healthy and in love with life. And even if you’re not there yet, you’re on your way.

The second subject of our portrait series is Diana Denza, someone who amazes me in how she pushes herself to try new things and speak up for the things she believes in.

Diana Denza is a 27-year-old lifelong New Yorker who lives with her wonderful partner. She has six tattoos, five pairs of colorful Doc Martens, and four sweet cats. Diana works as a communications associate at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and volunteers as a crisis counselor in her free time. She has recently started taking kickboxing, dance, and yoga classes and hopes to one day be good at all three. 🙂

Diana told me that she would like people to know that recovery is rarely a linear process and it takes a lot of work. There are times when she is uncomfortable in her own body, but she’s learned to let those feelings pass without acting upon them. There are even some days when she wants to fall back into eating disordered patterns, and she is lucky to have the support of her partner and therapist.

Diana said that she has been a variety of weights and sizes, and that she has to remember that in the long run, those things don’t matter. The people who matter will like you for your personality, not some number on a scale. Please don’t wait to live a good life until you meet an arbitrary body ideal. 

When Diana was struggling in college, she wasn’t aware of the low-cost help that was available. She felt hopeless and ashamed, but when she finally did ask for help, she received it.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder or any other mental health issue, please research clinics and sliding scale therapists in your area. You deserve support and care that you can afford. 

Diana Denza – #MyAfter Series, September 2016
Photo by Brad Ogbonna

When we spoke at the shoot, Diana said:

I actually started doing a lot of exercise, and for me it’s not about losing weight or dropping pounds or sizes or anything. I actually don’t own a scale anymore. For me, it’s about being strong, and proving to myself that I can be athletic, I can take kickboxing and I can take pilates. I want to be flexible and powerful, but it’s not about the weight anymore, it’s about taking care of my body. I’m really proud of that.

I think it’s freed me in a way because when I was a kid, I was the kid who was always the last picked for the sports team. I was never athletic. I never thought that my body could do sit-ups or kickboxing. I never thought that I could do any of these things, and I was always put down for not being athletic.

Now, it’s like, ‘Oh wow, there’s more to life than being skinny and limiting calories.” All of those things that women are supposed to do. So, that’s been an empowering experience for me.

I know a lot of people get obsessed with exercise and it’s a negative thing in their lives, but for me it’s definitely a positive thing. Working a few times a week has been really positive. I’ve also struggled with depression and anxiety, and it has lifted my mood. Keeping myself healthy is improving my overall physical and mental [wellbeing], and it’s not anymore about fitting into clothes or fitting into society’s ridiculous ideals.

It’s so refreshing because I’m around people who are all different sizes, and they are so powerful and empowering. Different races, different genders, it’s really been an amazing experience. I now [understand] that you don’t have to look a certain way to be healthy.

I think for me, it was a big shock to a lot of people that I was gay because I grew up in an Italian household. We were expected to look feminine, and my family was very Roman Catholic and went to church every weekend. So, coming out as gay was a very big and sort of traumatic experience for me. And I think in the community there is pressure to have a tomboyish, very thin body with not a big chest… to be on the more stylish, dapper side. I didn’t look like that, and even my partner is more masculine, and she has a larger chest. People would tell her, ‘I’m not really attracted to you because your chest is too big.’ We’ve both heard ridiculous things coming from our own community, so I kind of got it from both sides. It was like, ‘You’re so feminine, you can’t be gay,’ and then there was also this pressure to be into certain things or look a certain way, and I just really didn’t fit into either of those. Even if you look on TV or in magazines, there’s a certain style that you are expected to fit as a gay woman. And I never really fit that.

So, I spent a lot of my life thinking that I really didn’t fit in anywhere. That was a big factor in my eating disorder and why I struggled so much… the feeling that I don’t belong anywhere. Because I felt that way, I thought the only thing I could control was my body, and so I started restricting. And I restricted so much that I didn’t have my period for over a year. My body was hurting, but I felt like being thin would solve my problems and that people wouldn’t notice that I was feeling out of place, that they would just see me as skinny and attractive. Especially because I was interning at these fashion magazines, there was an intense pressure to look a certain way, so I tried to fit that. I needed to fit in somewhere. I needed to do something to make me feel more okay with who I am.

It was only really through therapy that I was able to come out of that and begin accepting myself. I was really struggling the summer before my senior year of college. I was having anxiety attacks and I was very depressed. I ended up being in therapy three times per week for a couple of months because I was struggling so much. I think that really taught me to start accepting myself and being myself. There were times when I would binge during my recovery process because it was hard being around food. My therapist would say, ‘It’s okay. That’s part of it. It’s okay.’ She calmed those anxieties.

It’s been a very long process, and I recognize that I have a need for perfection, but there’s a lot of things that you can’t control in life, and you can’t even control your body. Your body is going to change. That radical acceptance has helped me a lot. No matter what you do, no matter what you eat, no matter how much your life changes or the situation changes, there is no way you can control it. And I have a hard time accepting that still, but that is what it is. And I think that having hobbies and having a partner and having positive outlets in life has been really helpful because it takes my mind off these fears.

I’ve also realized that I’ve been through a lot in my life. You are powerful enough to overcome your situation. You are powerful enough to take back your life. Just because you fail at something, doesn’t mean that you’re always going to fail at everything. It doesn’t matter what your weight is. People will like you for who you are. If people’s priority is your appearance and they are so concerned with what you’re doing, they’re probably not positive people to have in your life, and they’re probably struggling with something themselves.

When I look at this photo of Diana, I see peace and tranquility, but I also see strength. I hope that she sees someone who has been through a lot, but has come through on the other side. She is one of the most authentic people I know.

Please share on social with the hashtags #MyAfter #edrecovery! Are you a photographer or recovered individual interested in participating in the next installment of #MyAfter? E-mail me at mybodyboop@gmail.com.

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