Never underestimate a woman with a sledgehammer…
McCall Dempsey is one of these women – brandishing her sledgehammer, she leads the Southern Smash organization, demolishing scales while raising awareness about eating disorders and body image. Enthusiasm about her own recovery has led McCall to become an advocate, a leader, an educator, and one heck of a scale smasher! She travels to schools and colleges across the country holding “Smash” events and “SmashTalk” panel discussions.
I was lucky enough to get a glimpse into the Southern Smash movement recently, and to participate in the one-year anniversary of its inception at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. One year ago, McCall started Southern Smash, and in just 12 short months the organization has become an avenue for support and a community of powerful voices for young women with eating disorders.
McCall’s passion is undeniable and in the very best of ways, contagious. I watched as she welcomed her Smash “Ambassadors” – lots of them – into the fold to set up for the event and decorate scales for the smashing. It was clear that many of these young women struggled with their own demons around food and their bodies, as several of them came clutching their own scales. Through the solidarity of the community McCall has created, these young women and many others were able to face down some of those demons, and to experience the power of fighting back, as they took sledgehammers to their scales. As I observed and participated in the events of the day, I felt myself empowered by the positive energy as well. “Shelby, do you want to do some smashing?” McCall asked me at one point. Don’t mind if I do. A sledgehammer seemed appealing in the moment, and I must say, the experience was exhilarating.
That evening, I was honored to participate on the “SmashTalk” Panel at the LSU student union, which drew more than 100 people to discuss eating and body image issues on campus and beyond. Although I work with eating disorders for a living here at Veritas Collaborative and I study them with my own research, my experience at Southern Smash seemed to make my own voice stronger and more unwavering as I spoke about the internalization of the thin ideal and its influence on body image and disordered eating behavior. During the panel discussion, a young woman’s voice trembled as she spoke passionately about spending too much of her life chasing after an ideal that was unhealthy and unattainable, and how the images in the presentation allowed her to connect to her feelings about this loss. Later, McCall shared with me that another woman had been similarly affected by the presentation and it was then that I was humbly reminded that using my voice is important, just as McCall has used hers.
In my work with a population that suffers from eating disorders, one of the things I have been most struck by is the toll the illness takes on the self. There is the medical aspect of this, to be sure: the way the body begins to break down as it becomes malnourished. But I am also referring to the psychological toll these disorders take: the way individuals pick themselves apart internally, as their energy focuses inward in a perfectionistic and self-loathing way. My experience at Southern Smash highlighted what can happen when all of that power and energy gets harnessed and redirected – focusing on the world in a productive, helpful, and empowering way.
As I traveled back to Durham from the event, I checked Facebook absentmindedly while waiting for my flight. Scrolling down in my newsfeed, I saw that a friend of mine was chastised by someone for her desire to eat an “everything” bagel with cream cheese after going to the gym. Her Facebook friend told her she should have indulged in the bagel first, so she could burn off the calories more effectively. Normally, I might not inject myself into the conversation, but instead I chose to channel that sledgehammer in a gentle way. “Actually,” I said, “I don’t think the bagel and the gym have anything to do with one another, but both sound good, and I hope you enjoy them.” Perplexed by my statement, and clearly not getting it, my friend’s friend responded in seconds. “@Shelby, but don’t you know how many calories there are in that tasty bagel with cream cheese?” Sigh. Again, I would usually let it go, but thanks to McCall and Southern Smash, I have rediscovered the importance of using my voice. I picked up that sledgehammer again. “Don’t know. Don’t care. Doesn’t matter,” I wrote. My friend gave me a thumbs-up, and wrote “Love you, Shelby.”
Community is a powerful thing. Using your voice is a powerful thing. Recovery requires both.
Written by Shelby Johnson, M.ED,