Probably like many of you, the person I was a year ago is someone significantly different from my current self. Much of this is due to the fact that, environmentally, my life has changed drastically since this time last year. This shift has brought with it changes including access to therapy and a new community to call home. Going to college has been a pretty large transition for me, as I moved across the country to go to my school. Being in this transitional phase has its benefits, in that it has allowed a lot of room for self-reflection as well as self-improvement. A large majority of this self-reflection has stemmed from my personal struggles with an eating disorder, one that I was still largely dealing with for the majority of last year.
In my reflection on the year as a whole, I find myself looking back to the day of the Instagram x NEDA shoot as a true point of transformation in my life. At exactly this time a year ago, Instagram and NEDA asked me to be a part of their “Come as You Are” campaign for NEDAwareness Week. Being a huge supporter of both entities, I agreed, despite being incredibly nervous about the offer. Up to this point, I have had no qualms with sharing my ED struggles publically; however, at the same time, never had I been offered a platform of such magnitude. On top of this, I was the youngest person at the shoot— and I was still secretly struggling with many aspects of my recovery—making me one hell of a conflicted individual by the time of the event. Never did I expect that shoot to one day have such an overwhelmingly positive impact on my life.
With this year’s theme being what it is (Come as You Are: Hindsight is 20/20), I knew that writing this post needed to include my experiences from the shoot itself. Much of the growth I have experienced recently directly relates to what I was able to learn during this shoot, and what I witnessed in terms of the impact of the campaign online.
The shoot day feels as though it were both yesterday and a lifetime ago. On my way to the studio that day, I got stuck in probably the worst early-morning LA traffic. When I finally made it, I suddenly felt extremely nervous. Again, up until then, I had no problems with sharing my story. That day, however, my self-doubt was quick to make me feel insecure about every aspect of my personal experiences and story. To me, I didn’t deserve to be there, and I was going to embarrass myself in front of people I really looked up to in the body positive community. I found myself being far more open about this insecurity at the shoot than I thought I would be, and in our discussions between takes, expressed my fear of not being good enough. The responses I was met with were ones that I didn’t even know I needed to hear.
While at lunch, we discussed how Instagram plays a role in our lives as body positive individuals—and I found out just how complicated my relationship with the platform was. While it used to be a place where my negative thoughts were fueled and sometimes encouraged, it had progressed to become a place where I could not only share my own struggles, but also shift my feed in order for it to be a positive influence. After we finished wrapping on set, I drove home with much to think about. I remember repeating the phrase, “Your story matters, your story is important,” over and over in my head.
The campaign launch was a whole other ballgame. The positive feedback and personal testimonies that were being shared moved me beyond words. I felt this both online and in my personal life. People from my school were reaching out and talking about these issues. I had been able to talk with more people than I ever thought I could, and the realization that many of them resonated in some way with my story was incredibly mind boggling. It began a process of self growth that I never knew was possible.
Flashing forward a bit, the time for me to leave home was impending. This new life, one that I was largely navigating on my own for the first time, brought with it its own sets of struggles. When I got to my college, one of the first things I checked was whether or not we had therapy on campus. Luckily, the answer was yes, and for the first time in almost four years, I was able to go back to it. There were other factors in my life that had hindered me from being able to have access to therapy after my freshman year of high school. When I relapsed during those four years, I was lucky to be able to lean on a personal support system. However, I always knew that the opportunity to return to therapy would greatly benefit me, and I am lucky to say today that it has. The privilege to access this amazing tool has really been life-changing in furthering my recovery process, and dealing with the rises and falls of relapse and recovery.
While I have been openly talking about my eating disorder and body positivity for almost four years now, I don’t think I truly practiced what I preached until more recently in my life. A large amount of this is due to the recent access to great resources I have been lucky to have, and it’s also due to the people in my life that have continued to support me. This community is one that has consistently welcomed me with open arms, and it is because of that that I have been able to feel more of my self worth.
I remember looking in the mirror the other week and, for the first time I can remember, truly being okay with who looked back at me. This growth is not one that came from accepting how I look physically; although that is without a doubt a huge part of it. It is one that came with accepting who I am—flaws and all—and starting to actually place value in my life experiences. As I go forward in my journey, I remind myself that this process isn’t a linear one. It’s filled with rises and falls, turns and obstacles—ones that I’ll continue to learn to navigate.
Noor Aldayeh is an 18 year old Arab American from Los Angeles, California. She is currently studying Film and Media at the Oxford College of Emory University. Noor was initially involved with NEDA in 2016, about a year after she spoke out about struggling with an eating disorder for the first time. Since then, she has aimed to use her story to try and create a positive impact on the people around her. She created the first mental health week at her school and co-founded the Education Emotion Project (EEP). Noor also uses her social media as a place to talk about these issues, and was a part of Instagram and NEDA’s “Come As You Are” collaboration for last year’s NEDA Awareness Week. In her free time, you could find Noor reading, writing, dancing, or taking pictures.