"There isn't one story to tell about eating disorders," writes Ruthie Friedlander in an essay she penned about the film "To The Bone" for InStyle. "The best we can do is tell a few different stories, however, mobilized together and more of them." And that's precisely what Friedlander, InStyle's director of special projects, and Christina Grasso, Revlon's associate digital content creator, have set out to do with The Chain, a New York-based, not-for-profit peer support and mentorship program for women in the fashion and entertainment industries who are struggling with, or recovering from, an eating disorder.
It all started when Grasso reached out to Friedlander after reading her InStyle piece about coping with an eating disorder. "We very quickly formed this friendship over Instagram," explains Friedlander. "The more we talked, the more we realized that it's really interesting that there isn't a group for people in the industry to come out and talk about eating disorders or a safe place to debrief on how people are feeling about this stuff."
Both women struggled with their eating disorders long before stepping into the world of sample sizes and unattainable beauty benchmarks otherwise known as fashion. But when you become a part of an industry that puts pore-less, hip-less models at the forefront, it can normalize unhealthy practices associated with the illness, thus making the road to recovery that much harder.
Friedlander and Grasso, who have both been in and out of treatment programs, have found that the most crucial, albeit challenging, part of their recoveries was sharing their stories. "I struggled for years before I was able to be open about it," explains Grasso. "It wasn't until I moved to New York six years ago and made the decision to come clean that my career and my life really started to bloom." Friedlander shared a similar sentiment: "I think that people being open about it and understanding that eating disorders don't look a certain way or sound one way would be industry-changing," Friedlander says. "There's so much stigma around eating disorders especially in media and fashion, and I know for myself that it was really important for my recovery that I talked about it."
Enter The Chain: According to its mission statement, it "aims to create a safe place for this population to share their experiences and gain insight through conversation, support and community building." The organization officially launched in December and will hold its first meet-up in March: a bracelet-making workshop with Roxanne Assoulin in New York.
"The thing that's most important to us is making sure that people know that the meetings are confidential," Friedlander explains. "So if you're someone who pitches me every single day, I am not Ruthie the InStyle editor when I walk in there, I'm a girl with an eating disorder who happens to work in fashion."
In its early stages, The Chain will experiment with different formats and programming to get a good feel for what the members need and want, whether that involves guest speakers, activities or simply just hanging out — "a lot of it is just really listening and learning and figuring out what we can offer for the most amounts of people in a safe way," Friedlander says. But what separates The Chain from other peer-led support groups is its focus on issues specific to those who work in fashion and media — i.e. editors, writers, photographers, bloggers, publicists and others in the industry who are dealing with eating disorders.
"I always feel a sense of anxiety before I go into Fashion Week — it's a very triggering time," Friedlander says. "We just want to create a safe space where we can talk about things like how you deal with snacking during fashion month. I'm hoping that this becomes a place where we can get together and brainstorm solutions."
With the creation of The Chain, they're not trying to cure anyone or tackle fashion's body image issues: "We're just trying to fill a gap that we noticed and we know how big of a help a community is in the recovery process," Grasso says. "It isn't really our effort to change standards, because we don't have that power. I think that we're trying to act as a resource for addressing them in a collaborative way and do what we can."
Find out more about The Chain, including how to get involved, here.