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'Eating affirms your right to exist': My message to a girl with an eating disorder

I received a letter from a woman in a small town terribly worried about her granddaughter's eating disorder. This is my letter to that 14-year-old girl.

In just a few minutes, we are going to have a conversation about hunger in America. Hunger that is about to deepen for tens of millions of Americans because the federal budget for nutritional assistance has been slashed. 

But before we do, I want to talk about hunger of a different kind: the hunger that some young women impose on themselves because they suffer with disordered eating. 

This week, I received a letter from a woman in a small town. She's terribly worried because her 14-year-old granddaughter is suffering with self-imposed starvation. She barely eats 600 calories a day, has developed low blood pressure and has stopped hanging out with friends and pursuing the activities she loves. 

Grandma reached out to me because, here on Melissa Harris-Perry, we sometimes send words of encouragement to young people navigating the challenges of growing up. These are challenges that so many of us in #nerdland have faced. 

We know what it is like to feel different. We know how it feels to look different. We have felt the sting of rejection and worried about fitting in. 

In my teen years, in the aftermath of surviving sexual assault, I too succumbed to an eating disorder. My battle with bulimia raged for years and I still struggle with disliking the woman I see in the mirror. But I was blessed to have family and friends and teachers who allowed me to see myself through their kind and forgiving eyes, when the glare of my own lens was too harsh.

Grandma asked me to protect the confidentiality of her 14-year-old granddaughter. So I will just say to you, dearest girl: please reach out and grab the loving hands that are being offered to you. If you are recovering from trauma, I beg you to tell someone you trust. If you are feeling alone, I'm asking you to believe that you are surrounded by love. 

And more than anything, I am asking you today to try to eat. Just a bit. Try feeding the beautiful self that is you. Feeding your body can help clear your mind. Eating affirms your right to exist. Give yourself permission to feel full. Start with today as the first day you don't have to starve to prove you are worthy. 

And Grandma: don't give up. Your love and care may be the thing that makes all the difference. #nerdland is with you.