Cr-eating Disorders

I discovered long ago that I often feel most helpful when I stay out of the way. My service is silence. My contribution is to not be a hindrance for those who really know what they’re doing; for those who have insight, perspective, and wisdom; for those with voices—for those who count.

I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder, but it fascinates me to read about them. Although the symptoms haven’t made their way into my life, something much deeper links me to them. Do any amount of extensive research on anorexia, for example, and you’ll find a common desire among its victims: the desire to disappear.

Article after article, talk after talk comment on how these men and women fight against the very space they occupy in this physical world. The urge is to shrink, to cede, to shroud ourselves in silence.

Unfortunately I’ve seen many of our youth suffering from something similar. It’s not that they have an unhealthy relationship with food; they don’t refuse to nourish their bodies. Rather, they don’t allow themselves to enrich the lives of those around them with their talents, their stories, their voices. They settle for consuming when they could create. They settle for silence when speaking could change the course of history. They resist the possibility of making an impact for fear of risking failure. These youth suffer not from eating disorders, but something more like a cr-eating disorder.

Just like I’ve felt in my own life, I’ve seen youth hold themselves back due to fear. Many are afraid of creating something that will take up space, something that comes out of their own mind and heart, and that may be seen or heard or experienced from someone else’s point of view. These youth silence themselves. They stay out of the way. They leave art to the real artists—to the ones whose voices count. 

But in keeping our mouths shut and our heads down, are we really doing any good? Could we even be causing harm?

Steven Pressfield thinks so. In The War of Art, he exhorts readers: “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

Since the start of the UrbanDreamers arts program in February, I’ve been impressed and encouraged by the bravery of the students who have accepted the challenge of giving us what they’ve got. With each project completed, they are giving us all a glimpse of the world from their own perspectives. They are giving us their voices. And in the beautiful, powerful moments when those voices challenge us, they even give us the gift of getting in the way.


Marissa Thornberry - Assistant Director of UrbanTrekkers and Director of UrbanDreamers