A woman was plunged into a two year battle with bulimia after her then-boyfriend told her “fat girls don’t do anything for me.” Emma Owen, from Cheadle Hulme, spent two years making herself throw up, missing meals and obsessively working out in the gym after developing the eating disorder.
The mum-of-three, who moved to Manchester from Essex 25 years ago, had always been sporty and healthy throughout school. But as she grew into adulthood, drinking and partying with friends and getting an office job soon saw her body begin to change.
She had lost her confidence and further saw her self-esteem ‘crash’ after her then partner told her “fat girls don’t do anything for me”. It was a huge blow that had left her feeling ‘worthless’, leading her to make herself sick up to five times a day and plunge into ‘dark place’.
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After battling her eating disorder and moving to Manchester with her husband, the 49-year-old is now traveling around schools in North West telling her story and helping others to love themselves through educational lessons. She is also working with Festival Manchester in her bid to help bring region-wide transformation in the North West
speaking to the manchester evening news, Emma said: “I spent my teenage years looking for a sense of self-worth in relationships. After leaving school, I changed my boundaries after finding myself in a new and happier relationship. Wanting to avoid further rejection, I consented to taking that relationship further physically, and experienced rejection two months later.
“I asked that fatal question: ‘Why? Why don’t you want to go out with me?’. His response, ‘Fat women don’t do anything for me.’ With that one sentence, my self-esteem crashed.
“Before this, I had put on two stone and had started getting bigger. Everyone gets self-conscious about their body, and he didn’t like that I had started putting more weight on. He said those dreadful words as he finished with me and it just put me over the edge.
“The following two years involved me spending hours in the gym every day and skipping meals. But dissatisfied with the rate of weight-loss I ended up developing the eating disorder bulimia.
“Making myself sick up to five times a day gave me a sense of control and a temporary relief, but it was false. I was in a very dark place, lying to myself and everyone else.”
It was covering up what Emma described as her ‘secret illness’ that made her realize something needed to change. Throughout the late 1980’s she battled ignorant attitudes and kept her fight a secret over fear of judgement.
“I didn’t tell anyone because I felt like I had control over it,” Emma continued. “I was so embarrassed at the thought of someone finding out about it, but it was killing me inside.
“Years ago, models were rake thin, there was no plus size women being represented and it was almost glamorised. Attitudes are changing and there is more support out there, but at the same time there are much more pressures on young people these days with the likes of social media and the world telling them how to look or what to wear.”
It was changing attitudes that spurred Emma on to kickstart Respect ME a decade ago – providing lessons around sex, relationships and self-esteem to schools across the UK. Emma is currently leading classes to tens of thousands of young people in 60 North West schools.
She will also be hosting Festival Manchester’s Women’s Event at the Hilton Hotel prior to the festival, in which she is the Women and Schools Event Team Leader. “With a growing motivation to see young people and women recognize their value and embrace a healthy self-esteem, I went on to establish Respect ME with teams working globally in schools to inform, equip and empower young people to address safety and respect in relationships ,” Emma continued.
“Inspired by my own transformation and to support women, children and young adults struggling with their own mental health and other challenges, I am now working alongside Festival Manchester to help bring region-wide transformation in the North West.
“It is imperative we can reach out to children in a school setting. Young people today live in a completely different world with so many pressures telling them what is and isn’t acceptable.
“My message is to make sure people realize who they are and give them their sense of identity. So many young people get their own worth and value from peers, social media, and what the world throws at them, in which they buy into something.” that just isn’t achievable.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.