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Stories of strength and recovery

Film screenings raise funds for eating disorder programs

A film being screened in Delta about optimism, strength, creativity and healing aims to get viewers talking about the often avoided issue of eating disorders while raising funds for mental health programs.

No Numbers: Identity Beyond Measure, by Dena Ashbaugh and Sonja Ruebsaat, tells the stories of three women, including Ashbaugh, who struggle with anorexia and their paths to recovery.

“After years of modeling and a 25 year fight with anorexia, I wanted to help people find value beyond weight and numbers," says Ashbaugh in a press release. "With 50 per cent of those with EDs (eating disorders) never recovering, change is needed.”

The Delta film screenings also provide a chance to raise funds and awareness about eating disorders among the community's youth.

Money raised from screenings in North Delta and Tsawwassen will go to two Canadian Mental Health Association–Delta branch programs, Youth Net, a peer group effort that involves youth educating each other about mental health issues, and Building Capacity Within Our Children.

Building Capacity is an art therapy program run by local counseling psychologist and art therapist Liz McKenna in Delta elementary schools.

"I go into the schools and work with children to not only help them understand their bodies, but to understand the way they function, to understand what beauty is, to understand what it means to be healthy, to understand anger management, how to manage their frustrations, how to collaborate and communicate—I do that through the arts," McKenna says.

"Because if you don't get through to them as children, by the time you see them with an eating disorder it's much, much harder to work with them."

Anorexia is the number one killer of young women in Canada, says McKenna, and she applauds No Numbers for not only showing how our culture of thinness is unacceptable, but also how struggle and recovery can be articulated in many ways, such as the arts.

The film screenings themselves further tie in creativity with recovery by inviting the audience to stop measuring their worth by their weight and donate their bathroom scales to an art project.

McKenna will take the scales, deconstruct them and reconstruct them into a sculpture, a project she may take on with some of her students.

"It's fun, creative and it gets people talking. There are all of these ways of communicating about an eating disorder," she says.

Ashbaugh hopes to collect 1,000 scales for a total of 300,000 pounds "lost."

Ashbaugh also used her film as an opportunity to encourage artists to enter original songs into a contest. As the winners, Andrea Bravo's song "In My Dream" and Christina Alconcel's "Just Listen" will open and close the film, yet another way the filmmaker stimulated discussion around eating disorders.

Says McKenna, "To me it's really, really important to help people understand that dealing with an eating disorder, health issues or struggles that families come across all the time, it's more than words. It's a creative process that's a powerful tool."

Jacquie McCarnan, social media strategist for No Numbers, watched the film with her two daughters and says it encouraged them to talk about body image and self confidence.

She also watched the film with an audience at an eating disorder clinic in Richmond.

"The impact it had on the audience was astounding," she says.

No Numbers: Identity Beyond Measure screens Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m. at the Firehall Centre for the Arts in North Delta and Feb. 25, 6:30 p.m. at the Tsawwassen Arts Centre. Tickets are $10 at the door and $5 with student card.

A third film screening in Vancouver, Feb. 16 at the Rio Theatre, will raise funds for the Looking Glass Foundation's new Woodstone Treatment Facility, a residence for young people suffering from an eating disorder.

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