I never thought that I would see the day when I could walk up to a mirror and say ‘Sarah, you are beautiful.’ It has taken 26 years and I still have to work on it as part of my daily mantras. Like every girl and woman on this planet, I have constantly struggled with body image. I have spent many days staring emptily at my image, poking at my stomach, pulling at my hair, piling on makeup, in hopes that someday I would be perfect.
My thoughts eventually turned to obsessions; obsessions that almost claimed my life. In 2010 I was admitted into an eating disorder facility/ hospital for a horrible disease that had taken over my life; anorexia nervosa. For those who are not familiar, anorexia nervosa is a terrible disease in which a person refuses to eat and starves themselves. My disease also involved another component, obsessive exercising.
I would be at the gym for hours, and even stayed in the gym after fainting twice and exercised during a hurricane. I found myself saying, “If only I was 5 pounds thinner.” Five pounds became ten; ten became twenty; twenty became forty. I had never been so terrified and lonely in my entire life. I was so underweight that I could not function.
Eventually I had to make a decision; either to live or die. I made the hardest decision of my life and got on a plane and flew across the county to receive the best medical assistance I could. The message was finally clear; it was time to fight. It took three months of intensive weight restoration and therapy in order to mend some of the damage I had created. I am actively at a healthy weight and still fighting for recovery daily. Things are not perfect; but then again, perfectionism is not reality.
When I returned from the rehabilitation center, I realized that I had survived for a reason. I had always had a great talent as an environmental educator, so I decided that I would use my newly acquired optimism to serve the local youth and communities. I became the head of the education department at a small museum in a rural town in Maryland. My primary job was to act as a wildlife educator; someone who teaches the local public about local ecology and wildlife preservation. Within my time at the center, I have created daily environmental educational programming, summer academies for local high school children, and after school programming for fourth and fifth graders, where eighty percent of the families represented within the school district are below poverty level. During the summer of 2013, I have created partnerships with state and national parks, local museums, and resorts. With dedicated interns working by my side, my center and I have been able to make contact with thousands of visitors who are visiting Maryland’s eastern shore. My work does not stop there. I plan on offering several after school academies in the fall of 2013 and hope to receive funding for a traveling vehicle so that I can bring animals to students who cannot afford to visit my museum.
Overall, my life is fantastic. Throughout my programs I encourage children and their families to connect not only with nature but with themselves. I offer marine biology camps at my museum, where students have the opportunity to challenge themselves and do what they love. While I may not be a size 0 anymore, and I may have split ends and a pouch on my stomach, I am wonderful and I inspire young men and women to follow their dreams. I will continue to fight because all children should have a chance to love themselves and the world around them; all children are perfect just the way they are.