Tag Archives: Reshaping Reality

Reshaping Reality, One Teen At A Time

Everyone talks about the enormous social pressures around body image. They lead to extreme reactions — including self-esteem issues, eating disorders, even death.

In Westport, a small group of teenagers is doing something about them.

Reshaping Reality is a Staples High School club. Two dozen students reach out to middle schoolers — and their parents — to break the cycle of dangerous behavior.

This is no ordinary, resume-padding group. Potential members fill out a written application, and undergo interviews. They form a tight-knit, trusting community. They share their hopes and fears. They spend months educating themselves about the complex dynamics of body image.

Then they go out into the wider community, and share what they’ve learned.

Before spring break, the Reshaping Reality crew sponsored a presentation and conversation — called “Middle Schooler in the Mirror” — with parents at Toquet Hall. They talked about friendships, relationships, and everything else that affects eating patterns.

A slide from the Reshaping Reality presentation.

A slide from the Reshaping Reality presentation.

“It wasn’t ‘parenting,'” club president Jenna Patterson says. “We’re not parents. It’s just us looking back on middle school, and things we would have liked hearing from our own parents.”

The evening was a hit. One woman called it “better than adult talk, because the info came from first-hand sources. It was so honest and thoughtful.”

Now — for 3 Tuesdays (running through May 10), the group has organized an open-dialogue session for middle school students. They begin at 5:30 p.m., and are open to all middle schoolers. Registration is not required.

“It’s very personal,” Jenna notes. This is not a ‘school assembly.'”

Jenna Patterson

Jenna Patterson

The 1st session focused on the media and students. The next is on social pressures. The 3rd highlights self-image.

The Stapleites have prepared for this since the fall. They meet for 2 hours every week. First they talk about their own lives. Then they split into small groups.

“Everyone in our group has had different experiences,” Jenna says. “But all of us have tried to move past our awkward middle school times. That’s when eating disorders often start. Middle school kids look up to people in high school. We’re just doing what we can to help.”

Eating disorders and body image are big, complex topics. By taking the time to tackle them — personally, using their own words and voices — 2 dozen Staples students are truly reshaping middle schoolers’ reality.

(The middle school sessions are set for Tuesday, May 3 and May 10, 5:30 p.m. at Toquet Hall. For more information, click here or email reshapingrealityorg@gmail.com)

Dustyn Levenson: Reshaping Reality

Westport loves food. This is a town where Martha Stewart opened a catering business. Where specialized shops, from Garelick & Herbs to Saugatuck Craft Butchery, thrive. Where “06880” posts like yesterday’s on restaurants draw drooling comments.

Westport is also a town where the social pressures to eat very little — to be as thin as possible — are enormous. At times they’re overwhelming.

Teenage girls know that, excruciatingly well. Just ask Dustyn Levenson.

At 12, the lifelong Westporter was diagnosed with anorexia. For 3 years — from November of 8th grade through February of 10th — she pinballed through 12 hospitals.

“I had rapid weight loss, low self-esteem, anxiety — all that fun stuff,” she says. She speaks honestly and forthrightly. There is no sugar-coating anorexia.

“I was spiraling out of control.”

Dustyn Levenson, today.

She was also stubborn. Each hospital — even though they specialized in eating disorders — called her case hopeless.

“A lot of times, I was so entrenched I didn’t want to get better,” Dustyn says. “But you can’t see clearly.”

At her lowest point, she was “as close to no daily consumption” of food as possible. She had feeding tubes, and PICC lines to her heart. Dustyn’s anorexia led to osteoporosis, and heart and blood disorders.

Her disease devastated her family. Her younger sister Gracyn — now a Staples freshman — suffered the most.

“She’s always been my best friend,” Dustyn says. But at her 1st hospital, Gracyn made a surprise visit while Dustyn was in the midst of a seizure. “That really traumatized her,” Dustyn says.

Finally, she landed in Avalon Hills. The clinic in remote Utah is known for treating “the worst of the worst” anorexics. Dustyn rode horses. She confronted her demons.

She began to recover.

It was not easy. “I had to realize how stupid I was being,” Dustyn says. “I had to see there is so much more to life than that.”

She says she will always be in recovery from anorexia. “It’s almost impossible to be a ‘normal’ eater in America today. There’s so much social pressure. So much striving to be the ‘thin ideal.'”

Entering Staples midway through sophomore year — where she was buoyed by a few good friends, including one who had written her every day while in treatment — Dustyn joined Staples Players. (She’s been cast as a dancer in “Oklahoma!.”)

In November, Dustyn Levenson will dance in the Staples Players’ production of “Oklahoma!”

Vowing to give back some of what she’s received, she became a certified EMT.

She also formed Reshaping Reality. The non-profit organization — affiliated with the Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association — is raising awareness about the dangers of dieting and disordered eating.

“Anorexia is so stigmatized,” Dustyn explains. “People say, ‘What’s wrong with you? Just eat!’ But it’s a mental illness, with the highest mortality rate of any of them.”

Dustyn has asked doctors, dieticians, therapists — and teenagers — to join the Reshaping Reality board. They’ll offers speakers, make videos and public service announcements, and help educate youngsters that “there’s more to life than your appearance.”

Next month, Dustyn will speak at an eating disorder fundraiser in New York. In December she heads to Utah for another speech.

She is grateful for all she has today.

“My family has been awesome,” Dustyn says. “They couldn’t be more supportive, after all I’ve put them through.” Gracyn — who calls her sister “my biggest inspiration” — has always been by Dustyn’s side.

Today, Dustyn says, she feels good. She’s doing well, and is excited about this new chapter in her life.

Her goal in starting Reshaping Reality was “to help one person. And my website has already had some awesome responses.”

“People tell me they thought they were the only one with an eating disorder. All I want to do is share my knowledge, and put my 3 years of treatment to good use.”

Dustyn Levenson already has.