Beautiful Me - Eating Disorders, The Image Complex and Notions of Beauty and Attraction for Men and Women.
“If we can only look at each person’s natural inner beauty, before looking at the physical beauty, it’s hope, like finding the light to light the darkness. Ragamuffin’s training course has made me feel valued again. It makes me want to continue my life., It has given me hope – a hope that I know I will now give this same degree of care and compassion to the young people in my care” (Course participant, social worker & educator)
Professional development training and development of clinical therapy services for young people
Young people in Cambodia, like young people anywhere in the world, are trying to make sense of who they are, and how to be who they are. In a rapidly changing urban climate, where development is in constant change, young people are facing the complex challenges of being increasingly exposed to international and Asian media’s notions and images of external beauty. Young people are having to navigate and quickly learn to manage the transition from a more traditional cultures’ notion of beauty towards a more contemporary context. There is no let-up from the pressures of materialism and a socially imbibed construct of self-image. This exists alongside ongoing challenges of poverty and societal challenges that impact well-being and resilience.
Almost every young person who is referred to our Arts Therapy service faces issues of self-esteem, confidence, self-image along with deeper stressors and troubles that have a more long lasting impact.It is these very issues of domestic violence, abuse, trafficking and chronic poverty that are compounding the very real challenge of transition in a changing climate for young people.
Ragamuffin seeks to design continuing professional development programmes (CPD) for our Clinical Arts Therapy team, organisational partners and the wider psychosocial community in Cambodia to support, equip and raise awareness of such pertinent issues. The aim is to enable Cambodian professionals to become more aware of the underlying issues and the range of coping strategies a young person may utilize to manage life. Such ongoing training increases the capacity of therapists and caregivers to effectively and compassionate respond to the needs of young people in distress. It also enables them to ask for help and gain support when they feel out of their depth or at the limits of their competence.
In response to these issues Ragamuffin provide a rolling programme fo CPD training workshops. One example is Beautiful Me, a 5-day Professional Development Course for Clinicians and Carers on Eating Disorders, The Image Complex and Notions of Beauty and Attraction for Men and Women.
The course was attended by therapists, educators, social workers and professionals including those who work in beauty industry in Cambodia.
On the course we explored:
Our weight, and whether we see ourselves, and others see us as attractive or not, which matters to so many of us. We know that both genders are affected by this pressure, but perhaps women suffer the greater demand to look the part.
There is growing anecdotal evidence that suggests that young Cambodian women are developing traits of what was once thought to be a Western disease; Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia are on the rise.
The workshop flyer asked, “What gives rise to this distorted perception of the self - A ‘Hall of Mirrors’ conspiracy where the mind attacks the body? What deep sorrow, or unmet need would lead someone to such obsession?” and further stated, “
Reassurance that, “you are beautiful just the way you are”, will unlikely be enough to put the mind at peace and ease the growing distress”.
In a country where understanding of this is at present limted we aimed to address, “What is an Eating Disorder? What causes it? What can be done to help prevent young women, and sometimes men, from developing the symptoms, or treat those who have full-blown Bulimia or Anorexia Nervosa?”
In this training workshop we worked toward a deepening understanding of what motivates those with eating disorders, and considered our reactions to those who suffer from them. We worked together in experiential contextualised dramatic role plays to increase our capacity to respond to the underlying issues that can result in the development of a potentially life threatening illness.
The course combined a creative study of the subject with creative approaches to working with those we come into contact with, who are either already unwell, or showing signs of developing an eating disorder.
“This course is so important because this subject is invisible - people don't know about it. People have eating disorders but we can't identify it, there has been no education here, no research and nothing or little in the way of treatment programs. To be part of this course helped me to begin to consider the issue, and realise the number of people who aresuffering from this issue in Cambodia. As a therapist I am now more aware of what eating disorders are.,It has increased my capacity and confidence in being able to do assessments and how to help young people who are facing this crisis. It has also helped me to consider what support network is needed for anyone who has a severe eating disorder and how we can begin to find the appropriate resources to support such a person. It is such a gap in Cambodia to even consider these issues - it is so very important, many others need to learn about these issues.” Serey Samchet – Senior Arts Therapist – Be-yourself Project, Ragamuffin Cambodia.
“Throughout out the course I have learnt that there is so much more to eating disorders than just the thought of being skinny. Now I have a much deeper understanding. When we talked about what's inside of us, and emphasized this more than just looking at what's on the outside, we found so much beauty and this began to shine through everyone on the course.
I have learnt that often, when people change their outside appearances drastically, they are trying to protect, control or hide something inside of them that is so painful or distressing.
After the course I'm much more aware. I will approach my clients differently after getting this knowledge. I also think that my eyes will be more open to the signs that people with lower self-esteem or the potential to develop an eating disorder show. I will try to help them right away instead of waiting for it to get worse and worse.
I need to see those invisible people and help them. I know how I can see them more clearly now and am much more ready and able to respond” (Course participant, Social Worker)
“As a Cambodian educator, I never knew what an Eating Disorder was. However, during the course we explored the cultural issues for young Cambodians and I remembered an old novel we were all familiar with. It's a tragedy about a young woman whose circumstances of family conflict and lost love resulted in her gradually stopping eating to a point at which she died. I never thought that it could be a sickness of the heart which could lead people to death.
I now have learnt so much more about what this really is, how it can develop, what causes it, and what can be done to help prevent young women and men from developing a very serious illness.
I see this issue in the young people in our care who experience so much pressure from the media and each other to look a certain way. Some of them weigh themselves 4, 5, 6 times a day. It’s a real a problem this issue of self-image and beauty.
I can now begin to help them to be more aware and develop a positive relationship to inner beauty and self-confidence. We can also begin to recognize the reaction or behaviour of those who have, or who might be at risk of developing a more serious issue or illness. For those where that is the case, we can take them to get professional help and support – everyone who cares for young people in Cambodia needs to understand these important issues”(Course Participant, Education Leader).