Second-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences, Tricia O’Donnell, attended last year’s Perfect Illusions event on a whim, but this year, as a Body Positive intern at the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, there is no way she will miss it.

“I was initially reluctant because it seemed intimidating,” O’Donnell said, “but I decided last minute to show up. I am so glad I did, because it was very inspiring and powerful.

Join the U.Va. community for this annual open-mic style event, co-sponsored with the U.Va. Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns, on Nov. 5 from 6-9 p.m. in the Commonwealth Room of Newcomb Hall. Audience members have the opportunity to listen and share their experiences about body image, eating concerns and exercise in a safe, supportive and healing environment.

Body Positive / Eating Disorders Education Coordinator Amy Chestnutt emphasizes that “disordered eating and exercise behaviors are common in college, but there is help available and those suffering can get better.”

O’Donnell attended last year’s event with her sister, who was then a third year. Her sister had gone to Perfect Illusions in the past and encouraged her to check it out. While at last year’s event, O’Donnell ran into a few friends from class who she didn’t know had been through similar experiences, and when they spoke, “their openness and courage inspired [her] to do the same.”

“Although my hands were shaking and I began by staring at the floor, I spoke about how I overcame my eating disorder,” O’Donnell said. “I focused on words of hope and courage and, in the process, was reminded of my own strength and resilience. It was a very empowering, positive experience!”

As a first year student, the impact of the event has remained with O’Donnell until now.

“I remember standing at the podium like it was just yesterday, and I recall seeing the proud looks and encouraging smiles on my sister’s and friends’ faces as I spoke,” she said. “The event gave me the confidence to be open about my past, and to not be afraid to start a dialogue among my peers.”

Before ultimately deciding to study at U.Va., O’Donnell visited the Women’s Center with her mother during Days on the Lawn and met Chestnutt, who described the program and its goals. After their conversation, O’Donnell “immediately knew [she] wanted to be involved with it in some way.”

O’Donnell now plans to double major in Media Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality. In her first year as an intern at the Women’s Center, she is preparing for the Perfect Illusions event with a lot of publicity to generate excitement among students and community members about the potential of this event.

In addition to being a Body Positive intern, O’Donnell is the Vice President of HOPE (Hoos Open to Preventing Eating Disorders). She says that the Perfect Illusions event “was the spark that lit the flame for [her].”

O’Donnell encourages anyone who is even slightly interested to just show up “as you never know how it may change your life.” She hopes that those who attend the event find the sort of empowerment that she experienced last year.

“It would be incredible for even one person to be able to find a voice through this event that they didn’t know they had, or for someone struggling in silence to find comfort and hope from the words of others,” O’Donnell said. “For those who aren’t personally affected by eating disorders, I hope they will walk away with a greater appreciation and understanding of the realities and struggles those suffering face, but also with a sense of hope and optimism that it can get better.”

Break the silence and help create a body positive community at U.Va. by attending Perfect Illusions!

For more information on the event, email Amy Chestnutt at aek4k@virginia.edu.

Story by Agnes Filipowski