By: STAFF WRITER
Bobbie-Angela Wong survived anorexia nervosa after a long battle which started as a teenager. When she emerged from this life-changing journey, she penned a children’s book, Holly the Hippo, to teach them to love themselves the way they are.
In this month’s interview, she shares advice and tells the tale of a young woman who found strength from her challenges. Bobbie-Angela is now a social work student at New York University and is also a professional model.
IW: Why a children’s book? What was the thinking behind writing to children?
Often people ask me why I chose to write a children’s book. To be honest, I don’t think I chose to write it that way, the book was asking me to be written. There are many books on self-esteem and eating disorder recovery for adolescents and teenagers. But, the education and development of these issues start young.
Many elementary school children don’t know what an eating disorder is and by no means do I want to teach them the different types and everything that goes along with it. I want to teach them that appearance, which is often tied to these mental disorders, does not define who you are. Another important thing to note is that appearance alone is not the cause of eating disorders; there is often an underlying issue.
So, back to the children. Why did this book “need” to be written? Children learn lessons in various ways – books, television, watching others. But, the story of one book will stay the same. The more the parents or the children themselves read the book the more the lesson will get engrained in their head. I want the lesson that, “appearance isn’t everything and that personality is what really matters” to be conveyed to children while reading the book.
The other reason why I think a children’s book came about is that a children’s book vocabulary is able to be understood by all ages, male and female. I can’t write a chapter book or novel and expect children to understand everything. Though a children’s book is often thought to be only for children, messages conveyed in the story are useful throughout life.
IW: You started your journey to recovery at the age of 15, so you were a teenager, what was the most challenging thing about having this eating disorder at that age?
I think the most challenging thing about having this eating disorder was that I didn’t even know what it really was. In middle school, in health class, we, students, touched on the topics of what some of the eating disorders in the DSM were. We were taught the symptoms, typical physical descriptions of clients who “suffer” from eating disorders as well as emotional and mental characteristics. But, I was never really taught about stages of an eating disorder or stages of change. I’m not going to go through all of them because there are six stages.
However, I will go over the first, which is pre-contemplation. During this stage, I didn’t have any intention of changing my behaviours nor did I think I was doing anything unhealthy. I was basically in denial that I had a problem, but I truly did not believe that I did. But, I will not undermine the other challenges I encountered such as continuing to have a social and academic life as well as a relationship.
IW: What would you say to teenagers who are going through the same problem?
I would tell teenagers who are going through the same problem I battled for several years that you are on a journey. That journey can be written, drawn, sang, danced, ran, walked or expressed in any way by YOU. The journey is with you and you can take whoever and whatever you want with you.
IW: How important was your mother’s role in your recovery?
I think I might cry answering this question. My mother’s role was beyond important. But having her present in her role was also quite difficult. My mom is a nurse and she’s great at it. She’s also a daughter and a mother and a sister and so on. But, what I needed most from her was to be my mother. As a nurse in the medical field, I think she believed it would be too her advantage. She knew how to take care of “sick” patients. However, I was not her patient, I was her daughter. She wanted to know everything, fix everything, and be involved in everything. But, I didn’t need that all the time. Sometimes I just needed her to be there and listen to me. Active listening to what Bobbie-Angela is saying and not what her eating disorder is saying was extremely important. And that goes for both the mother and father. Just because the father isn’t a female, doesn’t me they don’t play a significant role. Eating disorders do not discriminate. Men and women can be diagnosed. Young and old. Any race or ethnicity. Bottom line, every support person played a significant role at some point in my recovery.
IW: As for now, how did your experience shape who you are today?
I always say it wasn’t so much a good experience as it was a valuable one. I learned a lot about who I am. I am sensitive, but it doesn’t mean I’m weak. As of January 2018, I am a social work student at NYU. I want to help people in a way that my therapists helped me. I always imagined myself being a paediatrician and then I saw myself being a pharmacist. But, my experience has taught me that I have a passion for helping people in a different capacity than I would in other professions.
My experience has also built on my strength. When I am combatting a challenge and it seems extremely difficult, I tell myself that I already overcame the biggest obstacle of my life, and that was battling anorexia nervosa.
Lastly, I would like to note that though this experience is from my past, it will be with me forever. People often say the past is the past. And yes, I agree. However, the past is just as important as the present and future. We learn from the past. We heal from the past. We get courage from the past. The past is our foundation.
Model: Bobbie-Angela Wong
Hair & Makeup: Asia Marie Sandoval
Photography & Styling: Alex Tupaz