Seven SMASHing Years Later

Today, Southern Smash turns seven!

I often get asked, “How did you start Southern Smash? How did you make it what it is today?”

The answer is simple:

I have no idea.

Well, I have *some* idea. It all started with a silent promise I made eight years ago…

March 2, 2011

I was a hot mess of tears and emotions as I hugged my therapist, Christy, goodbye. After three long months, I was finally discharging from the Carolina House.

Jordan and I loaded up in the car and began our 16-hour drive back to Baton Rouge. As the yellow house disappeared in my rearview mirror, I began to think of what I could give Christy. Being the eternal giver that I am, I immediately wanted to thank her in some way – Mary and Anne too. 

Before hitting Highway 751, I knew there was absolutely nothing materialistic I could ever give that would make up for the incredible role they each played in my recovery journey. The only thing to give was my continued work in recovery AND to pay it forward. That was it, I thought to myself. One day I will pay it forward.

Of course, in that moment I had no idea what my simple promise would one day become.

November 16, 2012

People gathered at the LSU lakes and began listening to the lady who brought them all there for this new thing called ‘Southern Smash’. The crowd was made up of LSU sorority women, my family, dearest friends, community members and even the local newspaper.

I spoke from my heart and with conviction that I knew exactly what I was doing, but my inner dialogue was the complete opposite:

“Why are these people here? Why are they listening to me?”

I pushed the critical gremlins aside and kept going. I continued to speak, share my story and eventually pick up a sledgehammer and for the first time in my life SMASH that miserable scale that nearly took my life.

As the sun set on the LSU lakes that night, I knew with every fiber of my being that I had just created the exact reason God put me on this earth. I still had no idea what Southern Smash was going to become, but I knew I had to do it again.

As SMASH caught fire, so did my life – moves, an early birth, cancer, more moves, grief, death, more grief. Such is life, right?

The one thing that remained constant was my mission, Southern Smash. When Marjorie was born early, people joked with me that I was going to create a NICU non-profit. But I knew I only had one mission in my life and that was Southern Smash and I could not wait to get back to smashing scales.

Of course Southern Smash was (and is) so much more than just smashing scales. It is a platform to help others SMASH their own critical gremlins, a stage for others to share their stories of recovery and hope, a place where people can show up and know that is is okay to NOT be okay…and most of all a way for others to pay it forward.

July 15, 2019

Southern Smash officially merged with The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness. My reason for signing my baby into another organization goes back to my simple promise: pay it forward. By merging with The Alliance, Southern Smash could help more people

My incredible friend and partner in crime, Johanna Kandel, has a favorite quote:

‘If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I did not start Southern Smash on some kind of ego trip. I do not speak to fulfill a power trip. My work is and will always be about helping others with paying it forward as my guidepost. Coming together with The Alliance means more – more SMASHes, more free clinician led support groups, more education and more than anything it means family.

I went from a party of one (plus my amazing Amy) to becoming part of a family with one goal: NOT ONE MORE. Not one more life lost to eating disorders, not one more family torn apart, not one more person being denied access to care that they need and deserve. 

Someone recently asked me, “I know what Southern Smash gets from merging with The Alliance. But what does the Alliance get from your merger?”

The question caught me off guard and in the midst of a recent imposter syndrome storm. My gremlins immediately jumped in – “She’s right. You don’t bring anything to the table. Why did they want you? You don’t bring millions of dollars or value.”

I’m not sure what I answered that day, but I have thought of her question many times since and today my answer is this:

“The Alliance gets Southern Smash – a movement that has taken scale smashing to the next level. They get hundreds of young people across the country eager to be the change as fierce mental health SMASH ambassadors.

And they get me – a passionate, stubborn woman who never gives up, no matter the odds. A woman who is not afraid to fight for what is right and speak out for what she believes in. A woman who has a bleeding heart and is no longer ashamed of her story, wearing her scars proudly. And most of all they get a wild Southern woman always ready to celebrate life, never afraid to think, dance (or pose) outside the box.”

In seven years, I somehow managed to turn a crazy idea into a movement with the help of countless people who were ready to BE THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD (my favorite quote).

That simple pay it forward promise made eight years ago continues to ripple far past what I could have ever imagined. Thank you for supporting me, Southern Smash and now my Alliance family as we fight hard to SMASH eating disorders, the mental health stigma and create better access to care.

Cheers to SEVEN SMASHing years of fun, advocacy, education and change! My hope and prayer in the years to come is that we can all continue to come together to be the change because together we can MOVE MOUNTAINS!

Happy SMASHiversary!!! Go out an do a small act of kindness. Pay it forward. Today and always.

Finding Love In White Privilege

In college, I was a proud member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at Ole Miss. My sorority years hold some of my most precious memories.

We were a group of strong, independent and bright young women – eager to make positive impacts on campus, while also having a little (or in my case – a little too much) fun along the way. Our bond ran deep; and to this day, we share a connection, continuing to support each other through all of life’s ups and downs – marriage, divorce, death, birth, cancer, suicide – the list goes on.

And sadly, just like with any group, sorority women carry numerous stereotypes and stigmas: self-centered, closed minded, air heads, sluts, the list goes on.

But the truth is, as a collective, we were none of those things. Yes, we were undoubtedly born with privilege. We were, after all, pursuing a high level of education with extra money to be a part of Greek life.

Probably the most common stereotype/myth is that sorority houses are breeding grounds for eating disorders. As someone who suffered an eating disorder while in a sorority I can call complete bullshit on that.

In fact, it was quite the opposite for me – and many others. All bodies were embraced and loved within the walls of KKG at Ole Miss. We had all shapes and sizes. My eating disorder was not caused or perpetuated by my sorority sisters. Years after coming out of the proverbial eating disorder closet, I received a message from one of my dearest sisters (who nicked named me after my middle name, Mims): 

Mimmsy—Thanks for sharing your story and struggle…it is so personal, but so good for others to know what you have been going through for such a long time. I am so proud of you for BEATING what has been haunting you for most of your life. Reading your story makes me feel sick…because I knew what was going on. I always suspected you were purging, and I found your laxatives at the Kappa house. We would take turns

following you around after meals and not give you the chance to be by yourself. I guess we thought we could annoy it out of you! I am SURE the annoying part worked, just not the helping! I wish that I would have gone about it in another way and tried to talk to you about it—and been the friend that you needed. I am sorry for not having the courage to confront you so long ago. I hope you are realizing how truly beautiful you are inside and OUT! Much love, XOXO​

Her message years ago was the catalyst for my passion to not only connect with Panhellenic groups, but as many college groups as I could. Students need to not only understand eating disorders and the warning signs, but where help and support is on campus.

I am proud to connect with Panhellenic communities across the country. And I’m really honored to work with ALL college groups – Health/Wellness, Active Minds, Body Positive, LGBTQ+️‍ – bringing everyone together to promote eating disorders awareness, health at every damn size and smash the mental health stigma, but this has not come without its own set of challenges.

I see it time and time again, students in one group shutting out another because they look different or are because they are part of a sorority. Then I watch, like a proud mom, as the students work together on SMASH day to promote positive body image and eating disorders awareness. 

I love seeing a sorority woman work a table with someone they might never interact with. Their kindness helping to lower the other’s persons guard and shatter the sorority stereotype. I watch in awe as blue haired students SMASH scales with not so blue haired students.

This is why I love this generation. They are not only ready to embrace others’ difference, but work together to help promote a cause that impacts them all.

At UNC Monday we had over 300 people attend our evening SmashTALK, many were sorority women. They sat engaged as they listened to the six of us on stage…four cis-gender women and two non-binary folks. Everyone sharing their story or expertise to educate the next generation of world changers. If these women were close minded they wouldn’t sit for nearly two hours in awe. They wouldn’t ask questions, listening to the lived experiences of those on stage. They wouldn’t show up.

I am well aware I, myself, live a privileged life as a cis-gendered thin and able bodied white woman. But do not mistake my privilege (or anyone else’s) for ignorance and simple mindedness.

Privilege or not, I have dedicated my life to educating ALL people and creating a platform for every BODY to tell their story. I proudly (and eagerly) hand over the SmashTALK stage and microphone to any size, shape, color, gender and every person in between. And student groups across the country have helped me to do just that.

Not only do we all deserve the right to tell our story, but the world needs to hear our stories. And as someone who has the ability and platform to help facilitate this, it is my duty and ultimate honor to open my stage to every BODY.

Love is love. People are people. We are not to judge others based on anything – color, sexual orientation, privilege or anything in between. Never assume privilege equals an easy life and do not think blue hair equals weird.

My students constantly amaze me and challenge my own thinking in how we can work together and embrace differences. Because at the end of the day and at the end of this life, it isn’t about what group we belonged to or if we wore Greek letters on our shirt, it is about how we treated every BODY around us.

Let my beloved UNC students be an example for us all – teaching us to not just accept, but embrace every BODY.

Feeling Fat on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day.

And I feel fat.

Gasp. How could  McCall Manning Dempsey, a positive body image speaker, feel fat? Oh the horror!

Well, folks. We all have our days.

But here is the difference. I know that fat isn’t a feeling and that when I start thinking and having anxiety about my body, I know it is really about something SO much more (i.e. stressful move, work, tiny humans and cramps).

As women, we are programmed by society to go to war with our bodies. Our bodies are seen as the solution to happiness and world peace. If we can whittle down to the perfect size, then we will find ultimate happiness.

When I realized it was International Women’s Day, I thought ‘Hell yeah’. I thought about my personal she-ros: Ellen, Brene, Glennon, my mom, sister and countless friends. I thought about my daughter and nieces. I thought about my friends who are stay-at-home moms. I thought about my camp tribe, my therapist tribe, my high school tribe and my college tribe. I thought about the countless women who have shaped my life into what it is today.

So many extraordinary women in my life. How blessed am I?! But no matter how awesome they are – each and every one of them knows what it means to feel fat – aka feel less than. It really isn’t about feeling fat. I mean, seriously, how amazing is my body? How amazing is YOUR body?

For me, it is about feeling less than. Because as a woman I am split into a million little pieces and jobs: the mom, the maid, the working mom, the carpool lady, the speaker, the writer, the wife, the dog groomer, the accountant..the woman, the myth, the legend. Being a woman is hard y’all. So damn right we get a day.

International-Womens-Day1.jpg

I know everyone reading this can relate to being divided into a million pieces and feeling like you are so split you can’t do one thing right because you are doing it all half ass. Well, today is about embracing our half ass(ness). Today is about holding up our countless jobs and responsibilities and shouting, “I am good enough. I am woman. Hear. ME. ROAR. Damn it.”

Today is about giving the middle finger to society’s standards and saying, “I am awesome just as I am. My body is miraculous. My mind is exploding with intelligence and I AM WORTHY.”

I refuse to go to war on my body any more. I did that for years and guess what, I was a size perfect and I was MISERABLE. I was dying.

I’ll never forget feeling inferior when I was in my teens and twenties by men who would comment on my body as if it were some inanimate object, like a toaster. I was too ashamed to speak up. I wanted so badly to talk back to the sexist comments, screaming that my was not some new shiny convertible car they could comment on. Sadly, I didn’t have a voice so instead I focused all of my energy on changing my body instead of changing the world like I was born to do.

Well, not anymore. Today, my voice is strong. It may shake from time to time, but it shakes with passion. It shakes because I am using it. A voice can’t shake if it is silent. I speak up and stand up for women today because I was once that silent girl, muted by society’s standards.

I’ll spend the rest of my life speaking out for that girl. I will never stop screaming back at the gremlins in my own head who continue to tell me I’m not good enough. Because I am. I am not perfect, but I am worthy. Worthy of love, of belonging and worthy to have a voice and take up space on this planet.

If you are at war with your body, if you are confused about women’s day, then let me set the record straight. You do not have to be a civil rights leader or international activist to mark your place in history. You are marking your place right where you are by being who you are. You are cementing your place by standing up for others and yourself, wherever you are. Talk back to those gremlins, look in the mirror and say I am worthy. Because that is what International Women’s Day is all about.

Always remember you are WORTHY, valuable and loved just as you are. I no longer waste time feeling fat or unworthy because I’m too busy changing the world to change my body.

Oh Happy day ladies!

tumblr_ogkkdoJsuk1qlccb8o1_1280.jpg

 

Paying It Forward and Forward Again

Three hours. Three hours was all it took for the feelings to surface and the tears to flow. Three hours and a phone call from my mom.

Last week my time in Raleigh consisted of ten talks, two Southern Smash events and two treatment center visits. When it was all over, I was DONE.

Think about the most painful time in your life – your darkest days. Now put yourself back in that moment and tell that story to an audience…TEN TIMES in five days. I speak my story because I have been called to do so. It is a story of pain, hopelessness, faith, recovery, hope…and the many, many gifts that have come from it all. The gifts that I have worked damn hard for.

Most people go on work trips, do their job, make some money and return home. My trips are very different. Yes, I do my job – but it isn’t a job. It is my passion and mission. It is something I pour my heart and soul into. Self-care is beyond important during these grueling trips. I carve out time to be alone and rest my mind and body – a skill I learned many years ago at the Carolina House.

I speak about my eating disorder, my recovery, Marjorie’s early birth and battle with cancer. I explain how the gifts of recovery have carried me through these last 399A9370two years. I speak on how thankful I am for my eating disorder and how we can all turn our dark days into lessons of hope.

I take questions and listen to others’ stories of recovery, abuse, self-harm, suicide and every trauma in between. I cry with patients. I laugh with them. I tell them how insanely brave they are. They are my heroes.

North Carolina and the Triangle area holds a very special place in my heart for obvious reasons: the Carolina House. Then, four years ago Veritas Collaborative and its amazing staff and brave kids stole a big piece of my heart. Over the years, UNC Chapel Hill has become my second home and NC State is quickly doing the same. The people, the area (and the food – best restaurants!) make it one of my most favorite weeks of the year. The icing on the Raleigh cake is the full circle moments that inevitably happen each year.

14753663_1433432920004307_5205436524835981629_oThree brave young women took to the stage at SmashTALK: UNC, sharing their story of eating disorder recovery. I have had the absolute honor of knowing these women throughout their recovery journey, watching them soar and fall with every challenge ED threw their way.

As Sara, Sarah and Teresa took the stage, I sat in the front row crying like a baby…like a proud momma bear. Each woman spoke with such poise and power, the audience sat silently captivated. I sat overwhelmed with the realization that not only had God given me the ability to pay it forward myself, but also helped me create a platform for other’s to pay it forward too.

My pay it forward promise to help just one person has multiplied ten thousand fold in the last four years. And now the ripple has spread even further. Watching these three women pay it forward by spreading their own messages of hope and healing was nearly too much for my sensitive heart to handle.

On Wednesday, the women (and men) of the Carolina House (both Raleigh and Durham locations), absolutely blew me away. Their bravery, openness, and willingness to ‘go there’, left me in awe. While scale smashing might be silly fun to those on college campuses, it is no joke at a treatment center. Many times people are not ready to ‘go there,’ they are not ready to say goodbye to the scale.

When you’re in the midst of your disorder, the scale often represents a best friend. Many people enter treatment not wanting to be there and not yet willing to accept these tough therapeutic challenges. It doesn’t mean they won’t recover or that they aren’t an amazing person; it just means they aren’t there in their recovery journey – and that is okay. Everyone’s journey is different. We all move at different speeds – none better than the other.

The women this year, however, were ready to ‘go there’. They beat the SHIT out of their scales. I buy and send scales ahead of time for each patient to decorate and SMASH! It makes it really personal when you are SMASHing a scale that has a message you wrote to your eating disorder or significant numbers, like the number of suicide attempts you’ve had.


After the SMASH, we went inside to process the feelings that came up, and once again the women’s vulnerability and bravery blew me away. There were tears, laughs, anger and yes, awkward therapeutic silence. Of course, I don’t know how awkward it really was – we all needed a moment of silence after the intense afternoon. The silence was beautiful.

Not to be outdone, the young children of Veritas Collaborative left an equally big imprint on my heart. It never gets easy – seeing 9, 10, 11, 12 and older children with feeding tubes, covered in scars of self harm. You can see the pain in their souls, but often you can also see hope in their eyes.

I don’t know what their young minds took from my story, if anything, but I took so much from them. Heroes come at every age – they are my heroes. Bravery comes even when we don’t feel so brave. And most of all that this illness knows no bound – age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomics. It can strike at ANY age to anyone. And I dare you to look a 9-year old in treatment in the eye and tell her an eating disorder is a choice.

Looking out to a room filled with children suffering from eating disorders, I can’t help but think of their parents. The blame they feel. The worry. The heartache. I hope they know they are not to blame. No one is.

We don’t give our children cancer and we don’t give them eating disorders. But we can give them treatment to heal. We can walk with them, learn how to support them and sit with them when they fall. We can’t always save our children – trust me, I’ve tried. But we can help them to save themselves. That is what the Carolina House, Mary and Christy gave me. They didn’t save me. They gave me the skills to save myself.

As I exited Veritas’ beautiful new facility, my heart was full and my body was exhausted. I knew the feelings from such a powerful week were sure to surface, but I assumed it would be when I drove away the following day. Wrong.

Three hours after collapsing on my hotel bed, completely zoned in on mindless tv (thank you Bravo for the Below Deck marathon), my mom called to see how my week was. My first thought was to give her a ‘Sportscenter’ rundown of the week since I was tired. But before I knew it, I was describing in detail each and every day.

I told her about the amazing day at NC State and UNC, about how much I fell in love with NC State and the great turnout. I recounted the incredible women of Carolina House and the woman who wrote the number of suicide attempts on her scale that she smashed. I told my mom how moved I was with her willingness and her ability to let happy tears overcome her as she shared how it felt to SMASH that number.

14657444_1429246717089594_6581093261702646825_nI told my mom of the young children with feeding tubes and the big hugs they gave me after my talk. I told her about the PHP kids and how much fun we had together. From autographs to snack time to talking about the challenges of recovery, those PHP guys and gals were the perfect ending to my week.

My mom listened intently and then said, “I am so proud of you baby. You are making such a difference.”

Well that about did me in.

Cue. The. Waterworks.

Streaming tears soaked my phone as I told my mom how I talked about her in each and every talk. She laughed a little because we both know some of my ‘mom stories’ were difficult ones in our relationship. But after sharing these mom stories so many times this week, I reminded her how much I love her. I told her how damn proud I am to be her daughter. Sure, she was not the perfect mom, but throughout my recovery journey she has been able to admit mistakes AND do the really tough work to dig deep in her own life.

Parenting is hard. I know I will make mistakes and I will correct mistakes my parents made in my own life. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like my mom. Today, I no longer want to be like my mom – I don’t want to be like anyone. I really and truly just want to be myself because I have discovered that I am pretty awesome person just as I am.

However, I hope that when the time comes to admit my parental misguidances and mistakes, I can be as brave as my mom. I pray that I can fall down and walk the path side by side with my children, just like she has walked it with me.

Mom and I cried together on the phone a few minutes and I continued to cry after our call ended. There aren’t enough blog posts to describe such a magnificent week. The feelings circle back to my first day in treatment, December 14, 2010. My heart remains with the people and place that have been such a huge part of my journey. Every time I share my story and meet others in recovery, my heart grows.

I feel like my heart is going to explode on a daily basis and then I wonder how I got so lucky?

Oh yes, I didn’t get lucky. I worked so damn hard to create this beautiful life for myself. This beautiful and imperfect life.

Yes, this is MY life and it is SO, SO good. It is an absolute honor and privilege to tell my story and it is an even bigger honor to listen to yours.

Thank you NC…until next year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you North Carolina for the love, my wheels are already spinning for next year. NC State, UNC, Carolina House and Veritas…thank you for welcoming Southern Smash and me with massively open arms. These events (and life) just keep getting better and better.

 

 

How to Avoid the Freshman 15

The signature Wal-Mart yellow face smiled down on my mom and me as we slowly pushed our buggy through the back to school aisles. I was just a few weeks away from moving out and into my college dorm at Ole Miss.

Most freshman fear the move away from home, making friends or getting into a sorority. Not me. I only had one huge fear. One MASSIVE fear that trumped any other fear:

Gaining the Freshman 15. 

I. DIE.

I spent the summer compulsively reading every article on how not to gain the weight. As my mom pushed the buggy, I told her my plan for avoiding the dreaded beer weight gain.

“I won’t eat late night and I’ll avoid beer. Oh and I definitely won’t go to the dining hall – they said it is LOADED with calories…”

My mom (unaware of my eating disorder) did what every loving and amazing mom does: she offered advice and encouragement.

“I use a scale to keep my weight in check.” She said, “I hop on every few days or once a week to gauge where I am and know if I need to cut back a little.”

Her innocent suggestion led us to the scale aisle where I purchased my first scale. Before you start judging my mom, remember that we are all doing the best we can – especially as parents. We love our children and often don’t have the tools or education on how to cultivate a strong body image. (See below for parent/body image resources)

stock-photo-64529833-healthy-lifestyle-weight-conscious-woman-standing-on-bathroom-scale-dietingThe simple white scale became my best friend, my worst enemy and my measure of worth. Every morning the little dial rotated and sprung back and forth until it landed on my weight worth of the day. My once day weigh-in quickly escalated to over thirty times a day. I once missed class because I lost track of time obsessively stepping on and off of the scale.

So did I gain the Freshman 15? Nope. I lost weight – and it was met with high praise.

“McCall, you look so good. … What are you doing? … You have such willpower … College is treating you well!”

The compliments fueled my obsession. How low could the scale go? I watched with joy as it showed me a lower number every day. But what goes down, must eventually come back up. And when the number crept back up, life really spun out of control.

I was going out and allowing myself to drink and even eat late night. I practiced the college diet rule that many students do: restrict during the day, saving all daily calories for alcohol – also known as drunkorexiaa dangerous and deadly practice that is all too common.

Alcohol lowered my inhibitions and ability to stay away from food. After eating late night with friends, I would sneak down the hall, scouring vending machines and even garbage cans for leftover, thrown out pizza. I would wake the next morning with such shame and guilt, too mortified to ever reveal my secret, my struggle…my ILLNESS.

On the outside, I was your All-American sorority girl. I experienced a fantastic rush, pledging Kappa Kappa Gamma. I had a wonderful roommate and friends. My grades were off the charts amazing.

But behind closed doors, I was literally killing myself. To this day, I still wonder how I didn’t drop dead during college or the years following. The war in my head and the way I abused my body should have caused major health issues – those didn’t come until nearly ten years later. Shame kept me silent. I continued to struggle throughout my college years, bouncing between anorexia and bulimia, addicted to that bathroom scale and playing the picture perfect girl all the way through.


So I am sure you can guess my solution to how you can avoid the freshman 15…

DO NOT BUY OR STEP ON A SCALE!

Often times your roommate or even the dorm or sorority house has a scale. It is impossible to never encounter a scale. (Side note: if your dorm or sorority house has a community scale, stop reading this and email me: mccall@southernsmash.org). While we can’t stop others from purchasing and depending on scales, we can choose to not step on it ourselves. We can choose to measure our worth on who we are as a person not what we weigh.

College is a time to find yourself, to try new things, meet new people and yes, eat late night and drink beer. I don’t know anyone who has discovered their passion or found new friends by standing on a bathroom scale – trust me, I tried.


To all college students, especially you freshies:

LIVE life. Live YOUR life. This is your time. It is going to be amazing, hard, difficult, hysterical and full of new adventures. You can’t fully experience life with lingering anxiety/obsession about the number on the scale. And if you are experiencing ANY type of anxiety – go TALK to someone. Your school has a counseling center on campus. Again, email me and I will help connect you to locals in your area. I lost so much of my college experience to my eating disorder and I will do whatever I can to make sure you don’t do the same. 

Whether you’re a Rebel, a Tiger, a Tar Heel, a Bulldog, an Aggie, part of a Wolfpack or God forbid a Gator, Blue Devil or Roll Tide (JK…not really), I am here for you. You are not alone. 

Get off the scale and let your freshman year be about YOU, not your weight.

With love (and a Hotty Toddy!),

McCall


Body Image & Parenting Resources

About Face

Body Image Health

Ellyn Satter Institute

A Mighty Girl

Beauty Redefined

Body Image Articles

Reclaiming the “F” Word:It’s For The Children

It’s Not Just Girls. Boys Struggle With Body Image, Too

Raising a Girl with Positive Body Image