'Sopranos' Star Discusses Eating Disorder

SPEAKING FROM THE HEART
Kacie A. Lally

“Sopranos“ star JAMIE-LYNN SIGLER, spoke yesterday on a panel at the Gutman Conference Center that kicked off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Jamie-Lynn Sigler, better known as Meadow on the HBO hit series “The Sopranos,” headlined a panel at the Gutman Conference Center yesterday that was the kickoff to a series of campus activities marking National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Abby Gardner, Beauty Director of YM Magazine, and Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, also presented at the seventh annual public forum, entitled “Body Image, Culture, and the Media: Shaping the Women of Tomorrow.”

Sigler, 21, began her portion of the forum by describing her childhood in Jericho, New York. After reminiscing about a life of acting, ballet and boys, she talked about her personal struggle with an eating disorder.

During her junior year of high school, Sigler—a self-described overachiever—said she exercised four hours a day in addition to taking seven dance classes per week, and said that she consumed between 300 and 400 calories per day.

According to Sigler, the physical effects of her lifestyle included sunken eyes and hair loss.

Recounting the story of her illness and recovery, the actress and singer said that although people think she was immune to criticism, in reality she absorbed everything that was said about her and her illness.

“I am the most sensitive person in the world,” Sigler said. “Everything affects me.”

Sigler, who is now the spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association, said her eating disorder is a scar that will always be with her, and that she keeps pictures of herself at her worst as a reminder of the obstacles she overcame.

“I’ve gotten a lot of second chances,” she said.

Simmons, who began her research on female adolescence while studying as a Rhodes Scholar, said adolescent girls think of the “ideal girl” as “skinny, pretty, nice,” and universally loved.

Simmons said that when girls strive to be “nice,” much of their natural anger is “driven underground.” She argued that the eye-rolling, silent treatment and rumor spreading among adolescent girls is treated as catty “developmental” behavior and most commonly described as a “phase.”

Because there is no clinical, healthy language to describe such behavior, Simmons said that it is “very seldomly looked at as a serious problem.”

Simmons also said that girls who are most vulnerable to aggression by their peers are not the girls on the margins. Instead, Simmons argued that “the girls who get taken down are the prettiest, smartest and most talented.”

Gardner talked about the positive progress made by the teen magazine industry in its portrayal of young women. Congratulating YM’s new editor and chief Christine Taylor’s decision to eliminate dieting articles from the magazine, Gardner said she was happy with the small steps YM has taken to shift the focus away from body image.

“I am proud of what we do at YM to make the world easier for women,” she said.

She said the magazine’s editors have also tried to incorporate images of women of more realistic sizes and shapes throughout the magazine, not only in select features, but integrated throughout the magazine.

Gardner said she wished that magazines would move away from the detached, “you’re pear-shaped, this is the page for you” idea common in mainstream women’s magazines. However, she said that editors run into problems casting more full-figured models because they tend to be underrepresented by modeling agencies.

She also said that the steps YM magazine has made are small, and that much progress is still needed. With this month’s cover articles ranging from “How to Talk to Boys” to “Get Cute Hair,” Gardner said that she hopes readers “feel better about themselves” after reading the magazine, “but at the very least not feel worse.”

—Staff writer Lisa M. Puskarcik can be reached at puskarc@fas.harvard.edu.