A Case Study – A Mother’s Story

Six years ago Lynn Carpenter lost her only child, Sheena, to depression and bulimia. Lynn states, “When Sheena died friends of mine back home couldn’t believe that someone in North America could starve to death.” These same friends had a logical solution ” ‘why don’t you just force her to eat, just shove food in her mouth.’ ” If it were only that easy and the complexities of depression and bulimia were that simple Lynn would not have lost her daughter.

There was a time, well before Carpenter realized that Sheena had an eating disorder, when she held similar views.

“Look, I had no idea what an eating disorder was. I used to get angry with Sheena for not eating. But I had no idea what was going on, I had nowhere to go and no one to talk to.”

Sheena’s Deadly Recruitment

Sheena Carpenter always wanted to be a model and at the age of fourteen she went to a modeling agency to have her potential assessed. What happened there, Lynn Carpenter believes, is what triggered Sheena’s eating disorder. “At the time I thought it would be beneficial because it would help to give her some self-confidence.” Instead what she received was a list of cosmetic surgeons specializing in facial liposuction. The agency told Sheena that if her face was a bit thinner she may perhaps have some potential as a model. “I just ripped the paper out of her hand and told her that until she was of age there was no way I would allow her to do this to herself,” says Carpenter, still visibly angry.

Sheena became obsessed with the modeling agency’s advice. By attempting to re-shape the way her face looked, her weight dropped to seventy five pounds. She began to wear layers of clothing, trackpants under her jeans and large sweaters as a way to hide what was happening to her body, and to keep her body warm. But it wasn’t until Carpenter came upon Sheena purging in the washroom of their home when she was eighteen that she fully confronted the reality that something was wrong with her daughter.

When Sheena was nineteen she took her savings – all two thousand dollars of it – and had the liposuction treatment. The perfect results were , predictably, “disappointing” to her. Sheena went back to an even stricter self-starvation and purging regime because

“She thought they hadn’t made her face thin enough,”

says her mother.

Carpenter says she never really considered that the messages for young women in North American society were in any way harmful.

“I didn’t have a problem with any of that stuff before. Now,”

she says and leans towards me with a lowered, quietly seething voice,

“I cannot watch Fashion TV or beauty pageants. Too many girls think that’s what they have to look like to become successful as a woman. I have a lot of issues with that now.”

Carpenter admits that she too had issues about her body growing up.

“I always hated my own body,”

she tells me candidly,

“and I had very little confidence. Sheena grew up with that; kids become their environment.”

I wonder if the “environment” she is speaking about includes the fashion TV and other perfect body shaping media forms she had just mentioned, or whether she, like so many other mothers, was placing all the blame on herself.

Read the continuation of a Mother’s Story: Death of a Daughter.

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