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With Thanks & Inspiration: Honoring Jen

By Shelly Allen, LCSW, HHC | June 1, 2014

As a therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image issues, I often receive looks of intrigue, bewilderment, and discomfort when people ask me what I do for a living. Why would you want to work with people who have eating disorders? It is so tough! I understand others’ discomfort with my work. The truth is that it IS tough working with people who are struggling with these issues, but my work with Jen reminds me why I am ever inspired by what I do.

A few months ago, Jen (an actor I’ve worked with for 9 months) informed me she was planning to run another marathon in honor of her sister Lindsay, who died tragically young 7 years ago from cancer. Much of our work has been connecting Jen’s eating disorder and body image issues with the loss of her sister. To deal with this loss and pain, Jen unwittingly turned on herself. As a result of her dedication, Jen has overcome her eating disorder. Yet, she is aware that the work continues. So when she said to me she didn’t want to run the marathon this year for the reasons she had in the past (yet she still wanted to honor Lindsay), I encouraged her to instead consider running for herself and all that she has worked on. Here is what Jen is running for now:

Dear Family and Friends,

It has become a bit of a tradition that on April 27th, the day that would have been my sister, Lindsay’s birthday, I register for the NYC Marathon. So, here we are again. Another April 27th. Another marathon. And another year gone by, without my sister.

I run for all the reasons anyone would run to raise money for cancer research. And in past, I have been specific that it is to honor Lindsay. And while all that is completely true, something different has come up for me this year. Something more honest.

This past year I have been going through some of my own health things that some of you may or may not be aware of–in regards to my body image and my eating. Running was a huge factor in that. I was running for all the reasons that are important, AND… to lose weight, to stay fit, to feel thin, to prove something to myself and to others, and to be in control. I was running to run myself down, not always to inspire myself up. And in desperately trying to inspire you all with my story about Lindsay, it continued to be a mask for my own insecurities.

Through this year of fighting with my own demons, I’ve surprised myself with what I have found truly inspires me—fighting for women, and their own confidence in themselves. I’ve realized that what I am most committed to, in my acting, in my bridal consulting, and in my life, is being a person that women can turn to feel better about themselves. AND it starts with me.

This year, I am trying something new.

I am running for early mornings. I am running for thumbs up and fist pumps. I am running for exhausted legs and blistered toes. I am running for the little girl in pig-tails who high-fived me as I ran by, and the father who hugged me as we walked towards the starting line. I am running for all the brides I work with, who want to squeeze into the size below their own. I am running for ponytails. I am running for the graffiti artists on the williamsburg bridge. I am running for all the students who decided to get their degree in the arts this year. I am running for teachers. I am running for the schools who have taken on Jesse’s We Can project. I am running for family. I am running for friends that are family. I am running for Janet and Molly who taught me to be brave. I am running for my mom who is the most brave woman I know. I am running for sisters. I am running for the past I had with Lindsay, the presence she keeps in me always, and the future she has inspired me to see for myself. This year, I am running for ME.

And I need your help. This is my promise, my declaration, that I will fight through all the horrible thoughts we can have about ourselves—and run only for the love of it. Happy Birthday Lindsay. My gift this year to you, is getting your little sister back. The one who used to laugh with you until our belly’s ached, and attacked life with joy and passion and love. See you at the finish line.