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Emma Manis: “Ask your loved one how they are doing”

Don’t give up. No matter what your eating disorder tries to tell you or talk you into, don’t give up. Don’t give up this beautiful life that we have one chance to live. And if you can’t do it for yourself some days, do it for your parents, your siblings, or your friends. Find your […]


Don’t give up. No matter what your eating disorder tries to tell you or talk you into, don’t give up. Don’t give up this beautiful life that we have one chance to live. And if you can’t do it for yourself some days, do it for your parents, your siblings, or your friends. Find your why, and stick to it. We all have a purpose and a reason that we are on this earth, and you don’t want to look back at your life and realize that your eating disorder took so many years of joy away from you. You are braver and stronger than you think and you CAN get through this.


As a part of my interview series with public figures who struggled with and coped with an eating disorder, I had the pleasure to interview Emma Manis. Emma Manis is a 24-year-old VCU Arts graduate who was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder 5 months after graduating college. Losing over 60 pounds in 5 months, Emma was told that she was not going to survive much longer in her condition; however, throughout the past year and a half, Emma has worked relentlessly to get her life back and now uses her story to inspire others in hopes that no one else will have to experience an eating disorder. One month after being diagnosed, Emma decided to open a women’s wear company called EVOLVE to change the fashion industry and the way women view themselves and their bodies because of her experience. EVOLVE caters to women of all shapes, sizes, ages, races, gender identities, backgrounds, and abilities in hopes to show people everywhere that Beauty Has No Limits. More recently, Emma produced a fashion show that took this positive and inclusive message to the next level. This fashion show was the first show in runway history to represent women of all shapes, sizes, ages, races, gender identities, backgrounds, and abilities, and even raised over 7,000 dollars to start the Beauty Has No Limits Foundation. The Beauty Has No Limits Foundation is a non-profit organization that Emma started to raise money to pay for eating disorder treatment for those that cannot afford it, as well as working to institute body image and eating disorder support groups across college campuses. Aside from this, the foundation has developed a training program to work with fashion industry professionals to spot body image and eating disorders among their employees and models, as well as instituting requirements of diversity and inclusion in fashion campaigns marketed across all forms of media.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?

Absolutely! When I first graduated from college I began my career as an executive stylist and showroom manager at Alton Lane, but after being diagnosed with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder, my career had to be pushed to the back burner of my life so that I could focus on recovery. I was so fortunate to have an amazing support system and treatment team that pushed me past my limits each and every day, believing in my strength when I no longer did. About a month after I was diagnosed, a friend of mine came to me about starting a womenswear company together, but we wanted to do it differently. It was our goal from the beginning to reshape the industry and the way women saw themselves. Today only 3–5% of women are represented in the fashion industry, media, and advertisements, leaving the other 95% of women feeling inadequate about themselves and their bodies. Our goal at EVOLVE is not just to sell clothing, but to sell confidence and the belief that beauty is more than skin deep. My business partner, Colleen Hegarty, is no longer with EVOLVE due to starting a wonderful family of her own, but our mission and purpose is still going strong. Professionally, I am the Owner and CEO of EVOLVE, working to grow our company and our message to reach women all over the world every single day. Right now we only operate as an online company, hosting pop-ups throughout the country where we donate a percentage of our sales to non-profits and organizations that we believe align with who we are. My daily schedule is always changing whether it’s shooting a new collection, writing out our 6-month plan, or putting on events to empower and inspire the women around us. I couldn’t be happier to still be alive and have the ability to help others who might be experiencing body image issues or eating disorders.

Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I personally understand how hard this is. Are you able to tell our readers the story of how you struggled with an eating disorder?

I began dieting and trying to lose weight at a very young age, constantly cutting something out of my diet, and never satisfied with my appearance. I didn’t look like the girls you see in the magazines, so in my head, something was wrong with me. There would be periods of time where I would skip eating for a couple of days, but it didn’t ever really stick until I graduated college. I graduated from VCU’s School of the Arts with a degree in Fashion Merchandising in May 2017 with the world right at my feet. I was the only one out of my friends who were going through that major life change, and I had never felt more alone. I went from having the time of my life in college to feeling the weight of the real world, and the pressure I felt to succeed weighed on my shoulders each and every day. I felt out of control at my new adult job, I had just moved in with my boyfriend for the first time, and I experienced assault that put everything over the edge. For an eating disorder that had been developing for years in silence, this was the perfect storm. My eating disorder gave me control. It gave me control when everything else felt out of control. I could narrow down my focus and solely concentrate on losing weight, and the best part was I could do it well. I was good at losing weight, and the compliments on my weight loss only drove me to do it more and more and more. It was addicting, and the feeling I experienced when I was restricting was like an adrenaline rush. I felt light and finally in control of my body for the first time in my life. My disorder got so good at spotting my weak moments, and manipulated my thinking so severely that I wasn’t even Emma anymore. I was a lying, conniving, self-destructive, manipulating eating disorder. For me, my eating disorder did provide safety and security when the world felt out of control around me, but it also took away many years of my life. It took away the joy of being in the moment with people that love me. I was constantly consumed by counting calories and calculating how much I would have to exercise to lose another 5 pounds at the end of the week. I weighed myself daily, multiple times a day, sometimes even every 5 minutes. I was obsessed. Over the edge. Out of control.

What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better?

It actually wasn’t my choice to enter recovery. I was in denial. Even when I started recovery I was still in denial. I didn’t think that I had a problem. Why couldn’t I lose weight if I wanted to? It was my body. It was my life. But my parents would not allow my eating disorder to take me. They found an eating disorder specialist and dietician in our town and I would have to go see each of them once a week. I told myself I was just going to go through the motions. Just gain the weight and lose it all again as soon as I had the chance. But the more I gained weight and learned that nothing was wrong with me, but with society’s expectations, I didn’t want to stop choosing recovery. I wanted to take my experience and use it so that no one else would ever have to feel the way I did or experience what I was experiencing, which is when EVOLVE was created. EVOLVE is a women’s clothing company that I own that strives for diversity and inclusion of all women. Right now we carry sizes XS-24, and are hoping to expand our sizes even further the more that we grow. For me, EVOLVE saved my life and continues to save my life every day. It’s why I keep trying to heal, no matter how hard it is some days. I want to change the way women see themselves and their bodies, and ultimately change the fashion industry as a whole.

And how are things going for you today?

I have my good days and my bad days for sure, but I am so grateful to still be alive and have the opportunity to use my experience to help others. Some days I can get through all my meals without crying, and some days I can’t. Some days I still skip meals, but I think the most important thing to remind yourself of when you’re going through recovery is that it’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to be messy and painful and hard, but all you can do is keep trying. I am so glad that I was forced into recovery a year ago, because I would not be here today if it weren’t for that.

Based on your own experience are you able to share 5 things with our readers about how to support a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder? If you can, can you share an example from your own experience?

1. Be patient. Your loved one is doing the best they can and their fear of food and gaining weight is as real as a fear of snakes or spiders. You may not understand it because you have never been through it yourself, but do your best to be patient and let them know that their fears are heard

2. Sometimes your loved one just needs to cry and be upset over their food. It might not makes sense to you but it makes sense to them and all you need to do is listen and let them feel their pain

3. Ask your loved one how they are doing. They probably will not always be honest with you but look past the simple answers and really look at your loved one in the eyes and have a conversation about how they are doing. Ask them how they are feeling about food and recovery. Not asking questions doesn’t help you or them

4. Don’t place guilt or shame on them for the cost of treatment. Trust me, they probably don’t want to be in treatment any more than you want to be paying for it, but it is the only thing that will save their life. You cannot recover from an ED without treatment.

5. Remind them how much you love them and why you love them, outside of physical reasons. Remind them of the person that they are and everything that they have to offer this world. Sometimes we need the people we are closest with to lift us up when we can’t lift ourselves up

Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?

Don’t give up. No matter what your eating disorder tries to tell you or talk you into, don’t give up. Don’t give up this beautiful life that we have one chance to live. And if you can’t do it for yourself some days, do it for your parents, your siblings, or your friends. Find your why, and stick to it. We all have a purpose and a reason that we are on this earth, and you don’t want to look back at your life and realize that your eating disorder took so many years of joy away from you. You are braver and stronger than you think and you CAN get through this.

According to this study cited by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people in the U.S. of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder. Can you suggest 3–5 reasons why this has become such a critical issue recently?

I think there is just so much pressure from our society for one thing. You constantly feel like what you’re doing isn’t good enough. There’s so much comparison and competition when we should all be striving for connection and growth together. We also aren’t really taught to love ourselves. If anything, we’re taught the opposite. Women bond over hating their bodies and exchanging their latest diet tips instead of lifting each other up and reminding one another that our worth is so much more than just our appearances. Diet culture also plays a huge role in the development of eating disorders. You’re constantly surrounded by ads suggesting that your body should look like x y and z if you want to be labeled as beautiful. There’s a lack of representation all across the media so when people are growing up and all they see is thin white women splashed across every page of a magazine and you don’t look like that, you really start to wonder what’s wrong with you and why you can’t look that way. We need more people and more companies pushing the message that we were all created differently for a reason and beauty is so so much more than skin deep.

Based on your insight, what concrete steps can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to address the core issues that are leading to this problem?

Individuals can continue to work together and build each other up. We are all stronger together and I think the more people understand that they don’t have to feed into diet culture and believe the lies that the beauty industry tries to sell them, the more we will see a decrease in these issues. Corporations also need to be held responsible for the messages they are putting out in the media. They don’t realize the impact that selling products like appetite suppressants or promoting fasting has on people, especially people with eating disorders. We all need more positive messaging in all aspects of the media. Communities can work to institute nutritional programs in our schools and bring in speakers or host events that bring in the discussion of body image and eating disorders. This is the one illness that no one wants to talk about, even though 95% of people struggle with body image alone, and staying silent about it doesn’t help anyone. And lastly, leaders need to continue to lead and work with our government to institute more policies on insurance companies covering treatment and knocking down big corporations that make millions of dollars off of making people feel insecure.

As you know, one of the challenges of an eating disorder is the harmful and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just control yourself”. What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that an eating disorder is an illness just like heart disease or schizophrenia?

I think we just have to continue talking about it and take the stigma away from eating disorders. I think people associate eating disorders with super thin white women, but I wish more people understood that eating disorders affect people of all ages, sizes, races, and genders, and most of the time, those are the people that go through life with their ED’s undiagnosed because no one will hear them or even wants to understand that ED’s affect EVERYONE. We all deserve a chance at recovery and to live a life free of the chains of an ED.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?

There are a couple of workbooks that I really loved and found on Amazon! Intuitive eating, The Body Image Workbook, and The Anorexia Workbook were all extremely helpful. There is also a new book that was just released called Hope for Recovery: Stories of Healing from Eating Disorders that I really love. Christina Tinker and Cathy Brown, also eating disorder survivors, gathered up stories from eating disorder survivors and put them all into one book and it is the one thing that gives me more hope than anything else. If I’m having a really hard day I can flip through the book and read one story that will just remind me that choosing recovery is worth it. We need more people to share their experiences and continue to raise awareness around eating disorders because there really isn’t enough of it!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You are confined only by the walls you build yourself”

This is a quote that I got tattooed on my back when I turned 18, and it has honestly been my life line. When I’m scared to keep going or try a new food that might be overwhelming, it helps me remind myself that I will never fully get better if I let my eating disorder keep building walls and rules about how I should live my life. I think we forget how fearless we really are as human beings. We forget how capable we are and if you have the belief that you can do anything, it will happen. You just have to take a chance on yourself.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am! I actually just launched a non-profit organization called Beauty Has No Limits. This organization works to raise money to pay for eating disorder treatment for those that cannot afford it, as many insurance companies do not help cover the cost of treatment. Aside from providing treatment scholarships, the foundation also has begun to institute body image and eating disorder support groups across college campuses, eventually hoping to work down to the middle and high school levels to do the same. We also have started to train fashion industry professionals to spot body image and eating disorders among models and people of influence so that they can provide support and resources to those that might be struggling.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the largest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I like to think that I’ve already started a movement actually! As the owner of EVOLVE, I work every single day to change the fashion industry to become a more diverse and inclusive place for all women. It’s extremely frustrating that only 3–5% of women are represented in the fashion industry and the media, but I want to show the full 100%. If we continue to put a label on what beauty is, no one will ever have the chance to feel good in their own skin, and life is far too short for that to happen. At EVOLVE, we believe that beauty has no limits and women of all shapes, sizes, ages, races, gender identities, backgrounds, and abilities deserve to be seen, and they deserve to feel beautiful.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I share a lot of my experiences on my instagram, @emma.manis!

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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