WithAll Blog



Mar 1, 2024

Sophie Szew
Five years ago, In March of 2018, I sat in front of my doctor at UCLA’s eating disorder partial hospitalization program as these words filled the sterile air and etched themselves into my fragile psyche: “Sophie, I spoke to your insurance today.

I reported to them that your weight is fine, but your organs are failing and you’re not getting any better. There’s not much else we can do for you since according to your weight, you’re perfectly healthy and yet you’re really sick since you’re not eating. They asked if you’re going to make it and I told them you’ll probably be dead in a few weeks. There’s no reason for them to invest in your treatment. You’re a helpless case.”

Five years before that, at 10 years old, I decided to “take charge of my health!” And that “the journey starts today!” That I would “get abs in 20 minutes!” And look exactly like the guant-cheeked bleach-blonde girl in the picture captioned: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

10-year-old me lived in a larger body, a body society taught me was inherently deserving of the bullying and isolation so many kids that grow up fat live with. So, when one of the girls at my 10th birthday party gasped mouth-hanging-open at the utter tragedy of the fact I “was the only one in the whole universe” who didn’t have an Instagram account, I sat giddy at the opportunity to finally fit in. I didn’t. I filled my profile with pictures of wildflowers and fabric patterns I found beautiful and thought “the entire universe” should see, while my peers posted pictures of mall hangouts I was never invited to, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs where neon-banded braces poked through smiles, and summer pool party photoshoots where pink bikinis framed perfectly flat tummies. Not a single chubby cheek or soft body in sight. 

I learned how to use the explore page about a month after I learned how to post pictures and scroll through my feed. It felt like learning how to cross the ocean—my world was so much bigger now, so much room to, well, explore. And so I did. I would spend hours a day scrolling through pictures of pink oceans and heart-shaped islands and strange fish and shoes with markers as the heel. The more bizarre the better. My favorite accounts to spend all day looking through were the ones where the posts were full of tiny text: bulleted lists of life hacks, fun facts, or instructions on how to make a DIY phone case. Instructions soon turned into recipes. Recipes turned into diet tips. Diet tips turned into workouts. Workouts turned into extreme exercise challenges. Extreme exercise challenges turned into before and after pictures of fat bodies next to impossibly thin and muscular photoshopped bodies. Before and after pictures turned into outright pro-ana content. As the posts on the explore page evolved, so did my behavior.

The first time I came across a picture of Kate Moss captioned: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” was the same day I looked at my 10-year-old body in the mirror and decided to make it disappear to half its size. If everyone on my explore page did it, so can I. Easy peasy strict-diet-of-only-lemon-and-warm-water squeezy. I made a promise that I’d do everything it took to look like those girls with the thigh gaps in the after pictures. I would do every workout that appeared on my explore page and double it. I would do every diet challenge but eat half as much. 

10 years, 13 hospitalizations, and a couple of near-death experiences later, I’m fully recovered from a disease that I caught in large part through my screen. I have made a career for myself speaking out against weight stigma in eating disorder treatment; which should be an oxymoron. I shared my story with President Biden last year. I’m studying American mental healthcare systems at Stanford. I performed poetry inspired by poems I wrote in the pack of therapy worksheets in the hospital at Mayor Karen Bass’s inauguration. Many of those who ask me to speak at events find me through social media. I post about all of it on the same Instagram account that once almost killed me, and I am writing this Op-Ed on the same notes app where I once recorded my daily caloric intake. It is all very full circle. I am part of a supportive community of advocates that have all been through experiences like mine—a community one could argue consists of my entire generation.

And yet the circle isn’t complete for everyone—there is a bite left out of the Apple. Not all of us made it out. People are dying from eating disorders every 52 minutes. Eating disorders are the second-leading cause of mental health-related death following overdoses, many of which happen due to fentanyl-laced substances sold on social media. Social media is used for the human trafficking of children. Cyberbullying-related suicides are rampant. As someone who’s found community and advocacy and the strengthening of friendships on social media, I have no desire to call for it to be abolished. But I am calling on social media companies to abolish the practices that they know lead kids to suffer because they also know these are the very practices that drive a profit. I am calling on them to stop content that can cause eating disorders from reaching children’s social media accounts. I am calling for them to prevent the sale of fentanyl and human trafficking.

I am speaking out for 10-year-old Sophie who decided to lose weight due to social media and 15-year-old Sophie who almost died because of this. I am speaking out for all the children in “the whole universe” whose humanity has been reduced to inputs in an algorithm of addiction for the sake of profit. My generation deserves to be seen as human beings, not lines of code to be manipulated to output dollar signs.

Sophie Szew is a Jewish Latina three-time intern at the U.S. House of Representatives and youth leader at MTV’s Mental Health Youth Action Forum at the White House. Sophie is an internationally recognized poet and journalist, a Mental Health America Young Mental Health Leader, a California Mental Health Consortium Member, the founder of the Youth Latinx Leadership Conference, and a former teacher to unaccompanied and undocumented child immigrants. She is also a Youth Advisory Board member for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and a first-year student at Stanford University, where she hopes to double-major in American Studies with a concentration in mental healthcare justice and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, with two minors in Human Rights and Creative Writing. As an eating disorder survivor, Sophie combines their own experiences with injustice brought about by mental healthcare inequity with her passion for writing, advocacy, and leadership to uplift the voices of minority communities and fight for the systemic de-stigmatization of marginalized bodies.

What to Say Coaches Challenge

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Take The Pledge

THE PLEDGE: I believe that words matter. I want to make a positive impact on the kids in my life by stopping harmful diet and weight talk. I am committed to making sure that every child gets a chance to develop healthy relationships with food and body.


Coming Soon!

Shannon assists with the logistics of development and operations and making every day run as smoothly as possible. Her day-to-day focuses on our Recovery Support Program, budget management, events, and administrative support. She enjoys being part of the nonprofit world and finding ways to help enhance the organization. She has a heart for serving others and helping people succeed.

Shannon has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Health & Exercise Science from Gustavus Adolphus College and a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) from Walden University.

Outside of work, you can find Shannon chasing her two girls around, attending sporting events and finding the next brewery or winery to explore.

Lindsay leads our operations, programming, fundraising, and communications to better fulfill our mission. She enjoys engaging with our supporters and stakeholders to build stronger connections to our work. Outside the office, you can find her planning her next trip, exploring the Twin Cities, or reading her book club’s latest pick.

With ten years of experience in nonprofit and foundation administration, Lindsay is a creative project manager working to strengthen all our operations. She loves being a part of a team deeply dedicated to discovering innovative and effective strategies to end eating disorders and is excited to invite others into this important work. Efficient and collaborative, she executes activity across all operations, including fundraising, events, communications, and programming. Lindsay has a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Northwestern, St. Paul, and a fundraising certificate from the University of St. Thomas. She and her family live in Richfield, MN.

As Executive Director, Lisa leads WithAll’s strategic growth as a sustainable social enterprise dedicated to the prevention of and healing from eating disorders.

Lisa has more than 20 years of experience in public affairs, community relations, and law, and nearly 15 years of experience in non-profit leadership, most recently at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. She is a graduate of Mitchell Hamline School of Law, a member of the Minnesota Bar, and a Minnesota Supreme Court appointee to Minnesota’s Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board. She volunteers with her daughter’s school and with youth sports.

Lisa does this work because she knows eating disorders are not a choice; they are deadly, and they are everywhere. She also knows kids are not born with harmful thoughts and actions around food or their body—and it’s our job as adults to keep it this way so they can focus their precious brains and time on things that matter.

Lisa finds laughter, all children, and the numerous variations of sparkling water to be delightful.