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Sophomore raises awareness for eating disorders with Strut for Strength fashion show

She stands tall at a little over 6 feet. Her newly-dyed hot pink hair attracts jealous eyes. She struts in her cheeky pink romper, paired with 2 to 3-inch heels- a visual not many could pull off.

A few freckles dot her cheeks and nose, her innocence in juxtaposition with her wise and piercing hazel eyes. She exuberates confidence and commands attention.

Belmont sophomore Micah Parrish sits upright in her chair, crossed ankles, hands in lap, poised as ever.

“My whole life I’ve been taller, so everyone told me I should model. And then one day, my mom saw an ad in the paper for open casting calls for a Denver-based agency. We went in and they signed me that day.”

From all appearances, this perfectly poised teenager has it all: a budding modeling career, looks to kill – and an eating disorder that nearly destroyed it all.

“It’s been a problem for me for several years. I’ve been clean for about a year now and it’s honestly something always on my mind,” she said.

Parrish is a statistic that most college students shun. With four out of 10 college students affected by an eating disorder like Parrish, the statistics do not lie. It could be bulimia, anorexia or a combination, but the cause could be a multitude of reasons.

“Eating disorders will surface sometimes as a need for control, maybe they show up because they provide an identity for someone, sometimes they provide a way to connect an individual to other people and they can also show up because of self-esteem issues,” said Courtney Grimes, Eating Disorder Coalition of Tennessee’s clinical director.

Eating disorders kill more people than any other mental illness; it is an addiction, not a choice said Grimes.

Parrish will use her experience to educate and promote eating disorder awareness by hosting a body-loving fashion show, Strut for Strength, scheduled Nov. 21 starting at 4 p.m. and another at 6 p.m. in the Massey Board Room.

Because of her career as a model, Parrish felt inspired to host a fashion show encouraging healthy bodies that are not defined by a weight or shape.

In telling her story, Parrish remembers her past with distant eyes. She slumps over in her chair, eyes shifting between the floor and her fidgeting hands.

Signed with Donna Baldwin Agency at only 14 years old, Parrish quickly became an edgy editorial model, working in photo shoots and walking the runways.

“When I started modeling, I hadn’t even hit puberty yet, so I was a twig – really tall and really lanky. Then, when I hit puberty, I started growing into myself, getting curves around my waist and legs,” she said.

In the peak of her modeling career, Parrish was participating in Denver events weekly. She was asked to walk shows in New York and Paris, two fashion capitals of the world.

“During this time, it was the height of my insecurities. I noticed that my body was changing and I was growing, but all the other girls that I was modeling with weren’t.”

Parrish struggled with a combination of bulimia, anorexia and binge eating. After every meal, she would revisit the familiar white-tiled space. She left during distractions in order to hide her own.

Parrish pauses and shakes her head. A deep snicker escapes her mouth as she remembers enviously watching other models eat a thousand calories worth of pizza at a shoot that she refused to eat.

When she did eat, she would intake thousands and thousands of calories in order to sufficiently throw up- but never on show or shoot days.

“I didn’t realize the things happening to my body were natural and that my body was supposed to be changing.”

After a routine casting call with her agency, Parrish spoke with her agent about upcoming opportunities for her career. Her agent ended the conversation by pointing out Parrish’s changing frame, encouraging her to lose the weight.

“I immediately started crying. That was after my eating disorder had started and it gave me a reason to continue. Because I was an editorial model, it’s different than commercial. It requires a completely different body shape and size. It’s where I started and where I wanted to stay.”

An editorial model works specifically in high fashion, they walk runways and model brands. This type of model normally encompasses an angular, unique, edgy and unique persona – different from commercial modeling meant for mass consumers.

The average weight for an editorial model is between 90 to 120 pounds, according to Weighing her least at 120 pounds, Parrish was 38 pounds lighter than the average weight for her height.

At an important photo shoot, Parrish remembers trying on size 2 pants that the designer suggested she wear. Because they didn’t fit, they were given to another model and she was given a loose fitting dress in exchange.

“I hadn’t eaten at all that day anyway, but they had given us our clothes right before they fed us lunch. Of course since I didn’t fit into the pants, I refused to eat anything they fed us. Since I didn’t eat lunch, I almost passed out during the shoot and they had to stop everything and get food in my system. It was a rough shoot.”

After struggling through her on and off again eating disorder, Parrish realized enough was enough. “My mom commented on how she could see my ribs one day. I could only lose weight from my waist, never where I really wanted to lose it. She told me that my waist was scary, scary small. I looked into the mirror and it was just this weird body shape that I was seeing. My waist was so scary small, but my hips were so round. That’s when I realized that it wasn’t even pretty anymore. I was just bizarre looking.”

With the encouragement from her mom, Parrish pursued treatment.

In therapy, she was motivated to dig deeper in her eating disorder to find the trigger. She was taught helpful thoughts to think about the next time she had an impulse.

After she successfully regained control in her life and released her insecurities from therapy, Parrish became passionate about creating awareness for eating disorders and helping others seek help.

“I wanted to host an event that brought people together ranging in all different body types, races and heights to celebrate the beauty of everyone. Girls who wouldn’t normally be models by the standards but who have enough confidence to not care about that and work the runway anyways,” said Parrish. “I wanted to have a fashion show but also create awareness for eating disorders and positive body thoughts in general.”

The show will feature clothes from Native + Nomad, Fab’rik, Feedback Clothing Co. and Muse as well as Nashville designer, AmiraAmor’s collection.

“Micah is very passionate about this sort of cause. She has taken this idea and made it a reality, something many people wouldn’t have been able to do. She’s doing everything she can to get the word out and that’s something that can be difficult,” said Parrish’s friend Kelly Christ.

Photographers will be present to capture the moments from the fashion show and for those who attend. The pictures will be posted on Facebook for all to see. Information regarding eating disorders will be provided and representatives from the Eating Disorder Coalition of Tennessee will be in attendance.

“I want to educate people on eating disorders most importantly. I’m going to give facts to open up the show for a quick education part, but I also want to create a sense of sensitivity for people with eating disorders,” said Parrish.

The tickets will be $2 and all of the proceeds will go to the EDCT.

This article was written by Taylor Andrews.

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