Alicia Quintano still recalls the chilling sight in a Jersey shore coffee shop -- a woman so emaciated that her "shoulder blades stuck out from her back like chicken wings." Ms. Quintano never imagined that, just one year later, at age 14 and 5-foot-2, she would weigh only 68 pounds herself.
A storyteller and modern bard, Ms. Quintano now travels across the country, visiting clubs, coffee houses and college campuses, where she delivers her witty dramatic monologue, "Escape from Fosdick," and shares her struggle for identity and personal TC power following a bad relationship with a man of that name.
At 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, she'll appear at the Atrium, Stamp Student Union at the University of Maryland College Park. Admission is free. Her performance comes just days before the advent of National Eating Awareness Disorders Week (Feb. 6-12).
The week targets groups at risk for developing common eating disorders, which doesn't mean just white, teen-age females, says Mary Strouse Pabst, a social worker and president of the Maryland Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia.
According to Ms. Pabst, the problem now crosses all socio-economic barriers, and children as young as 9 and 10, who adopt the "older, more slim and trim images they see on TV," are developing eating disorders.
Experts concur that the incidence of eating disorders among pre-teens and adolescents is on the rise. Just how many people are affected nationally is harder to discern, in part because an eating disorder is often a "private" illness that victims either deny or are too embarrassed to talk about.
According to statistics from the national non-profit organization, Eating Disorders and Awareness and Prevention, anorexia and bulimia are prevalent in as much as 10 percent to 20 percent of the population.
Often at the heart of these illnesses are "issues surrounding identity, self-esteem and control," says Dr. Harry Brandt, director of the Mercy Medical Center for Eating Disorders.
Brenda Sigall, a clinical psychologist at the University of Maryland and co-coordinator of the Maryland observance of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, says, "The food becomes a vehicle for expressing internal conflicts and how one feels about oneself."
For this reason, Ms. Quintano calls anorexia and bulimia "feeling" disorders, and her story, delivered with drama, humor and a touch of literary flavor, speaks to all those who have ever felt at a loss for identity.
Her "Escape from Fosdick" is the confessional and autobiographical journey of a woman in her early 20s, and Ms. Quintano is frank as she recounts even her most private and embarrassing moments.
"Threaded through the story is someone who gives herself away trying to be what others want her to be," Ms. Quintano says. "It's about an honest struggle for power."
Audience members have found her performances cathartic.
"I casually present experiences which they may be hiding," explains Ms. Quintano, who always hangs around afterward to share stories and answer questions
"She just holds your attention," recalls Kathryn Brown, a health and sexuality educator with the University of Indiana Health Center, who saw Ms. Quintano perform there last year. "Students approached her afterward and said, 'I know someone who went through that.' "
Ms. Quintano, a resident of Gloucester, Mass., began performing her monologues in New York coffee houses in 1985.
Now she spends about six months of the year on the road, traveling mainly to colleges and universities across the nation.
Most recently, she has performed at First Night Boston, Williams College in Massachusetts, the University of Delaware and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
Her appearance at the University of Maryland, made possible by a donation from Alpha Phi Omega, a campus service fraternity, is sponsored by Eating Disorders and Awareness and Prevention and the Panhellenic Task Force on Eating Disorders, an on-campus group of trained sorority representatives founded by Dr. Sigall two years ago.
'ESCAPE FROM FOSDICK'
What: Storyteller Alicia Quintano's monologue on eating disorders
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Where: The Atrium, Stamp Student Union at the University of Maryland College Park