She Doesn’t Need Easy, She Just Needs Possible.
To start off, I want to explain why I chose this picture of Emma. When I first saw this picture I knew I had to interview her for “Our Stories”. The look on her face is screaming determination, dedication, and passion. To see that look of commitment in somebody’s eyes just from looking at them in a picture gave me a strong intuitive gut feeling that this young lady has been through some serious life changing challenges. I had no choice but to share her story. Something inside me told me the whole world should recognize what a warrior this human being has become. Writing this piece, like many others was emotional for me. Emma, I want to say thank you for learning to love yourself. You out of all people know what it’s like to live with pain. I love you.
Experiencing her grandmother’s diagnoses with cancer in the fourth grade was the beginning of Emma’s training to becoming a living breathing warrior of life. Later in her teenage years her grandfather was told he had developed a brain tumor and passed away her junior year of high school. Shortly after, her grandmother stopped her treatments for cancer and passed before Emma’s high school graduation. To Emma, losing her grandparents was like losing her own parents. Watching them die in a back to back fashion that all seemed like a blink of an eye. They watched her grow up, lived in her household, and loved her with every living bone in their bodies.
To prove she could succeed from so much loss at one time she accepted a major scholarship for soccer from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). To sum up the reputation of this particular college I would describe it as elite. Freshman go through the grueling tradition of completing their own university version of “boot camp” to break them down and rebuild them, as most military boot camps often do. Experiencing intense physical training, being a pre-med student with a GPA of a 3.8, and with this major scholarship for soccer, you’d think Emma could make her life a movie with an inspirational happy ending. In reality it was the total opposite. She was about to lose everything.
During her school year, she experienced lots of anxiety and depression. The school noticed her red flags and odd behavior. This lead the university to make a bold decision to discharge Emma from VMI because they felt she was an unhealthy fit for the school’s rigor. We must keep in mind that she immediately left for VMI after her grandparents’ passings. She was not able to give herself time to grieve, which inevitably lead to experiencing those feelings at inconvenient times and in unhealthy ways. After VMI discharged young Emma, she was sent to a mental health hospital for four days. Everything she worked endlessly for, suddenly evaporate into thin air, never to be seen or recognized of again. It was as if all her hard work meant nothing to the universe.
Sometimes losing everything means it was never really the path for you. At the time it may have thought to have been the best decision, but in reality it was not going to benefit your future self. Even if it is an athletic scholarship to one of the best military schools in the country. If part of Emma’s path was to lose this huge scholarship and leave VMI, imagine how much more room was created for her destined true path.
THE NEW JOURNEY
Coming home from the mental health hospital felt like a twilight zone. Emma had to start her life from scratch. Life is filled with multiple journeys, just like the solar system has more than one galaxy. In this case, Emma was ready to hop in her spaceship and enter her new galaxy, with all black holes and striking moons.
From pre-med student at VMI she shockingly decided to become a fashion student at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Her grandmother was a huge advocate and lover for the fashion industry, which inevitably lead to Emma’s love for fashion as well. She kept her love for fashion a bit of a secret. Other family members imbedded in her that no reliable career would come out of a fashion degree. Emma got the courage to follow her passion for fashion and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Merchandising of May 2017. The emotions of her college graduation day were like no other because she finally followed through on something that she loved with every single bone in her body. She had the rest of her dreams to fulfill and was ready for the new life adventure ahead.
Late August of 2017, Emma experienced her first black hole. Emma was sexually assaulted inside a bar that was packed to the brim; to get to the bathroom was like squeezing through a crowd of thirteen year old girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Sexual assault can happen anywhere, at any time, by anyone. This issue is more relevant than the public may think. “One in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted in college. Rape is the most under-reported crime, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police” (NSVCR, 2015). Emma did not talk about this incident for a long while and practically blocked the assault from her memories as a defense mechanism of not wanting to feel the pain of remembering such a traumatizing moment. Years later, Emma decided to use her voice and large Instagram following to bring awareness about sexual assaults and to speak out about her own assault on her Instagram page.
This Instagram post was filled with Emma’s personal stories and insight on the topic of sexual assault. If you would like to see the rest of this post on her Instagram account feel free to look up her name “emma.manis”.
All these hardships in Emma’s life inevitably lead to the creation of a serious eating disorder. Anything you could think of to lose weight she did to the extreme. It was as if a parasite was dormant inside her until it decided to wake up and eat her alive. She became obsessed over losing weight. It was truly an addiction. Every time she would eat she would make herself throw up, exercising to exhaustion, anything one could think of to lose weight in unorthodox ways she did to the extreme. In order to have enough energy to keep going throughout her days she would drink a Coke Zero because it had no calories and the caffeine kept herself awake. The damage she was delivering to her body was unhealthy and sadly unseen by others.
The constant obsessiveness to lose weight can have red flags. In Emma’s case, her red flags could have easily been seen in public, she was giving them away in plain sight, but sadly not a soul ever noticed. When Emma would be sitting on the couch watching TV, or at a ‘get together’ at somebody’s house, she would constantly be touching her arms to make sure she wasn’t gaining weight somehow. She was constantly checking herself, feeding her obsessiveness, having a mental break down in plain sight and was yet able to mask it all. Being able to not let others see that she was in pain fed the demon of control itself. Every time Emma lost more weight she felt a sense of control over her obsessiveness, but in reality the obsessiveness was controlling her. She was being manipulated by her own thoughts without even knowing it.
I would like to warn all readers of the graphic content that you are about to view. Emma and I discussed that it was appropriate to share these photos and that she was comfortable with others viewing them. We do not intend to trigger any past or present negative emotions for other readers who may have an eating disorder or recovering from one.
An eating disorder is not a chemical imbalance in the brain, it is the perspective of the way a person views themselves. It can’t be cured with medicine; it’s cured by forcing yourself to eat” – Emma Manis
Both of these photos are from Emma’s past when she was suffering from her eating disorder.
Emma went from 160 lbs to 98 lbs in just five months.
To people who do not suffer from an eating disorder, the perception of her body is unhealthy and almost unreal. To someone who is suffering from an eating disorder the perception is: there is still so much more to lose. It is truly a deadly disorder that is wrapped around a false perception.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS SUFFERING FROM AN EATING DISORDER BELOW ARE LINKS AND HOTLINES TO HELP AND SHARE… ALL IT TAKES IS ONE CLICK OR CALL TO SAVE A LIFE:
ONE MEAL AT A TIME
Emma’s road to recovery began during a shopping trip with her mother. Her mother noticed her daughter’s bones poking out through the clothes she was trying on in the stores. With concern for her own daughter’s health, she took Emma to the doctor. She was officially diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Body Dysmorphia. Unfortunately this was not all that was discovered.
Emma had developed a heart murmur and her kidneys were beginning to shut down. The doctors and Emma’s mother decided she needed to go into recovery for her eating disorders or else she would inevitably face her own death . Emma was scared and filled with anger, however, she knew deep in her heart that she must turn her life around in order to stay alive.
There are no pills to magically cure her urges or thoughts, or chemotherapy to radiate the controlling and addicting thoughts away. To recover, she had to do the one thing that scared her shitless… which was to eat. It seems so easy, but to Emma it was the most difficult and terrifying solution.
Her first meal was half a bagel with a 1/2 tbsp of peanut butter on top, but in all honesty the first meal that was sitting on the plate in front of her was anger with a side of tears to dip it in.
For weeks during recovery, she would cry during every single meal she had to eat because of the fear of gaining weight. It came to a point that she became terrified to brush her own teeth because of the calories in her toothpaste which she thought would contribute to weight gain. She absolutely hated every aspect of the recovery program, it was exhausting trying to change her entire perception of herself and the world. Emma struggled daily. She was waking up every morning to her worst nightmare. Every week she had to get weighed in as part of the recovery, but Emma could not bare seeing the number go up on the scale. She would go as far as hiding five-pound weights in her clothes to falsify the results. She knew she could not keep slipping by and faking her recovery or else she would be in recovery at stage one forever.
At one particular ground breaking moment Emma began to realize she wanted to live life, not just survive life. She understood in that moment how important it was to have respect and love for her body mentally and physically. Her turning point was all about being able to look at herself in the mirror with more weight on her bones and tears stream down her face and to somehow find the inner strength to say,
“I am not fat, I am healthy. I am not weak, I am strong. Brain, I will forgive all the bad thoughts you have and will say about our body that we share, but one day we will see differently with the eyes you share with my soul. We will not fight a war anymore, it will only be little battles that we will overcome together.”
WHERE EMMA IS NOW
Emma is alive and thriving. She is still in recovery, consulting with her dietician every two weeks and a therapist every seven days. She is officially a social media influencer on Instagram with a shocking 32.6k following. Each post she creates and publishes is authentic, intriguing, meaningful, beautiful, and powerful. Her social media platform is her voice and a strong one at that. She is very open about all her life struggles on social media knowing she will be able to influence others due to her large following. She chose wisely to use Instagram as a platform to effect positive change instead of negativity, anger and hate. I usually do not follow Instagram influencers, but to me, Emma was different. I started to follow her because I was immediately intrigued with her pictures and fell in love with her meaningful posts. Everyday I look forward to seeing what she will post next and how it will relate to and influence my life. Her perspective on life gives me strong hope.
On top of becoming highly influential on Instagram she developed an online boutique called “Evolve”. Here is Emma’s story on her company’s start up:
” I was shooting content for my Instagram and blog with a friend and after a couple of shoots together, we began to talk about opening our own line together, but we wanted to focus on giving back to women, and not only giving them clothing, but confidence and the belief that beauty has no limits. It was our goal from the beginning to carry all shapes and sizes, ultimately bringing a new age of diversity and inclusion to the fashion industry.”
Emma’s business partner that helped start Evolve in the beginning, decided to start a family and could not find time to help with the company. They are still in touch today.
She also described her specific role(s) in her own company:
” I have so many hands that go into making this company what it is and I am forever grateful for the love and positive energy that are poured into empowering women to achieve their own evolution each and every day.”
I also asked for her future plans for “Evolve”:
“My hope is to be able to open up a physical store that is a “woman’s cave” rather than a “man cave”. Everything from a personal stylist to having a drink while you shop will be a part of the Evolve experience. I want to elevate the shopping experience. But aside from that I really just want to touch at least one person a day and let them know that they are never alone.”