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Lady Gaga recently Tweeted a video of me performing my poem “Fat” about my experience with and recovery from a decade-long eating disorder. This is a difficult story to tell. Not because it isn’t happy –- it is magnificent. Not because I fear sharing my journey -– I am an unashamed open book and have been publicly speaking about my eating disorder for over a decade. Not because I don’t want desperately to articulate every detail, morsel and pulse.
This is a hard story to convey because as a proponent of unique authenticity, it feels like a dream. I still pinch myself, merely grasping that this is, in fact, reality, that after working so indefatigably as a professional artist and advocate while remaining steadfastly recovered from an eating disorder, the biggest pop star on earth honored my efforts and shared my art with her 32 million Twitter fans.
It all happened in late September on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. A friend linked an article to my Facebook wall about Lady Gaga announcing her experiences with bulimia and anorexia, a response to media harassment regarding recent weight gain. She posted half-naked pictures on her website LittleMonsters.com as a statement of empowerment, and encouraged her fans to join her newly declared “Body Revolution.”
Immediately, I went to her website, created an account, and found hundreds and hundreds of fans posting stories about their eating disorders, body image and self-harm by the minute. I’d never immersed myself in Gaga’s world before. I liked her music and deeply respected her talent, but I never actively participated in her fan base.
I wanted to show my solidarity in her stand against the media backlash. I figured, what have I got to lose? I figured, I’d post my poem “Fat,” which I have performed to thousands of people over the years as a professional spoken word poet, and at the very least, maybe one Little Monster will watch it, feel less alone, and consider letting go of their pain.
Never would I have imagined I’d leave Yom Kippur services the next afternoon, embrace the New York's West Village sidewalks, turn on my iPhone, and receive this Tweet from Little Monster @LovelyMonster97, “@cerothstein Hello ! Lady GaGa tweeted your video called "Fat" in which one you are talking about your past... Congrats ! :)”
Wait, what? Lady Gaga Tweeted my video? Amongst the thousands of posts pouring onto LittleMonsters.com in less than 24 hours, Lady Gaga found my video and shared it with her massive following?
My arms felt numb, my body tingled in astonished disbelief. A week before, I sat near tears on a friend’s couch, terrified and hopeless in my pursuits as a professional writer and performer, questioning whether or not my message would ever reach beyond my meager -- yet significantly appreciated -- following. And now, on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, one of the most famous artists in the world was showcasing my efforts? It felt surreal.
My thumbs fumbled to find Gaga’s Twitter page. It was true. She had Tweeted, “A poem by a very inspiring woman. Called "FAT" Welcome to the revolution. littlemonsters.com/video/50626a19…”
Barely breathing I responded directly to Gaga’s Tweet, “@ladygaga Wow! Thank you Lady Gaga for Tweeting my video & for your incredible bravery in the #bodyrevolution. I am so honored & grateful!!!” I turned off my phone, went back into synagogue, left again after sundown, turned on my phone, and found a viral explosion.
Thousands were viewing the video, which had sat idle for nearly a year at 800 views. My Facebook page and inbox drowned in accolades. Gaga’s post blew up with comments about my poem. Twitter, YouTube and other social media technology were on fire with profound love and support for my poetry and story from both Gaga fans and my own network of loved ones and supporters.
Over the next few days, several media outlets interviewed me and covered the story. It all felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience for at least a week. I received phone calls and notes from people with whom I hadn’t spoken in years all telling me how proud they were. I received countless more messages and YouTube comments from strangers around the world sharing their eating disorder stories, thanking me for sharing mine, saying my poem spoke directly to their experience and offered hope for their own recovery.
The Little Monsters amazed me. The tremendously compassionate and caring community Mother Monster has cultivated continually impressed me. Their response was unbelievable. I did my best to keep up with it all; I did my best to share my thanks, breathing constant appreciation. I even posted a new video thanking Lady Gaga and all of the Little Monsters. I wanted Gaga and every supporting fan to know my deepest gratitude, what an honor it all was.
Now, 10 weeks later, the video has over 39,000 views. Some might say that’s not a lot for YouTube, or even for spoken word poetry views -- I have friends with hits in the millions. But for me, it feels magical. To know thousands of people spent two minutes and thirty-five seconds engaging with the topic of eating disorders -- whether personally connected or not -- is massive. That’s nearly 2 million minutes spent supporting eating disorder awareness, prevention, and recovery. There are over 24 million people suffering from eating disorders in the United States, 70 million worldwide. Unlocking the shame around eating disorders will eliminate this worldwide epidemic.
In addition to “Fat,” I host an ongoing YouTube series called “Body Empowerment” where I promote positive body image, I have a one-woman play called “faith” about my eating disorder and recovery, I sit on the Board of Directors of the national eating disorder and arts nonprofit NORMAL, I have devoted so much of my life to this cause. My goal is to help, remind and usher others to discover their core, and nurture it.
That is why Lady Gaga’s support is such an honor. She has inspired millions of people -- young and old -- to embrace their essence, that we are all “born this way.” While an advocate for countless social justice causes, I feel social change begins with self-love. When we love ourselves, we don’t have any room to discriminate against one another, we don’t have room in our hearts for war, we don’t have room in our spirits to shame each other or ourselves.
As I write this story, I have flashbacks to my 16-year-old self bent over a toilet seat, terrified to live. I have such compassion for her, my former self. I have such compassion for anyone -- any gender, age, demographic -- who has ever felt that pain and anything like it. I share my story so no one has to feel that pain, so no one has to suffer alone or in silence, so we can lift each other from ruthless desperation and harness a world beyond mental illness stigma and body shame.
Many years ago, my mother asked me what my secret was -- how I was able to recover.
“I’m not afraid to live without an eating disorder,” I told her.
Fear holds us back. Fear keeps this worldwide epidemic rampant with self-hate and despair. My incredible experience in the aftermath of Lady Gaga’s Tweet has validated how this cause is of the utmost value, and finally, after so much shame, millions of others are catching on.