Jessie Gordon poses with a scale that would later be smashed with a sledgehammer at an eating disorder awareness event Monday at Park City High School.
Jessie Gordon poses with a scale that would later be smashed with a sledgehammer at an eating disorder awareness event Monday at Park City High School. Gordon, 17, was diagnosed with anorexia when she was 12. (Bubba Brown/Park Record)

The anxiety is never forgotten. Neither are the sleepless nights, the lying awake in fear for your child's life. The pain is still there, too.

Steve Gordon understands this. He knows how the memory of the anxiety lurks. Sometimes he can still feel it. He recalls the darkness of the walls of his room and how it felt in the middle of those nights. And the pain -- it still sears.

It was five years ago that his daughter, Jessie, then 12, was diagnosed with anorexia. Each meal was a battle. Each day was a war, waged against a disease that tore at Jessie's self-esteem and threatened to rip Gordon's family apart.

"Hard doesn't even begin to describe it," Gordon said. "It creates a level of fear and anxiety that you've never had before. Because you can have anxiety and fear about certain things, but when it's your own children, and it's something that can literally threaten their life, it's terrifying."

Gordon was defenseless as his daughter's eating disorder turned his life -- and that of his family -- upside down. The stress was too much to take, at one point hospitalizing him before Jessie began making steady progress.

"The only way I got through it is because my wife and I are a team," Gordon said.

Later, as Jessie improved, Gordon began searching for ways to help others afflicted with body-image struggles. It was around two years ago that he became affiliated with Beauty Redefined, an organization started by sisters Lindsay and Lexie Kite aimed at helping women battle the prevalence of harmful messages about female bodies often portrayed in the media.


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On Monday, Gordon brought Beauty Redefined, along with Southern Smash, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about eating disorders, to the Park City High School auditorium for an event to help students understand the dangers and causes of eating disorders, as well as the powerful effect media can have on self body image. Many young girls -- and their parents -- attended the event.

"I used to be the kind of guy who would see magazine covers and that sort of thing and not give it a second thought," said Gordon, who serves on Beauty Redefined's board of directors.

Gordon says not enough is done to raise awareness about the issues facing those who struggle with a negative body image.

"It's an epidemic," he said. "I think that's an appropriate word to use. And I think the scariest part is it's a silent epidemic, meaning a lot of people who suffer with this don't talk about it."

For that reason, Gordon said Monday's event would be a success if it reached even one person.

"It's all about getting the message out there," he said. "If we can make one person, one girl, avoid death, it's all worth it. Because it can destroy your family."

McCall Dempsey, founder of Southern Smash, struggled with an eating disorder for 15 years before seeking professional help at age 29. She said her organization has helped draw attention to the dangers of eating disorders, but it's far from achieving its goal of ensuring no one feels pressure to have a certain body type.

"Consumers are becoming smarter," Dempsey said. "They're saying, 'Stop the photoshopping.' We know it's out there, yet we're still feeling that pressure. So while I think that awareness is definitely there, there is a lot of education that needs to be done."

For Jessie Gordon, who spoke at the event, it represented an opportunity to share her story with others who may be struggling with the same issues she has -- issues that, for the most part, she has overcome.

"I don't know that she understands how cool it is that she is willing to do what she does and the effect she's going to have," Steve Gordon said. "She will when she's older."

Before the event, Gordon recalled times he had seen his daughter look in the mirror. He could see her ribs and collarbone, but she saw a body that wasn't thin enough. Years later, she's now at a healthy weight and has reached a place emotionally that he described as "about as close as you can get to being through this."

Both Steve and Jessie Gordon realize she will never be completely over it. There will be good days and there will be bad days. For the rest of her life, perhaps, there will be times when she looks in the mirror and doesn't like what she sees.

But what matters now is that she knows how to move forward.

"I just have to tell my brain not to listen to it, because I know what will happen if I do," she said. "It's not worth it to me."