Body image campaigner Marlo Olsen wants to help people overcome eating disorders like anorexia

A Riverina woman who fought anorexia has started an online campaign against the deadly disorder. 

Marlo Olsen developed anorexia when she was 17, but said the condition spiralled out of control when she went to university.

“The objectification of women really plays into the body image of young women, they believe that’s the way they have to be and feel a pressure to look a certain way,” Mrs Olsen said.

“Between the ages of 10 and 20, that’s when you’re really impressionable and shaped by what’s around you.”

Eating disorders affect up to one million Australians, according to a report from Deloitte Access Economics and The Butterfly Foundation.

Figures published by the National Eating Disorder Collaboration show one in 20 of those suffering from anorexia die, the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. 

“Eating disorders give the sufferer control of something in their life,” Ms Olsen said.

“In the university setting that’s how it happens… there’s a day to day fear of trying to achieve ‘perfection’ and a goal you can never get to. You still see yourself as huge or ugly, you believe you’re never good enough.”

A 2013 study of 139 female Australian university students aged between 18 and 29 published in the Journal of Eating Disorders found up to 79 per cent had engaged in “drunkorexic” behaviour, where they binge-drink and then vomit it up.

Charles Sturt University’s acting dean of students, James Brann, said there was a lot of effort put into promoting healthy lifestyles on campus.

“We try to give a range of healthy options and give the right framework and environment to make good decisions... to get outdoors and live a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

“We also have a large counselling team and also try to reach out to students if they show signs of illness.”

However, Mrs Olsen was trying to tackle the problem at its root, by promoting “body positivity” on social media and through her new “Own That Body” podcast.

“I’m from Temora originally and I knew of a couple of older girls with eating disorders, but now I’m told all the time about people struggling,” Mrs Olsen said.

“I started doing this as a way to share my story and maybe encourage and empower young women not to be striving towards something they see around them.

“Looking back, at 17 I was perfectly fine, but eating disorders affect people of all shapes and sizes.”

If you, or anyone you know is experiencing an eating disorder or body image concerns, you can call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (ED HOPE) or email support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au.