Girls fight eating disorders together

Story highlights

  • Photographer Marie Hald visited a facility for girls battling eating disorders
  • Each day consists of six scheduled meals as well as individual and group therapy

(CNN)Nestled in the middle of the southern Polish countryside, there's a small yellow house that has the look of a dollhouse. But what is occurring on the inside is much more complex.

Behind the front doors of this therapeutic facility in the village of Malawa, many young women are possessed by the voice of "Ana," as many anorexia patients call the illness. The facility, called Drzewo Zycia or Tree of Life, is a temporary home for a group of young women battling eating disorders.
"It was like a summer camp, and the weather was 90 degrees and sunny," said photographer Marie Hald, who shot a series of photos inside the facility. "But instead of a camp, everyone was really suffering and the mood was often heavy."
    Having found the facility through a Polish fixer, Hald was welcomed with open arms by both the leader of the house and the girls. The experience is captured in Hald's project, "The Girls from Malawa," which documents the young patients' road to recovery.
    Photographer Marie Hald
    Each day consists of six scheduled meals and individual and group therapy.
    "Everyone was so kind," Hald said, "and after half a day, I actually started living like the rest of the girls, eating every meal with them and doing what they were doing."
    After each large meal, everyone is required to sit at the table for an hour in order to digest and to prevent anyone from secretly exercising or throwing up. During the day, the girls are required to stay on the ground floor. After 8 p.m., once everyone has had an evening bath, they are then allowed to go upstairs to their bedrooms to sleep.
    Despite never struggling with an eating disorder herself, Hald saw herself in the girls she got to know in the village. Like her, many of the girls were honor students who had good friends and were friendly and outgoing.
    Hald grew up before social-media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and without apps that had the ability to edit a life and body into looking perfect with one simple click. Hald wondered, "How would I have survived that?"

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    While Hald is aware that these fake standards are impossible to achieve, many of the young women have tunnel vision to become what they deem to be "perfect."
    "I actually had no idea that they Photoshopped the models in magazines -- or that people from Hollywood often had had plastic surgery," Ania, a 16-year-old patient at the facility, said to Hald.
    Through her photos, Hald aspires to provoke the world and spark a debate.
    "Some of my colleagues have looked at (the photos) and said, 'Wow, she's beautiful, she looks like a model,' " Hald explained. "And then you start to think of what our perception of beauty really is?"
      The girls were also excited about the project. Together, their hope is to help others by bringing awareness to the issue of disordered eating, which affects approximately 70 million men and women worldwide, according to the World Eating Disorders Action Day Steering Committee.
      Hald notes that eating disorders are a big societal problem and that it's not only about being thin, but rather a quest for perfection in every aspect of life. Every day, these young women listen to encouraging nurses and therapists, with the hopes of one day leaving the voice of "Ana" behind them.