13 Photos That Will Challenge Your Beliefs About Eating Disorders

Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
Photographer Mafalda Rakoš' series and upcoming book, I Want To Disappear, presents 20 different women's struggles with eating disorders. Although her subjects may share specific conditions (bulimia or anorexia, for example), Rakoš says there's something specific about each of their experiences — and that very complexity is what drew her to document eating disorders in the first place.

"I get the feeling that almost everyone knows a person who is affected [with an eating disorder]," she says. "But still, the reasons why someone really falls into this illness lie much deeper."

Through her photos, Rakoš hopes to get below surface-level explanations for eating disorders, like body image, and reveal how her subjects (who she refers to as "protagonists") really feel about themselves and their bodies. "A lot of people said that [their eating disorder] somehow gives them orientation and a feeling of security in a society that is full of disorientation, pressure, and extremely high expectations," Rakoš says. In other words, body image is just one part of it.

Rakoš' work depicts eating disorders as all-consuming, complex, and addictive. By doing that, she hopes to encourage viewers to think about a widespread problem that's all too easy to ignore. "I think it's important for people to ask themselves what kind of society might encourage the development of a disease like anorexia or bulimia," she says. "Ideally, the book will trigger reflection about the world we live in, since it's surely not without a reason that this is a phenomenon that almost exclusively occurs in young people and women."

Click through to view a selection of the photos from I Want To Disappear.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.

Advertisement
1 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
Vienna, 2013.

"For me, this photo shows the ambivalence toward food and eating in general. I think the knives look very brutal. It’s like fighting yourself every time you eat a piece of bread or something.'"
2 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
Self-portrait. Archive material of a protagonist.

"The diagram shows the extent of her belly according to the daytime and consumed food and drinks. It was made by herself to supervise the changes of her body. 'It didn’t matter if I looked at myself in the mirror, or other persons told me that I would be too thin, I wouldn’t believe it,' she said. 'I had the feeling that I couldn’t rely on my perception at all.'"
Advertisement
3 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
"S. suffered from Anorexia as an adolescent. Her mother remembers: 'I still remember how that was like. She wouldn’t eat anything anymore... At some point, I started going to the gas station every morning to buy bread rolls — so that we would have them in the house at all times. In summer, we went on a hiking trip. That wasn’t easy. My biggest concern was whether we could buy those damn bread rolls there. If not, my child would starve.'"
4 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
N/A.
5 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
"C. has decided to remain anonymous in the photographs. This picture was taken in her room in early spring of 2015."
6 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
"U. is a young woman living in Vienna, Austria, who suffers from Bulimia and Anorexia. Her story is long and complicated and reaches almost back to her grandparents' generation. According to her, food and eating always were difficult topics in her family.

"The feeling of being too fat has accompanied U. since early childhood days — and finally led her into a mode of life where phases of restrictiveness alternated with those of bingeing and purging. Although her disorder occupies her thoughts, it can't shut down her intelligence and strong attitude towards life. U. tries to make the most out of it — she is studying at a local art academy and hopes to find an occupation in her life that truly fulfills her."
7 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
U. poses for a portrait.

"'This picture, where I am leaning in front of the bathroom... is somehow special for me, even though I didn’t think about it in this moment,' U. said. 'It makes me think about how often and at what stage I went through this door... What is also interesting is that I thought I smiled much more when you photographed — but I think that the observer can see much better how I really felt. I seem to be looking inside [myself]… which is how I feel very often. I avoid contact with others, and I am so occupied with myself and food all the time… for me, this is what the picture shows.'"
Advertisement
8 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
Sculpture, made by one of the protagonists, Vienna, 2015.
9 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
"J. is a young student living in Vienna, Austria. She suffered from Bulimia for almost three years, but finally succeeded in overcoming the illness after a long-term stay in a local clinic. She definitely considers herself as not affected by this disease anymore.

"She regularly attends a self-help group to speak with others who are currently struggling with eating disorders. Listening to her optimistic and strong statements often gives the other participants courage to work toward self-appreciation and acceptance. J. is an inspirational person for many of them.

"She preferred to remain anonymous in the photographs. J. has a very strong connection to water, which is why we decided to have her photographs taken in a swimming pool."
10 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
Picture taken by one of the protagonists.

"'[Eating] becomes a fear, so I always try to avoid it, which is why going out for dinner sometimes turns into a catastrophe,' she said. 'In this picture, I was spontaneously invited to have food at a friend's. I didn't know how to react. It made me feel ashamed.'"
11 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
N/A.
12 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
B. in a photo studio in Vienna.

"'At first, I felt great when I started to lose weight. I had the power, the energy. I was fit as a fiddle,' she said. 'But I quickly became underweight, and I started to get really tired really quickly. I didn’t have the energy to do anything anymore. I just went on and on. If the others didn’t stop me, I don’t know what would have happened. I would love to have my own apartment. I want to be independent. I want a car and I can imagine [myself] living in Vienna. If I can take care of myself, I want a job that I like, I want to find a good balance between work and free time. I want to be more open, I want to have more social interactions, and I just want to have more energy.'"
13 of 13
Photographed by Mafalda Rakoš
Vienna, 2015.

"'They say that it's always the weakest who becomes ill, but I don't believe that,' B. said. 'Overcoming this illness also takes a lot of strength; I think that it's underestimated.'"
Advertisement