Twenty-year-old conquers severe eating disorder by becoming a mermaid

Twenty-year-old conquers severe eating disorder by becoming a mermaid

Eating disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions that there are. In fact, according to estimated figures, approximately 24 million people in the US have some form of eating disorder. And when left untreated, they can lead to absolutely devastating consequences for the sufferer.

These days, it seems we care a lot more about what people think about us than we did in the past. Perhaps this stems partly from the culture of social media and our obsession with checking up on our peers and their seemingly flawless lives. It's also very easy for those with body image issues to access the kind of 'motivational advice' that encourages their damaging relationship with food on apps like Instagram.

Indeed, there are many triggers to eating disorders which can make them all the more difficult to treat. However, many sufferers do go on to overcome, or at least learn to deal with, their disorder and are able to live happy and fulfilling lives.

One woman, in particular, has opened up about how she overcame her eating disorder by pretending to be a mermaid.

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Hayley Ivy Di Virgilio – better known simply as Ivy – began experiencing issues with her body image around the time she started puberty. And it was partly because she was uncomfortable with the fact she was developing at a faster rate than her peers. At her lowest point, when she was 19, she found herself trapped in a cycle of starving herself, then binging and making herself throw up.

Take a look at this gorgeous vid of Ivy as a mermaid, swimming in a tank:

When her loved ones started expressing their concerns over how exhausted and emaciated she appeared, Ivy made it her mission to get herself back to full health. However, it wasn't until two years ago when she got involved with a company which sends "mermaids" to entertain at events that she finally learned to love her body.

Credit: Press Association

Ivy, now a 20-year-old international affairs and Spanish student, enjoys swimming around with her four-stone silicone tail, saying it makes her feel “beautiful and strong.”

The dedicated young woman, who also works in a congressman’s office and in a pizza restaurant, hopes to inspire a generation of ‘mer-kids’ by getting them to believe in themselves.

“Being a mermaid has helped me overcome my body issues, because you have to be fit and strong enough to swim around in a tail,” she said. “People think mermaids are very thin, but the reality is you need good muscle mass.”

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“We focus more on being athletes than just looking good.”

Ivy confesses that, working as a mermaid, she was initially concerned about stomach rolls, but when she put on the costume, she felt beautiful.

Look at this adorable vid of Ivy the mermaid on a pirate ship:

She also said that the ‘mermaid community’ on social media helps by spreading messages of love and encouragement on people's photos, no matter what their size or shape.

“Now food is fuel for me,” she explained. “As a mermaid, I inspire kids to feel good about themselves and encourage comments on their strength, rather than looks."

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“I help to smash gender stereotypes by telling boys they can be mer-men too.”

Ivy of Denver, Colorado, USA, struggled with her self-esteem since about the age of 12, as she developed earlier than her friends.

She recalls hating her body throughout school, despite being an average size, and would limit what she at and also did cross country training in order to lose weight.

“I hated my body, and I feel sad now, knowing that I didn’t look how I thought I looked,” she said.

Credit: Press Association

From a young age, Ivy had been very passionate about singing, acting, and dancing. However, she now believes the obsession with appearance in the world of theater contributed to her insecurities. While studying at theatre college in New York, she continued to restrict her diet to an obsessive degree. At her lowest, she weighed a dangerously low 99 lbs.

Take a peek of this time-lapse Ivy did of her daily makeup routine:

“I would not eat anything for a week then binge and throw up,” she said. “I wasn’t changing my body; all I was doing was having a negative relationship with food.”

This very worrying cycle of binging and purging went on for six months, but Ivy said she “snapped herself out of it” because people kept commenting on how tired she looked.

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Some years ago, Ivy met a group of girls through theater, who were working for Wands and Wishes - a company that organizes events and parties. Her friends encouraged her to audition and not only did she do just that but she's working there ever since.

In January of this year, the talented performer was put in her first mermaid tail- weighing 59 lbs and had to learn to swim in it.

At Denvers Divers, she then became free dive certified, a qualification which involves underwater swimming and holding your breath.

With her mermaid friends, Ivy performs plenty of impressive tricks in the water including flips, dives, fin slaps, and also teaches kids about keeping safe in the ocean and, of course, about body positivity.

Credit: Press Association

Ivy, who feels better now than she had been in years, currently weighs a healthy 119 lbs

“I don’t think there’s anything that makes you feel more beautiful yet more aware of every single flaw as being in a silicone tail,” she said.

“They are unbelievably stunning. I feel so magical in one. I’m on a mission to create an army of body-positive ‘mer-kids’ that will flip the world upside down and prove that anyone can do it if you love it enough.”

Overcoming an eating disorder entirely on your own was never going to easy, but Ivy managed to do just. We applaud her for the way in which she managed to bring her destructive habits under control, and hope she continues on this path.