London - Three years ago Rachael Johnston was given just 48 hours to live after a four-year battle with anorexia left her weighing a mere 4½ stone (about 28,5kg).
Her shocking decline was fuelled by an obsession with photographs of super-slim celebrities in glossy magazines.
Now aged 20 and a healthy size eight, she is determined others should not go through her ordeal and is demanding a ban on airbrushed images in magazines and adverts that are aimed at children.
An e-petition, launched with her mother Lynne, urges the UK government to bring in a ban or, failing that, they want health warnings on airbrushed photos, similar to those that appear on cigarette packets.
Johnston’s descent into anorexia began when, at 13, she started to idolise celebrities and obsess over their figures.
She stuck magazine cuttings inside her school locker and compiled motivational scrapbooks which she would pore over to prevent herself from eating when she felt hungry. Desperate to achieve a “celebrity figure”, she would survive on half an apple every two days, and once went without food or water for ten days in a row.
Johnston of Warrington, Cheshire, said: “Although airbrushed images didn’t actually cause my eating disorder, once I was unwell I would obsess over them. It wasn’t until later that I realised what an effect these images can have and how they affected the things I did or how I felt.
“Although these glossy magazines aren’t actually aimed at under 16s, they still read them. If an image has been airbrushed it should say so and which parts of the body have been altered.
“People should be comfortable with who they are and not be ashamed to go out in public no matter how they look.”
Aged 13 in January 2005 Johnston was a healthy size 10-12, weighing eight stone (about 51kg), but she made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight.
By February 2006, her weight had plummeted. She would restrict her food intake at school and on returning home, tell her parents she had already eaten.
The death of her grandmother aggravated the illness. She switched to a vegetarian diet and secretly did 1,000 sit-ups every morning and evening. She started making herself sick after eating and disguised her shrinking frame with baggy clothes.
The first of eight hospital admissions over the course of her illness happened in March 2007 when she collapsed at home. Speaking of her state of mind at the time, she said: “I was cutting out pictures of models and celebrities and filling scrapbooks with them. My obsession at the time was Victoria Beckham. I would cut of images of her body and stick my face on the top.
“I would write underneath, ‘This is what you have to be – she’s perfect’.
“I had them pinned up everywhere. I even took it in the hospital with me and stuck it in the wardrobe.”
“The longest I ever went without food and water was ten days. I don’t know how my body got through it.”
She was re-admitted to hospital for five months in February 2009 after her weight plunged to 4½ stone and she could only fit into children’s age 9-10 clothing.
Three years on Johnston is 5ft 4in and a healthy size eight, although she has been left with osteoporosis as a result of malnutrition.
Johnston said: “I’m still in recovery, I have medication for depression and I have a very low immune system. I do have osteoporosis in my back and knees, but it’s just a case of getting on with it.”
During her recovery she worked with Beat, an eating disorder charity, and still gives talks to youngsters about her ordeal.
She added: “I love pizza and I love chocolate. Even when I was really poorly it was something I still liked. I’ve got to be in the right mood to be able to eat it. I don’t want to feel guilty afterwards. It’s the feelings that I struggle with.”
The e-petition, which requires 100,000 signatures, calls for the Government to “ban airbrushing of all images and adverts aimed at children in the UK”, stating that such images “give a false representation of beauty” and subject children to “completely unattainable” images. - Daily Mail