By Avery Davis
McCall Dempsey, founder and executive director of Southern Smash, is breaking the stigma behind today’s view of the perfect body. A native of Baton Rouge, Dempsey is an Ole Miss alumna who is an eating disorder survivor, mentor and advocate.
Like many others, Dempsey struggled with fitting into the “perfect” mold that today’s society has set. Before recovery, Dempsey’s life was consumed by diet pills, counting calories, fad diets and many more unhealthy habits. To others, she appeared to be the perfect All-American girl, but behind closed doors she lived her life dictated by her eating disorder. She suffered for 15 years before seeking help, and today works tirelessly to prevent others from doing the same.
“I lived most of my young adult life in fear of failure. Everything I did was dictated by the scale. To this day, I still don’t know where the dining hall is on Ole Miss’s campus because I was so scared of gaining the freshman 15,” Dempsey said. “Before, I saw my body as an instrument. Now, I recognize that it is an ornament for my life and does not define me.”
Dempsey went to treatment in December of 2010 at the Carolina House located in Durham, North Carolina. There, she gained the skills she needed for a successful recovery and would later use to help others like herself.
After leaving the Carolina House, Dempsey made a promise to herself that she would help those struggling with body image like she once had. Her promise would come to fruition sooner than she realized when Dempsey started a blog titled “Loving Imperfection” only a year after leaving treatment. The blog consists of Dempsey’s personal experiences and recovery journey, as well as words of encouragement for others. Soon after her first entry, the blog became a beacon of hope for many struggling with similar problems. Because of Dempsey’s rising popularity and positive influence in her community, a group from Louisiana State University called the Soul Sisters contacted Dempsey to speak at their event in November of 2012. Dempsey happily agreed, and thus Southern Smash was born.
“I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into when I agreed to speak at LSU, but I did know that I wanted to make a difference,” Dempsey said.
Southern Smash is a nonprofit organization that takes a unique approach to educate males and females about the importance of body positivity and self-worth. They travel to clubs, organizations and universities across America to spread their message. To connect with their audiences, Dempsey and her team use a two-part method.
The first is a scale-smashing event, which is cathartic for many participants. First, participants decorate a scale however they choose. Most write empowering words and sayings such as, “My weight does not define me,” “Beautiful,” and “I am strong.” After decorating, they are given a sledgehammer and are able to physically smash the decorated scales. Being able to have a firsthand experience destroying scales solidifies Southern Smash’s mission and leaves a lasting impact on participants, Dempsey said.
“The scale represented so much pain to me and so much of my life was lost to it. I wanted to leave an impact on others and I felt like the scale was a great way to do that because everyone knows what it is like to not feel good enough. Whether that be a scale or something else, the scale is a symbol of our insecurities. By smashing them, we are taking away its power,” Dempsey said.
The second phase is a panel discussion, called a SmashTALK. During a SmashTALK, Dempsey and her team spread awareness about eating disorders and positive body image by sharing testimonies, presenting striking statistics and providing listeners with healthy self-care exercises. One of their major messages is to eliminate the stigma behind eating disorders and body image.
“It is a common misconception that you have to weigh 100 pounds and look like a stick to have an eating disorder. That misunderstanding is absolutely not true and is part of the reason that I rationalized my disorder for so long,” she said.
Along with smashing scales and SmashTALKS, Southern Smash conducts other activities while on campus to promote body positivity and offer a safe space for assistance. Some of these activities include “Dare to Love Yourself” cards and “Let It Go” tags which, like the scales, are symbols of letting go of insecurities, doubts and unnecessary pressures.
These messages, along with so many others, are what make Southern Smash so unique. Southern Smash Ambassador and eating disorder survivor, Claire Bradley, can attest to this.
“Southern Smash is making a difference every day. Eating disorders are downplayed and even sometimes subconsciously encouraged by the society that we live in. By promoting healthy habits and planting a seed about positive body image, we are taking away the negative energy and power that the media puts out,” she said.
Providing a safe space for participants who may be struggling with or know someone struggling with an eating disorder is another key element of Dempsey’s mission. The Southern Smash team works closely with the counseling centers at each university that they visit and are able to give those seeking help the tools to take the next step towards recovery. Along with counseling centers, Dempsey is able to act as a mentor for those struggling.
“The ripple effect that Southern Smash has had on others has been so amazing. It’s one of if not the best thing about my job. Because of the tools that we give others, they have been able to seek help and some are even ambassadors now. We are coming up on eight years of doing this and there are people that connected with me and are now sharing their story on the smash stage. It’s extremely rewarding to help others,” Dempsey said.
Southern Smash will be coming to the University of Mississippi’s campus this fall. For more information, follow Southern Smash on Facebook and Instagram or visit their website at www.southernsmash.org.