Niki Evans

Niki Evans, a 26-year-old art major and senior at the University at Mary Washington, sits on a frumpy couch near one of the art studios in Pollard Hall, eating a salad, an organic yogurt and a soft pretzel.  Her baggy clothes don’t hug her body; nothing does except for a small strand of pearls that hang delicately on her neck like early morning dew on a clover.

Niki Evans painting in the streets with chalk

She looks down and picks another scoop of salad with her fingers, places it into her mouth and begins chewing quietly.  She seems like a typical young woman.  No one would have ever guessed that she used to have a severe eating disorder.

Evans’ eating disorder started when she was 14 years old because she felt uncomfortable in her own body.  Unlike most girls who have eating disorders, Evans wasn’t comparing her body to other female bodies, like celebrities or models.  On the contrary, Evans was uncomfortable because she didn’t understand how she was supposed to feel about being in her body, being in her own skin.

Evans said she felt peaceful when she was anorexic because she didn’t have to worry about eating.

“The whole eating process was weird to me,” she said.

When she was 17, her eating disorder became really noticeable since she only weighed 63 pounds at 5’2”.  She was then hospitalized at St. Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md. where they had special programs for eating disorder patients.  And in eight months, she regained the weight that she lost.

Still, she felt like she didn’t find a “cure” for her illness. During the time in St. Johns Hopkins; however, she found her passion in art.

After St. Johns Hopkins, Evans was healthy for two years, until she relapsed at age 21, becoming bulimic. Her doctors told her that it was typical for anorexia victims to fall into bulimia.

“About 50 percent of women who have anorexia develop bulimia or bulimic patterns,” according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

When she was bulimic, she didn’t know what to do with her life because she still didn’t know how to process her body image.  After being hospitalized in five or six different hospitals along the east coast, she decided to travel the world for five years, seeking the reason why she felt the way she did about her body.

In the Amazon, she found her answer.

Niki Evans sitting outside

“I’m very empathetic.  I didn’t know why I was feeling this way in my body,” said Evans.  From her experience with the Amazon natives, she now understands that she is susceptible to other people’s emotions, which confused her in the beginning of her eating-disorder period because she didn’t know how to handle all of them.

During her self-discovery journey, Evans also found that she gravitated toward art even more than before.

“The field of art is all about self-expression,” she says.  She advocates for people to drop their walls of insecurities and discover the beauty of confidence in oneself.

“Let your freak flag fly,” said Evans.

Clint Evans, Evans’ friend of five years, said that he thinks Evans is happier now than she has ever been.  Evans’ story shed a new light in his life by educating him about how it’s like to be in a woman’s skin especially during this era.  Despite the last name, they are not related.

“I was insensitive to that because I didn’t know anyone with those problems,” he said.

In the past, she tried regular and specialized counseling, but it only helped a little for her.

“It’s up to each person to know what works for them, but in general, we need to encourage each other to express ourselves,” she said.  Acceptance and non-judgment goes a long way with people who have things, like eating disorders, that they are struggling with.

“It gives that chance for someone to open up who hasn’t done that before,” Evans said.

By Suzanna Toske