Heartbreaking photo series gives a voice to women battling eating disorders

Jul 19, 2016 at 11:55 p.m. ET

The road to recovery from an eating disorder is often a long, arduous process — and many who suffer from the realities of living with the devastating disease need professional help to make changes. One of the treatment centers founded to do just that is the subject of a new series by Marie Hald, a 28-year-old photographer.

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For the photos — all viewable on her website — Hald traveled to Drzewo Zycia ("tree of life" in English), a center set up in Malawa, a small village in the southern part of Poland, to give vital mental health care to young women each fighting their own battles against eating disorders. Inside, the women follow rigid schedules during the recovery process.

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“Whilst they were often bored with everything being the same everyday it also gave them comfort and peace and allowed them to focus on the therapy sessions," Hald told BuzzFeed. These strict schedules also involved regular meal times, which the photographer said was the most difficult part to witness.

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“The girls were miserable afterwards," she continued. "They took about an hour to finish the same portion of food that I quickly finished and they were clearly struggling with the voices inside their heads.”

It's important to note that the women at the center are not weak but strong, unique individuals dealing with a real mental illness — and Hald did a good job of not defining them by their eating disorders.

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“I was surprised to see how brilliantly clever, funny, friendly every single one was," Hald said, adding that the young women spend many nights "playing guitar and singing pop songs, both Polish and American, and reading magazines whilst lying in each others bed.”

Hald is happy that the project gives the women a chance to show their experiences and voice.

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“I think they’re so brave for participating and opening up to my camera and to the world," she said. "I explained a lot about photojournalism and they felt a kind of strength in being able to tell their stories and have a voice.”

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