Ruthie Friedlander and Christina Grasso bonded over their shared experience and created an organization to help others dealing with the same issues.

By Julia Malacoff
December 17, 2019
Marley Rizzuti

Once upon a time, Christina Grasso and Ruthie Friedlander both worked as magazine editors in the fashion and beauty space. Surprisingly, that's not how the founders of The Chain—a peer-led support group for those in the fashion, media, and entertainment industries recovering from eating disorders—met each other.

After her own experience with an eating disorder, Grasso had been involved with advocacy groups (such as Glam4Good and Project HEAL)  for years. After she worked as a consultant on the Netflix film To The Bone (about a young woman struggling with anorexia) she came across an essay Friedlander wrote for InStyle about her own recovery.

"I really appreciated her honesty, because although eating disorders continue to be a prevalent, very serious issue in the industry, they're rarely addressed," Grasso remembers. "I sent Ruthie a DM, and we immediately bonded over our similar experiences." The pair decided they wanted to do something to help their peers in the industry. Six months later, The Chain was born. (Related: Orthorexia Is the Eating Disorder You've Never Heard Of)

Intended to be a safe space for anyone in the industry at-large, The Chain holds closed, members-only events where people in recovery can tell their stories, seek guidance, have open conversations, and gain insight. This past Thanksgiving, they also partnered with Crisis Text Line to provide around-the-clock support to anyone dealing with holiday-related eating disorder struggles.

Though both women have other gigs (Grasso works for a beauty brand and Friedlander is a consultant), they work to balance their day jobs with their passion project. In the future, they hope to grow their membership and collaborate with other brands to make the industry a healthier, safer place. (Related: 10 Things This Woman Wishes She'd Known at the Height of Her Eating Disorder)

"We just want to be a place—whether it's virtual or physical—for people that work in this industry to feel seen, heard, and understood," Friedlander adds. Ahead, what the pair have learned so far about mentorship, starting a non-profit, and self-care.

Marley Rizzuti

The Routines That Keep Them Grounded

CG: "I'll usually wake up, have a shower and a coffee, feed my cat, Stevie, and turn the Today Show on while doing my skin-care and makeup routine. Then I'll usually listen to a podcast on my way to work. In the evenings, I'll call my parents, do my nighttime skin-care routine, and finish any outstanding projects while watching mindless TV and having a glass of wine. I always try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. (It's hard to do, but I try!)" (See: Exactly Why You Need a Nighttime Skin-Care Routine)

RF: "Since I'm a consultant and create my own schedule, I'm still trying to figure out what my morning routine is. I don't always have to be somewhere by a certain time. Typically, I read emails from bed, see if there's anything urgent I need to respond to, drink coffee, eat breakfast (always eat breakfast), and start my list of to-dos in notes on my desktop. Then I do as much as I can before I break for lunch."

The Failures That Turn Out to Be Blessings In Disguise

CG: "When I first moved to New York, I interviewed for my dream job and didn't end up getting it. At the time, I was absolutely devastated, but it led me to an internship at Oscar de la Renta. I worked directly with Erika Bearman [formerly behind the popular @oscarPRgirl Twitter account] who took me under her wing, and I absolutely would not be where I am today without her or that experience. It changed the course of my career, and my life, for the better. I like to look at 'failure' simply as redirection."

RF: "In September 2018, I was laid off and lost my dream job. I was completely blindsided and devastated. I'd be lying if I said I've fully gotten over the emotional aspect of it, but it definitely forced me to rethink my life: how I was choosing to spend my time, the things I felt were important to me, the things that made me feel good about myself. I don't think I would have objectively been able to look at my life that way had I not been forced to."

Marley Rizzuti

Keeping Up with Self-Care While Working Two Gigs

CG: "In full transparency, I'm still figuring it out. It's been a process, and it's difficult because there's always work to do, and often self-care feels like another item on the to-do list. That said, I've realized that if I don't prioritize taking care of myself, I won't be able to do anything very efficiently." (BTW, here's the problem with the wine-and-bubble-bath style of self-care.)

RF: "We are both very much works in progress. I love that Christina and The Chain hold me accountable. Similar to how I felt when I was in treatment, I feel like every time I make the decision to stick to my meal plan or not use a dangerous behavior, I'm not only doing it for myself, but for our entire group. With that said, no one is perfect—I'm definitely not—and I think the best approach to self care is to go into it with that attitude.

On Looking to Other Women for Inspiration

CG: "There are so many women I admire for different reasons. Ruthie has really been my rock over the past couple of years, and it helps immensely to have the support of someone who not only completely understands the daily struggle of eating disorder recovery, but who will also call me out on my bullsh*t when needed (often!). Karen Elson and Florence Welch have also been a huge inspiration to both of us.

Katie Couric and my boss, Linda Wells, have shown me that you can be both a very serious (and in their case, wildly successful) career woman and also really lighthearted and funny. And Stevie Nicks is really the inspiration for so much of this. I've always been a fan of hers, and during a lengthy hospital stay a few years back, I read more about her struggle with addiction and fight for recovery while maintaining her music career. That was really the first time I believed that I could, perhaps, stay in recovery and continue to work in the industry I love. Because up until that point, the message I received was that I'd need to find a new passion. I credit a lot of my recovery to her, and I'm very grateful." (Related: 4 Women Share How CrossFit Helped Them Overcome Eating Disorders)

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