Students Rising AboveBy Michelle Griego

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — It’s estimated that as many as eight million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. And nearly 90 percent of those affected report that their illness started before the age of 20.

Paulo Orozco is one of those young people. As a young teen Orozco struggled with body image and acceptance.

“I was just very skinny. I was probably like 30 pounds under,” recalled Orozco. “I used to like wrap my hand around my wrist, and that like used to be my measuring tool.”

Orozco used his thinning wrist as a measurement tool, a way for him to gauge how much weight he lost. But Orozco says losing weight was not about vanity. Food became something he could control.

“Because I couldn’t control the people that wanted to be with me,” said Orozco. “I couldn’t control where I lived. I couldn’t control any of that so I used eating as a control for me.”

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

Friends and family expressed concerns over his shrinking frame, and by sophomore year, Orozco knew he had to make a change.

“I knew it was toxic,” said Orozco. “I was like I am going to {get help} even though I am scared.”

He sought counseling but Orozco also picked up his camera and showed his hands to the world – literally. In a series of deeply personal photographs, Orozco depicts his hands in different poses and positions, each representing an emotion or feeling he experienced on his journey of healing.

The project took Orozco about two years to complete. He then slowly revealed the photos in presentations, first to friends, then classmates, and finally others including Bay Area graduate students.

Nancy Contreras, one of Orozco’s teachers at Downtown College Prep in San Jose, says she is inspired by Orozco’s willingness to help others.

“He represents my community and strong leaders in our community,” explained Contreras. “I know he is going to go far.”

With every positive reception to his photography, Orozco’s confidence soared. He also received counseling and in time, he says his need to control his eating lessoned. Now he’s focused on his future, and along the way he’s helping others through school fundraising projects for undocumented community members.

Orozco is also planning on applying to college where he hopes to study in the science field. He says he also wants to continue encouraging others through his photography.

“I need to be the example, in a sense. I need to show them that if I can heal, so can they,” said Orozco. “And let them know that this is actually happening and it’s a touchy subject but it needs to be talked about.”

If you or someone you know might have an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association has a toll free hotline with volunteers standing by who can provide you with information on support, resources and treatment options.


Michelle Griego