I wrote a post back in 2011 for another blog. It was about the idea of beauty and body image and how it had affected me. I decided I needed to edit it to revisit the topic here because it’s has come to the fore again, in social media, and in my own home. This time concerning my 11 yr old daughter. Alarm bells go off in my head when I hear here disparage her body or how she looks.
I found this video in my Facebook feed a few times in the last month. It has made me think about my own struggles with my body, more specifically about the war I have waged against it for the better part of my life. Please take a moment to watch the trailer, especially if you are the mother of a daughter.
In my teen years and early twenties, I had an eating disorder. Bulimarexia to be exact. The long and short of that is that I vacillated between bulimia (binge/purge cycle) and anorexia (starving myself). Like most girls with eating disorders, the war with my body began at 13 when a chance comment between my mother and a gymnastics coach mentioned that I was “too big.” Let’s be clear, I know (now) my mother wasn’t talking about me being fat. She was talking about my height but that is not what I heard. I developed a real hate for myself and my body. I was 5′ tall at the time and weighed 100 lbs. I was fat. Or so I thought. I went on my first diet with my mother’s full support and encouragement. I kept my weight in the low 90’s until a year or so later I grew 2 inches and put on some weight. Mostly in the early years I binged and then purged. Mostly I used exercise as my form of purging because although I tried them all, I really didn’t like other methods. I was a runner. A good runner for a high school but I was not going to break any national records or anything. Just good enough to be one of the top cross-country runners for my school.
I loved running. I loved the way my body knew what to do, getting my legs in rhythm while my mind could go wherever it wanted to go. It was my escape. I felt in control. I felt strong when I ran, while the rest of the time I felt weak, hopeless, and worthless. Yet, it became a tool in the war against my body. It was during my senior year of high school I discovered I didn’t have to eat more than a small soft-serve vanilla cone, and still have enough energy to run. And I ran the seven mile round trip to work off the calories. I had “ballooned” up to 113 lbs that winter and wanted to lose weight and by graduation day the scale registered 103 lbs. The cycle continued over and over through my early 20’s until I finally got help in the form of an eating disorder clinic. I couldn’t make the connection as a young adult of all the positives running gave me but instead let the scale rule my life.
My daughter was born with a bi-lateral cleft lip and palate so there are obvious scars on her upper lip and her nose is misshapen, which may or may not remain as she moves forward through the next three or four surgeries. She tells me she hates her lips and how her face looks. She says the word “ugly.” I cry because I know that feeling. I know she is looking at others, at actresses on television, in the movies, and on the cover of magazines, and she is measuring her worth up against these images. I cry because I know that no matter my words to her “Baby girl, you are beautiful! You are lovely!” I can’t make her believe it because somewhere around third or fourth grade, she learned how to compare herself to others and she found herself lacking. I begin to list all of the things she is in addition to being beautiful, things that are so much more and deeper than her body. I know it is not just the media’s fault, but my fault too because she hears me in my moments when I look in the mirror and find I don’t measure up. I compare myself to others and find myself lacking, at least at that moment. She doesn’t hear the dialog that goes on in my head that says, “Hey, you are strong. Your arms are strong enough to carry two loaded down kid back packs, an ice tea, and the mail. You can pick up your 12 yr old from the ground when he goes down hurt. Your legs are powerful. They can take off in a full sprint when your child is in danger. They power through a cycling workout, and they can carry you on a walk during a cool morning.” I know that every wrinkle on my face has been earned by years of laughter, and just a little more worry than I would care to endure. They are evidence of living. Unfiltered, unedited. I don’t want for my daughter to go through the years of hell I went through just to meet an artificial standard our culture embraces through the media.
This is a conversation we need to have with our daughters. It is a conversation we need to have with our sons, who are also inundated with the same images of the “ideal” woman. We will probably have to have it over and over again, but it starts with us and what message we send to our girls about how we feel in our own skin.
To my daughter, I echo Taryn Brumfitt’s words to her daughter: “Darling girl, don’t waste a single day of your life being at war with your body. Just embrace it.”
Have you had body image issues you have overcome? Care to share in the comments how you did it?