As the mom of a little girl, I’ve been thinking a lot about body image lately. It seems every woman with whom I work–from already lithe blondes to women who could, maybe, lose six pounds at most–are replacing actual food with Isagenix shakes. Everywhere I turn I bump into big plastic containers filled with rock-colored goo. To be fair, I know very little about this product, other than that it costs something like $400 for a 30-day supply, requires that you consume substantially fewer calories than the average tween, and–apparently–works insanely well. When I say “works,” I mean lose-10-pounds-in-9-days works. Crazy works.
But this is all besides the point.
I hate thinking that one day my K will walk into the lunchroom at her high school, or the break room at her job, and sit down with a group of women, expecting to engage in some friendly banter. That one woman will innocently ask, “Ooh, what are you eating?” That K will answer, “Chicken cutlets,” and that two women will jump in and remark, “Oh, if I eat anything breaded I’ll blow up like a balloon.” K will then be expected to say something back (lest she be thought of as the “bitch”)–something like, “But you’re so skinny. You can eat anything.” Then one of the women will reply, “Please. My stomach looks like an accordion. It’s disgusting.” And then…I suppose K will have to say something back and change the subject? How exactly do we escape the vortex of negative body talk?
Even if K grows up to become the most confident woman on earth, exchanges like these will pollute her mind. They will fill her with ideas about how thighs should look and about the benefits of scraping breadcrumbs off of her chicken.
Allison Tate, who recently penned this amazing Huffington Post article about body image and raising a daughter, really hit home when she wrote: “How do I raise my baby girl to love — or, at the very least, not to hate — the same features I have picked apart for so long?”
I haven’t spoken aloud about this in about 10 years to anyone but my husband, but as a little girl, I was told by my mother, aunts, and one or two psychologists, that I had an eating disorder. I was never hospitalized and my lowest weight (at 5’7) was about 103 pounds–not the stuff of Lifetime Movies. But I wasted an obscene amount of time preoccupied with my body and willing to do anything to avoid eating. While my mother and father worked, I would take the meals my mom left, smear their oils on a plate and leave the soiled plate in the sink unwashed. Then I’d either flush the food down the toilet or (scared that it might come back up) dash down the block to stuff it down the sewer. I became a habitual dabber–dabbing all foods with paper towels until they were dry enough to pick at. I ate frozen peas from a bag when I was hungry because the cold killed my appetite. I had dreams and nightmares about food. I’d take dishes out of the fridge, smell them, and put them back. One night I felt my heart slow down and I lay on my bed and promised god I would eat if he would make my heart normal again.
And I haven’t had a full piece of my own birthday cake since I was, maybe, 13. That last admission scares me most because it means some part of me is still trapped in before. And my daughter is going to pick up on it. One day, she’s going to refuse her birthday cake, and when that happens, it’s going to be the saddest day of both of our lives.
So what do we do? Do we sit with the boys at work? (who were discussing the death of Margaret Thatcher while the aforementioned conversation took place–how ironic). Do we throw out enough positivity to combat all negative body image conversations in the hope that we women will finally believe what we’re hearing and saying? (because, to be truthful, I still don’t always believe the positive things when I say them).
Is it enough to just eat our own damn birthday cake?