Recently, two neighbor bloggers, Dawn and Amy, have posted beautiful musings on body image issues. This is a topic that I have thought about a lot off and on throughout the years. I was a gymnast beginning at a young age—I even said, for several years, that I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast when I grew up—but my ability to defy gravity was seriously hindered by a twenty pound weight gain the summer that I turned 14.
There were many things that contributed to my own unhealthy body image and eventual (thankfully short) struggle with bulimia, and the actual weight didn’t have a whole lot to do with it. A great deal of it was just my personality. I’m a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser. And so when my gymnastics coach told me to try the cabbage soup diet so I could lose a few pounds, I did it. When my uncle told me to “watch it” when I scooped up seconds on ice cream at age 13, I began to watch it with microscopic concern.
Last week, as Luke was recovering from his virus, he had a couple of days of stomach cramps. He didn’t want to eat at all. And not eating made his stomach even worse. I told him that he needed to eat, and it became a huge power struggle.
“I won’t eat! You can’t make me!” he yelled.
And I couldn’t make him. And that was scary. For a few minutes, I thought about what it must be like to have a child with an eating disorder. And in so many ways, it must be worse than having a child who screams and storms around and sneaks out of the house. Because it seems to be the disorder of the people pleaser, and that is harder to combat. That is in the mind.
Once, when I was a freshman in high school, my gym class was doing a weight-training unit. What a wonderful opportunity my teacher had to encourage young teenagers to value their bodies and the amazing things they can do. My gym teacher that year was Mrs. S., the former gymnastics coach and current dance team coach. You can probably see where this story is going.
One day, we were being evaluated, and our grade was partially based on how much we could lift/press etc. in relation to our own body weight. So we lined up to weigh in.
“Good girl!” I heard Mrs. S. say to more than one young woman ahead of me.
When I weighed in, she was silent.
And that silence--not really just silence but the opposite of "good girl"--has been in my mind for over twenty years since.
I have boys, and so the chances of them developing eating disorders are quite slim. But I can try to teach them not to assign moral value to body features. I can teach them that exercise is great for stress relief and health. I can speak positively of my body in front of them.
Also—and this is one of the biggest struggles for me—I can try not to be controlling about their eating. My goal is to keep fairly healthy food in the house and my eating mantra with the boys (and a place I am getting to eventually with myself) is this: “What is your belly telling you?”
I hope I am raising boys that will never tell the women in their lives to “watch it.”
1 month ago