Contributed by Tracie L Keller, LPCC-S
Here in Ohio, temperatures are finally warming up. It’s that beautiful time of the year, when snowfall ends and rainfall comes in. It brings with it leaves on the trees and flowers all around. I love this time of the year. I love the smell of fresh cut grass and the sound of falling rain when I’m trying to fall asleep.
Do you know what I do not like about this time of year?
The chatter from others talking about their new diet that will be great, because they have “that vacation in the summer and want to look flawless in their bathing suit.” The chatter from social media where friends are plugging some ridiculous program or “supplement” that is helping them “lose weight and feel great!” The chatter about the need to lose weight, the anxiety about summer clothes, or the fear of putting on a bathing suit.
Think for a moment about the number of messages on a daily basis that you encounter regarding weight loss or the obesity epidemic. The ads on the radio, on social media, on billboards. The messages from the group fitness instructor who’s telling you to push it just a little harder to work off that indulgence you had. The gluten free craze, and the silly [I’ll just say it] supplement craze that has taken over whole groups of people--educated people--who, despite not knowing “how” or “why” these supplements “work”, are shelling out massive amounts of cash in order to continue taking them. Why? Because they promise a better life, a better lifestyle.
People, it’s chatter. And it’s everywhere.
While so many adults are busy worrying about what their bodies are doing this time of the year, and having anxiety about what their bodies will convey to others when they are doing really cool and fun things this summer--guess who’s listening. Guess who’s riding by on their bikes, or getting excited about playing in the pool with their mom this summer? Our kids are there. Our kids are listening. Our kids are hearing these ridiculous messages about bodies needing to be changed, manipulated, or hidden. People, this is dangerous.
For the kids who have neurobiological vulnerability for developing eating disorders, these kids are extra-listening. We now know that eating disorders are neurobiologically based, meaning that genetics play a key role in determining who is likely to develop these illnesses. However, disordered eating and poor body image is rampant and just as much a problem in our culture. Whether you are ever diagnosed with an eating disorder or not, I believe you can benefit from changing the dialogue that you have with yourself and others around issues related to weight, body size, and shape.
So let’s take a moment and consider how problematic this chatter is.
Research has shown that mothers who talk about their own bodies have a higher likelihood of having daughters who have low self esteem, self worth, and depression. Mothers who comment on weight, shape, and size (of themselves) have a higher likelihood of having daughters who will participate in unhealthy food and body related behaviors like using laxatives, diet pills, bingeing, and purging. Last, mothers who have disordered relationships with their bodies and food have a much higher likelihood of passing these behaviors to their daughters, who can also develop disordered eating at some point in their lives. Don’t believe me? Read more here: https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/family-role/mothers-daughters-and-eating-disorders
Phew. It’s overwhelming to consider how much responsibility mothers have in regard to their daughter’s development of healthy body image, self esteem, and coping behaviors. But mothers are not the only ones here who could help change this conversation.
So where do you start? You start with yourself. Remember earlier, where I wrote about the impact that mothers have on their daughter’s development of unhealthy behaviors and thoughts? Whether you’re a mother or not, you can be a positive role model for healthy approaches to body and self. Start with simple ways:
DON’T talk about body shape, size, or weight. DON’T talk about yours, DON’T talk about your child’s, DON’T talk about Sally’s, your neighbor down the street.
Stop following people on social media who DO. Stop willingly absorbing messages from celebrities who “#ad” and profit from the grossness that is pedaling weight loss supplements and diet culture. Stop following that friend of yours on social media who posts incessantly about their side hustle selling this crap. Just stop doing it.
This spring time, as summer approaches, let yourself wear the clothes you want to wear. Put on those shorts, find some cute dresses, and put on that bathing suit! Here’s a phrase to put in your arsenal: How to get ready for swim suit season? Buy a swim suit. Put on said swim suit.
I know this is hard. I know that this is even unpopular. But changing the culture starts with each one of us. Changing the culture means that we can change things for our kids, for our next generation. For me, this is the biggest and most important job I see myself having as a mother and a clinician. So won’t you join me?