Guest post by Anastasia S.
Fact #1: According to mainstream American beauty standards, I have a rockin’ body. Flat stomach, small waist, rounded ass, shapely legs. I have always, always been thin.
Fact #2: I have had periodic bouts of subclinical disordered eating and body dysmorphia since I was about eight.
I was going through my old papers recently when I came across my diary from when I was ten. In it I found a diet plan, disturbingly detailed, scrawled in a child’s handwriting.
I was cleaning out old documents on my computer when I came across a neutrally labeled Excel sheet. It from when I was 20, dated after I came home from a summer program where I had gained about eight pounds over two months. The document was a spreadsheet of my weight, recorded four times a day—morning, before lunch, after lunch, and before I went to bed. In the notes column I recorded my exercise and on the one day I skipped cardio and just went for a walk, I wrote “bad girl!” I lost the eight pounds in ten days.
I’ve never fit the clinical definition of anorexic (which requires the person to be severely underweight), but from a fairly young age I’ve had on and off obsessions with my caloric intake, weeks when I’ve weighed myself and measured my waist twenty times a day.
I wont go into too much more detail, but suffice it to say I had a problem.
I’d rather talk about some of the reasons I started having disordered eating so young. I rage a lot about unrealistic mainstream beauty standards and the media’s affect on how we see ourselves, but this time it’s more about how I was raised.
I love my parents very much, but I will be happy to learn from their mistakes if I ever have children. Here are a few:
First of all, don’t do this because it’s shitty in general. Everybody deserves to feel at home in their own body, nobody should be ridiculed or shamed for their appearance.
But if you’re a parent, your attitudes and words have an even deeper effect because your kid is going to internalize your narrative as their own worldview. So what happens if your kid grows up to BE fat? What will they think of themselves then?
My dad is disparaging of fat people. He judges them as lazy, undisciplined, unattractive, and was always vocal about this to me. I took this to heart as a kid. I grew up thinking being overweight was one of the worst cardinal sins you could commit. So guess what I was terrified of becoming?
It’s taken me years to unpack my judgments of people’s bodies. Accepting my own (at ALL times, not just when I’m thin) is something that might take longer.
My mom was always trying to lose weight and would actively discuss it with me when I was growing up. I remember trying to help her come up with a diet plan when I was in middle school. At my dad’s suggestion, she kept a chart on the bulletin board of her daily weight and exercise so she can keep better track of it. My family also kept a scale right in our living room, so my parents could weigh themselves every day.
Kids see their parents’ behavior and take it as gospel normality. In this case, I took it a few steps further than most people would have, but this is ground zero of where it all started. Not the movies my parent’s wouldn’t let me watch, not in fashion magazines they wouldn’t let me read. It started in their actions, what they taught me was normal, what they taught me was important in life.
Seeing insecurity as something shameful
When I was eight years old, I stepped on a scale for the first time I could remember. I had no idea how much I weighed or what was considered normal. But the scale said I was eighty-two whole pounds!! I had never had eighty-two of anything in my life! It seemed like a lot!
I pouted at my mom and said, “That’s too big!” Her face crumpled and she just said “Please. Don’t start this yet.”
It had started whether she liked it or not, but I never said anything about it again. I thought being insecure about my body made me weak, made me vain and vapid. I wish at that moment when I was eight, my mom had instead sat me down and had a conversation with me about beauty and self-acceptance. Instead, I snuck onto the scale when she wasn’t looking. I skipped dinners only when I could get away with it. To this day, I’ve admitted that I’ve had “problems” with eating to maybe two people in the world. And now, of course, to you dear Internet.
I’m not trying to say that my occasional disordered eating was all my parents’ fault. I can take ownership of my own obsessions and the fact that I channel all my random emotional baggage into my eating habits. And to their credit, my parents raised me as best they knew how and did a really great job in a lot of other ways.
But when you have kids, you need to be really careful about the messages you are sending. You never know who or what they will grow up to be. Above all we need to teach children to accept themselves for who they are. I know being a parent is hard. I know if I have children, I will make mistakes and probably screw them up in some way too. But god help me, if I have a fat child, or a skinny child, or a medium child, I hope they will love every inch of themselves.