The Skinny on Body Image Issues
Growing up, I was “lanky” or thin. Probably had more to do with my issues surrounding my heart than anything but my parents chalked it up to a high metabolism. I was born a member of the “clean your plate club” and my mother was always worried I didn’t eat enough.
I ate. Believe me, I ate. It took a while for me to have a “girlish figure” whatever that means but by the time it showed up, I was well into my teenage years, looking towards graduation.
That’s how I saw myself. If you asked one of my friends, they might have a different viewpoint of how I looked growing up.
Body Image. It’s how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror. I never really understood why someone could dislike the way they looked so much or have an unhealthy view of themselves. I don’t believe I did growing up. I just always thought, “this is the way I am built”. Looking back, I could have been upset that I was more stick-like and less curvy but I wasn’t.
Unfortunately not everyone has the same outlook I have.
I was surprised to find out that nearly 10 million women suffer from some type of eating disorder. These disorders stem from an unhealthy body image. While I think every woman at some point is unhappy with the way she looks or wishes to improve her weight or size; to have a view of yourself that is so unhealthy that you either starve yourself or vomit everything you eat confuses me.
I read a book recently by Jodi Picoult titled "Handle With Care." The book itself is about a little girl with a very rare bone disorder (brittle bone disease) but it was her older sister’s story that fascinated me the most. Her sister was bulimic. She would throw up everything she would eat because she felt it was the one thing she could control in her life. She couldn’t control whether or not her sister would break a bone but she could control what went into and what came out of her body.
As someone who loves to eat and hates to throw up… Well, you can imagine what that storyline did to me.
But it’s not uncommon judging from some of the statistics I found, it’s far more serious than I thought. Here are just a couple of the things I’ve discovered:
- 81 percent of 9 and 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat (American Dietetic Association, 1992).
- 1 in 5 women struggle from an eating disorder (National Institute of Mental Health)
Are you shocked yet? What’s more sad is that many doctors are still fighting to get eating disorders and body image issues classified as an illness before insurance will cover treatment.
I’m a bit of a disbeliever so I conducted my own little bit of research to find out if what I was reading was really true. Here’s what I learned over the weekend.
- 29 percent of the women who responded have suffered from an eating disorder.
- 38 percent worry about their weight all the time.
- 62 percent want more information about eating disorders and body image made available.
- 51 percent either received help with an eating disorder or still struggle with body image issues.
- 76 percent have a daughter.
- 93 percent worry about whether or not their daughter will have problems with body image as they grow up.
This was a survey of my peers. Other mom bloggers, writers, friends. Women I’ve known for a short time and women I’ve grown up with.
A year ago my own daughter came to me and said kids at school called her fat. She’s anything but fat. Because this has been brought to her attention, I’m already on high alert that she could have problems later. Even though I never had concerns about my weight growing up, I’m cautious now of the things I say about my weight. Sentences like “I feel fat today” or “I must be gaining weight again” are never uttered in my house. We don’t talk about diets (except for the cat, who is… really, REALLY fat), but we do talk about eating a balanced diet and exercising because it’s good for us. It’s good for our hearts and our minds.
If I can instill those values in her instead of the ones her 10 year old peers want her to conform to, then I’ll be satisfied. I don’t ever want her to be afraid to eat or to fear the scale.
I want her to enjoy all life has to offer her. I think that’s far more important than what a scale or her friends have to say.
What worries me is that as women, if we don't have a positive self image of ourselves, of each other, how can expect it of our daughters? How can we expect our sons to grow up and help their wives and girlfriends feel good about themselves?
If you have a daughter, how will you help her maintain a healthy body image? What will you tell her?