I cleaned out my laundry room this weekend, which in and of itself is no big deal, other than it was a total disaster and it needed to be done. No, what makes this random act of organization note worthy is what I found while cleaning. An old box filled with even older books. High School Yearbooks. The time and place I consider to be the epicenter of my issues with self, body, and food. I'm sure the seeds of discontent were planted far earlier, but there, during that time in my life, is where I know in my heart of hearts there was a disconnect between what I actually looked like, and what I saw in the mirror. And there is where I was somehow derailed.
I sat down with a cup of coffee and my Freshman yearbook 1981-82, and there within its time yellowed pages, I saw a slender, confident, happy girl smiling back at me in her cheer leading outfit. I re-read all the signatures and notes to the "wild girl", the "cool chick" "always smiling", "friends forever" that literally covered the blank pages left for those types of things.
Cute, huh? That's what I see now, what anybody would see looking at this picture. I wish that was how I felt at the time. I'm 15 in that picture, and by then I had already been on more diets than I can count. I had been sneaking food since I was in 2nd grade, and had been binging and purging since 8th grade. Iwas completely caught up in the idea that I was fat.
My Sophomore Year held a similar, but slightly different story. I was no longer a cheerleader, even though I had been one the year before. I had to try out again(we all did), but was found lacking. Nothing had changed, other than I had stopped carrying around bottles of Ipecac syrup in my purse and was no longer puking up most of my food. So yes, I had gained about 15 lbs over the summer. So I told myself I didn't want to be a clique-ish cheerleader, and my best friend and I became the Banner Carriers for our Marching Band. OK.. a step down in the social hierarchy that is high school, but still involved, still smiling, still popular enough.
As I perused the pages of my yearbook I began to notice something in each picture I found, something no one else would really be able to see. In all my pictures, both freshman and sophomore year, I noticed there was no trust in my eyes. There was wariness, and an expectation that an axe would fall, and it would be an axe of words; warnings from parents who insisted I would be fat one day if I wasn't careful,of thinly veiled insults from boys who teased about fat cheerleaders, and crushes who said no.
And my 40 year old self got pissed off. I sat in my living room looking at my thin legs and normal waist line and wondered how "they" found that somehow lacking. I can see now how wrong they were,how wrong I was to give them that much power over me.
Years of self destructive eating, a war I have yet to win, may never completely win, all started long before high school. It started when my mother(who still to this day looks at herself through a fun house mirror),caught up in her own self destructive eating disorder, placed her fears of being fat and unlovable with me. It started when, as a prepubescent girl of 12 or 13,I went on my first diet. A diet that restricted my caloric intake to 1000 calories a day. I'm sorry, that's just insane.
So I can't help but worry for the young girls today, watching as their mothers (many of them my age)obsess and worry over being heavy, count every calorie and point they put in their mouths, perpetuate the idea that to be healthy is to diet, to be happy is to be (insert goal weight here). Are we placing the fears we've learned on the shoulders of future women? Ive been to the Weight Watcher meetings where mothers bring daughters too young to actively participate, but not too young to "watch and learn".
What message are we sending these girls? Why aren't we teaching them that to be happy is to be true to ourselves, to be kind to others, and to value what's inside, not outside? Why are we not teaching them to fuel their bodies with natural foods? To trust their bodies to tell them when they are hungry and when they are full, that artificial sweeteners and processed foods are poison? And why, for the love of god, are we not impressing upon them that BRATZ dolls are not to be used as a fashion guideline,and that the models and teen queens they see on TV are not normal? Why are they watching that crap in the first place?
Ive seen little girls cringe as their fathers, the first male role model they have, the one on which they base all other male relationships, tell them they can't eat that, they don't need that, they've had quite enough Thank you, then worry about being fat. They're not even out of elementary school for Christ's Sake! I've heard both parents comment about a heavy woman or child in none too flattering terms in front of their children. This has to make an impact, I honestly don't see how it can't.
I can't help but be horrified as I watch the birth of another eating disorder.
Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic, it's been known to happen. But it's my gut reaction and I have to go with it. I have experienced first hand what happens when well meaning parents place too much importance on the wrong things. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is be kind to your daughters, to your nieces, to granddaughters for that matter. Give them strength of self, confidence in their inner beauty, and kindness and respect for others, regardless of outwardly differences.
It's time to stop destroying ourselves from the inside out.