Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Why we need to change our attitudes
When my older daughter was ill with anorexia, she went through hell. The rest of the family did too--not the same kind of hell, surely, because after all, we could escape it for an hour or two while she could not. My younger daughter marched through hell along with us. She heard and saw anorexia with all its claws and teeth and terror, and like my husband and me, she came to loathe it.
We've talked quite a bit, she and I, in the years since, about eating disorders, about body image and weight. I've tried to model Health at Every Size for both my daughters. And yet my beautiful, lively, talented younger daughter, Lulu, is convinced that she's fat, and is upset about it.
I've tried reasoning with her: You're not fat; you're going through puberty. Your body needs a little extra flesh on it right now. And even if you were fat, so what? Fat is a descriptive word. We all have fat on our bodies.
And so on. I can practically see my words passing through her like ghosts sailing through a solid wall, making no mark and having no effect. Why should they, when we both know just how viciously society punishes those of us whose bodies are not naturally stick-thin. When the rest of the 8th-grade girls have straight hair and long, lean torsos, and my daughter has hair with a lot of wave and a naturally rounder shape.
The experiences of her sister's illness are now four years behind us. I'm glad they're fading for all of us. But I wish some of what we all saw and learned then could help my younger daughter now. I wish she could remember that there are a lot worse things than being round, that conformity comes with a terrible price, that food is nurturing and sustaining rather than the enemy.
She eats the same way she always has; you better believe I'm watching that closely. I worry, with dread in my heart, when what she thinks is going to inspire her to go on a diet for the first time, and whether she, too, will become anorexic. I worry and I watch and I wait. I wait for the day when I can say to her, "You're beautiful just the way you are," and she will believe it.
I hope I live long enough to see that day.