As published in in The Women’s Lifestyle Magazine of Greater Kalamazoo, October 2019 Edition.
Ladies, it’s about to get real. I’m about to give you a behind-the-scenes look at being a psychotherapist. Let us preface this by saying, however, that healing is ALWAYS possible. (Otherwise, how would our world keep going?) So, all hope is not lost. In the meantime…stop ruining your daughters!
A 2008 study at the University of North Carolina reported that 65% of American women have disordered eating and that 75% of American women have unhealthy thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to food or their bodies. If that isn’t enough, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that nearly half of first through third grade girls want to be thinner! And, where do those messages come from? Certainly, the recent Weight Watchers’ dieting app geared toward kids as young as 8 years old (that is not a typo – Google it!) does not help. But, mostly, um, YOU!
The most powerful messages about our bodies and self-worth come from our mothers. What you say and do matters! If I had a penny for every time I had a full-grown adult woman even as seasoned as 70 years old came into my office complaining about having a “food addiction,” “sugar addiction,” “a problem with food,” or binge-eating behaviors (which are present in around half of Americans by the way), citing that such behaviors have been present since her mother started calling her “fat” and made her diet, I would have been able to solve world hunger by now!
As you know, being a woman in a male-dominated society focused on our bodies and not our brains is hard enough! So, why are we making it harder for each other than it has to be, especially for our younger generations!?
I get it. We do not live in a society where having a healthy relationship with food is common. How could we avoid disordered eating and poor body image given all of the addictive, fake food-like substances being sold and with the global weight management market being valued at more than many countries’ Gross Domestic Product, valued at a whopping 212.1 billion dollars in 2018?
It may be hard to model what it means to love your body, no matter the shape, and to not constantly be focused on losing weight or inches that you believe will help you feel better about yourself. But, please remember your kids are listening! Even if you do not think that they are or you think they are too young to “really know” what is going on, or even if you are not speaking directly to them, they listen. They absorb. They notice your relationship with food and your body.
Are you criticizing your stretchmarks or complaining about how you “should” be able to fit into the jeans you wore in high school? Are you complimenting others when they have lost weight, assuming that this is a measure of health and that they lost the weight in a healthy way? Are you making comments about how some foods are “bad” or how you or others “shouldn’t eat that?” If so, stop ruining your daughters! Years from now, they will be coming into an office like mine struggling to not constantly calculate the calories they are “allowed to have” at any given time during the day and constantly struggling to fight the inner-voice that tells them they need to go from one trendy yo-yo diet to another!
So, what are your options? Loving yourself is always a good start. But, that can take years of practice, especially if you were raised in a home where negative talk or extreme expectations around food or bodies were the norm.
So, let’s be logical. What does The Golden Rule say? If it does not uplift your daughter, do not say it! If you are about to make a passive-aggressive comment like “Are you really going to eat that!?” to your daughter at a family function, don’t! Think about what was said to you about food or your body that was harmful and simply do not pass those messages along. They stick with us and, like a sliver buried deep within the skin, it takes years of work to pry those core beliefs lose.
Instead, using The Golden Rule, what helps you to feel empowered and comfortable in your own skin? Say those things not only to your daughter to help repair any hurts surrounding food and body image, but also to yourself. Remember that you are more than your body and you, more than anyone else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. So, practice speaking the same love to your daughters and all the other women in your life that you crave (and deserve!) for yourself.
Afterthought: Mother/Daughter relationships can be either inherently supportive or inherently stressful. So, if, even after you have tried everything, your loved ones still are not able to be supportive of your journey to better love yourself, click here to find my blog “When Our Support Base Is Not Supportive.”
~Ashley Carter Youngblood, LMSW, LMFT, CADC, ADS, CMHIMP
Ashley Carter Youngblood is a licensed Clinical Social Worker, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Certified Mental Health Integrative Medicine Provider who has been in the field since 2007. She offers counseling at her woman-owned business, Inner Peace Counseling, PLC, for those in Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan. She is passionate about her work with clients, whether it’s providing individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, life coaching, or education about one of her growing passions and areas of expertise: the connection between nutrition and mental health. Her specialties include holistic healing/mindfulness, counseling for women, anxiety, couples counseling, and addictions/substance abuse.
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Thanks for reading.