Let me start with a bit of a personal story:
Between the third and fourth year of psychology degree, I spent a summer doing an internship at the University of Chicago’s Eating Disorders Department, in the adolescents unit. I did it because I was curious to see if I wanted to do my PhD in that field. I didn’t in the end. But I learned a LOT.
Many people don’t realize this, but eating disorders – and an undue preoccupation with one’s body – can start YOUNG. Girls as young as ten, nine, eight, seven would come in to the hospital convinced that they were fat. Seeing food as an ‘enemy’ to be afraid of. Little girls! And older kids too, girls AND boys (because eating disorders don’t discriminate by gender). It’s a hard thing to witness, you know? Because there’s not much one can say or do to convince them that they’re perfect and that their ‘monsters’ aren’t real.
You can scream at the top of your lungs YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL THE WAY YOU ARE!!!! You can tell them not to worry, that they’re perfect over and over again. That they’re GORGEOUS! That their bodies are a POWERHOUSE worth loving every day and that their worth isn’t measured in pounds. But sometimes the message takes a while to get through because the belief in their own (fabricated, fictitious, but still real to them) ‘flaws’ is rooted deep inside them. They’ve learned to judge their bodies over time. Through their friends, family, our media. Through the explicit – and implicit – messages in ads, diet products, and beauty magazines. Through their own mom’s stepping on scales and normalizing that it’s OK to look at their own bodies in the mirror and pinch their bellies, scrunching up their noses at the sight of cellulite or fat.
They’ve learn to judge their bodies through hearing other people tell their friends or partners that they are (or ‘are getting’) fat. Things like this? They MATTER. The way WE talk about our bodies? It MATTERS. The way WE perceive and judge our own bodies, it MATTERS!
A little, young, or older girl – a WOMAN – spending precious life-energy and focus weighing herself day in and day out, hoping and praying for numbers to ‘budge’ on the scale, putting on condemning ‘glasses’ to ‘read’ her own body in a way that no one who loves her ever would, that MATTERS. ‘Hating’ ANY part of her perfectly-functioning and awe-inspiring body, ah! These things matter! And we need to do our best to get rid of that way of thinking. To avoid it. To call it out. To stop ourselves giving a voice to those ideas.
So if anyone tells you that they are ‘fat’ (or if you ever tell this to yourself), stop and remind them that they’re beautiful. Turn their attention to all the miraculous things that their body can DO. Focus them not just on LOSING (weight, fat, or themselves in the process) but on GAINING. On gaining strength. Health. Power. Stamina. LOVE! Because our bodies are a powerhouse worth celebrating and nourishing completely.
We really need to do this, you know? Actively. Day in and day out, especially for new generations! We need to stop catering to ridiculous media that pushes an over-analysis of bodies as if they were some kind of project to ‘work on.’ We need to avoid buying into anything that makes us feel inferior, unworthy, or in any way imperfect. We need to stop speaking badly about our own bodies. And, above all, we need to lead by example.