I began thinking about my own body image watching the older women in my life. My 89-year-old aunt needed help getting into her Spanx for a wedding. She wouldn’t wear her first choice for a dress because she didn’t like how her arms looked in it. A friend’s 84-year-old mom got dizzy and fainted from lack of food while grocery shopping. She has a very limited list of "healthy/good" foods she is willing to eat. Her disordered eating symptoms have flown under the radar of her doctors and family for decades, and this is now just how she lives.
When I speak of these women to audiences, I usually hear, “OMG, when does all this struggle to control our bodies ever end?” Is there a point where we get to stop worrying about how our body parts appear to others or what food is off limits to us or how much we weigh? These are good questions. We just assume these worries will magically disappear at some point.
From these women, I learned that nothing is going to change in my mind unless I get in there and change it. Habitual thought patterns and behaviors around food and body only get more and more entrenched as the years roll on.
This isn't our fault. We’ve all been born into a crazy culture that over-values women’s appearance putting pressure on us to conform to the body style of day -- which always includes being thin or thinner. We live in a world surrounded by a lots of food, lots of advice about how to eat, and lots and lots of pictures of attractive people.
I chose to do the brave work of alterning this trajectory for myself a few years ago, which took real intention and time. I guess that was to be expected as my habitual thought patterns and behavior took decades to cultivate. I decided to change managing my weight through my fear of the bathroom scale. I had spent too much of my precious time waiting for the perfect number to show up.
I no longer see myself as "managing my weight" -- it's not something that needs managing. Instead I focused on taking care of myself: how I want to eat, how I want to exercise, how much sleep makes sense for me, where I am feeling stress or emotional ups or downs.
I also found out my appearance isn't as big of a piece of who I am as our diet culture led me to believe. I look good enough, and I have many, many other things to do. I looked up from the scale and found a beautiful world with thoughtful articles, books, and many women all struggling with these issues.
I learned that our society’s body concerns have ramped up like crazy for our kids. They have even more pressure from their Kardashian culture to conform to a body ideal. Seventy-five percent of adolescent girls and 50% of adolescent boys today suffer from body dissatisfaction. Body dissatifaction is a risk factor for all eating disorders and is linked to depression and isolation. Studies just over the last 2 years have firmly blamed this generations's body dissatisfaction on their social media use. Their social media has become more and more visual over the last 5 years with the uptick in Instagram and Snapchat.
I wanted to help. I wanted to be part of the movement that re-focuses kids and society on those things that matter more -- the real pieces of who they are. I trained to be a Be Body Positive Facilitator to work with children and their parents on developing body confidence at the Body Positive in Berkeley, California. From there, I got an additional license on The Body Project curriculum from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to work with high school aged girls and boys who are at risk of developing an eating disorder.
The first time I taught a high school class on body image, the health teacher told me that 4 of the 25 kids in the class already had an eating disorder diagnosis. That was twice the national average; and the national average is appalling. Then I learned that there was no standard curriculum on body image that the schools were using despite the fact that 90% of the high school kids I surveyed consider this to be a critical topic for discussion.
I contacted the Illinois State Board of Education. Their social emotional learning team were eager to entertain discussion on giving teachers information and curriculum resources on body image. With the help from volunteers from ANAD, the wonderful, national eating disorder organization, we are gearing up for a 14-stop tour of the Illinois Regional Offices of Education, ROEs. We are talking to educators on How to Create a Body Confident School Environment. After Illinois, we have plans to go on to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
We live in an unfortunate time for the body esteem of women. But times are changing. Women are waking up and challenging the status quo with the #METOO and #TIMES UP movements. We can work to change our shallow, cultural norms around body image that aren't working well for anyone today. That spirit of awareness and challenge is how we can create body confidence and learn to love our bodies and ourselves.