When I was a little girl and my mother didn’t want my family to know what she was saying, she spoke in French. I have memories of her and my aunts looking at me, and laughingly saying “grosse fesse”. For the non-French Canadian readers of Jill, it loosely translates to “fat ass”.
In recent studies of eating disordered, college students, the participants were asked to trace the sources of their eating issues and obsessive body focus. The vast majority shared that along with the cultural pressure to be thin, their eating and body disturbances began with a negative comment by a family member, authority figure or peer when they were children. Fast-forward to my adolescence. I’m on the beach on a hot summer day, in long pants and one of my father’s oxford shirts, having lost 45 pounds during my first year at college, and telling a male friend that yes, although had I lost many sizes and pounds, I still had a “fat ass”.
In my family, appearance was a high priority. My mother was a beautiful woman who went to the hair salon weekly and shopped in high-end boutiques. She and my not so fashionable father would subtly and not to subtly comment on the size and shape of relatives, friends, and strangers. I learned very early that thin, attractive women hold power. But, I was short and fat, although with such a pretty face.
When I first sit with my adolescent and young adult clients, I ask them when they first became aware of their focus on controlling their food intake and their bodies. Most of them state that they heard negative remarks about their eating and/ or their bodies from family members. The vast majority grew up with mothers who have or had their own struggles with feeling loved and accepted in the bodies they’re in.
Am I blaming those mothers? Am I blaming us? Absolutely not! We, too, grew up in a culture that promotes “body beautiful” at any cost.
However, it’s time for us to examine our own beliefs about our bodies, and how we communicate those to our daughters (and sons). Are we expecting the multi-billion diet industry to promote body acceptance and attuned eating? Don’t hold your breath, dear readers! Only we can change the cultural landscape by changing the attitudes we hold, and the words we choose when talking to ourselves and to our daughters.
During my mammogram last year, the tech and I struck up a conversation about body image. Her thirteen year old daughter had shown her a picture of a model in a fashion magazine and said “I’m fat. I need to go on a diet”. Mom, the woman making my right breast into a pancake, took her daughter to the computer and gave her a lesson in airbrushing and photoshop. Her daughter, referring to the picture of the model, exclaimed, “She’s not real. She’s fake!” I don’t remember your name, mom, but you’re my hero and a role model for us all!
Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with over 15 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who desire more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who want freedom from food and body obsessions and who want to develop a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies. Ilene can be reached at 518-570-6164, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ileneleshinsky.com.