Finding hope in our future generation- there can be a world without eating disorders

I’m raising one little girl with another one on the way, and I couldn’t be more thankful for them. The moment I looked at my firstborn’s face for the first time, I wanted so desperately to protect her from anything that would cause her to feel like she wasn’t good enough, that her body wasn’t good enough, and that she needed to change herself to fit into what her peers and society want her to be. I wanted to preserve her all her newness and naïveté, and wanted so badly to do whatever I could to make sure that she never went down the same road I did.

I often look back and ask myself- “was it worth it being thin?”

It wasn’t. Fighting an eating disorder for ten years left me lifeless. I was there but I wasn’t there. I was a different person- not myself, but who my eating disorder wanted me to be. It caused failed relationships. It stripped me of my passions, my dreams. It was a dark place that I never want my girls to be.

Now I’m here, and I’m healthy. I’ve overcome one obstacle, but now I’m faced with another one, almost more scary than the first.

“How do I protect my girls from all this? Is there hope? Is there something I can be doing for them as their mother?”

One of my best friends has always told me that when it comes to kids “God gives you what you need.” That couldn’t be more true. To be honest, it if weren’t for my girls I’m not sure I would have ever come forward with the struggles I faced having an eating disorder. I’m not sure if I would have the same passion I do now to spread awareness and advocate for prevention. Every time I see my two year old daughter with her sweet friends it breaks my heart knowing that someday they will be exposed to the reality of our culture today: full of dieting, body dissatisfaction and airbrushed models on magazine covers.

There is hope, and we can help our girls learn to love themselves for who they are. We can raise strong and confident girls who understand that it’s not their bodies that give them value.

First, we have to talk about it. Expose them to the reality of eating disorders and distorted body image. Ask them how they feel about that. Guide them to make their own healthy decision about how they feel the way bodies are portrayed in the media. Sheltering them from these issues doesn’t always work, generally it backfires. Girls need a safe place to discuss feelings about their bodies- if that’s lacking then it’s easier to fall into the lies that their bodies aren’t pretty enough, thin enough, fit enough, tall enough- the list goes on!

Next, being a positive role model is so important. Don’t discuss diets around them. Don’t trash-talk your own body. Don’t trash-talk other people’s bodies. They’re watching you.

Always talk function over looks. We use our bodies to play, work, give hugs, perform tasks- not to look good in a bathing suit. This is important when discussing fitness as well. Exercise is good for our bodies because it makes our heart healthy and gives us energy. It lowers our risk of chronic diseases and creates good mood-enhancing endorphins. Exercise is not for achieving a certain number on the scale.

Help them to believe they are beautiful just the way they are. Don’t criticize their looks or tell them what needs to be changed. Celebrate them in their uniqueness every day. Tell them they are beautiful and praise them for their strengths often. Build them up daily and provide constant encouragement. Be confident yourself! Confident mothers raise confident daughters.

LET THEM BE AWKWARD. They will all go through it. Every single one of them. Sometime between the ages of 9-14 they are going to be amazingly awkward and you are probably going to cringe and want to do whatever you can to get them out of it. Don’t do it- let them be. I can’t tell you how many times during this stage of my life I was torn down because of the way I dressed and the way I  acted. The constant criticism- mostly from people in my life who were supposed to be safe- destroyed me. They won’t be awkward forever, I promise. It’s all part of growing up.

Encourage healthy eating, but don’t discuss calories and “bad foods.” Never tell a child that a food will make them fat. Don’t talk about carbs and fat grams- talk about nutrients and health. Be an example of a healthy eater. Kids do by example.

Know that eating disorders do not stereotype, and there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to eating disorders. A person does not have to have a low BMI to have an eating disorder- in fact this is probably one of the biggest myths around eating disorders out there. Look for the signs: change in personality, food rituals, sneaking away after meals, hoarding food, lack of interest in usual activities, unhealthy exercise habits and extreme dieting (this can include elimination of multiple types of food, an obsession with eating “clean” and an calorie counting). Weight loss is the not the only sign of an eating disorder. In fact, in many cases, it’s not a symptom at all.

The statistics are out there, body dissatisfaction starts at such a young age it’s disturbing. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 70% of 6-12 year-old girls want to be thinner and according to a study conducted by Duke University, 40% of all 9-10 year-old girls have already been on a diet. Implications of poor body image and dieting at such a young age include increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder, lower self-esteem, and depression. In my experience, I started comparing my body to my friends at the young age of 8 years-old. By age 9 I started experimenting with diets. By the time I was 12, I was so dissatisfied with my body that I was depressed, and placed all my self-worth in what size my jeans were and the number on the scale. Sadly, my body confidence only started to rise after people started noticing that I had lost weight, and complimented me on how good I looked. It fueled my desire to keep going. Before I knew it, I couldn’t stop.

My hope for my girls and our future generation of women is that they help each other to rise above the body type standard. I hope they don’t encourage each other to diet or make their bodies look a certain way. I hope they don’t praise each other based on what they eat or what the scale says or encourage one another to go through unhealthy measures to obtain a certain body type. My hope is that their focus for life is far away from looking like a bikini or fitness model. My hope is that they build each other up in their strengths and that they focus on the beauty of their hearts, not outside beauty. I  hope they don’t bully others to make themselves feel better. I hope they grow into confident young women who place value above their looks. I hope that even though they will one day be subjected to the reality of pressure that will be around them to look and act a certain way, that instead they are able to preserve that sweet sense of innocence that they posses now. I hope they don’t lose their sweet personalities and dreams to reach an unobtainable standard in looks.

I believe that there is hope in this generation of girls. They can be the beginning of a world without negative body image and eating disorders. I hope they grow up knowing that they are perfect just the way they are, and their bodies are beautiful- just as God created them to be. If you have any influence in a young girl’s life, think about her own personal attributes and what makes her special. What can  you do to help her believe those special qualities give her value?

Here’s to celebrating this generation, what makes them unique in their own way, and how beautiful that is. These girls know now that there is nothing more beautiful than being yourself- I hope they still believe this 10 years from now!

Our sweet Carli- she is special in so many ways! She is as hard-headed and independent as her mama, but those qualities will take her far in life! Even though she is full of determination and will do whatever it takes to get her way, she has the most tender and loving heart. She will stop whatever she’s doing to make sure that someone she knows is sad feels better, and will always offer the best hugs. She may be a little firecracker that has nonstop energy, but she is the best snuggler! I hope she never loses her sweet and caring spirit and the joy she has in her heart. I hope she grows up putting Jesus first in her life, and is as loving toward others as she is now.  -Jennie

Willow turned 5 in October. She has the nickname in our family of “joy” because she is never seen without a smile on her face. She is so in love with life and can find happiness and fun in everything! She has a wonderful sense of humor, and loves dancing around in costumes pretty much all day long, if she could.  She has one of the kindest hearts I have ever seen and can make friends with anyone.  One thing I admire about her is how she does not give up on things. When she decides she wants to do something, she will find a way to learn how to do it! My husband and I could not be prouder to be the parents of this amazing little girl. -Emily

Kynlee is 5 and a half (the half is very important!). She is the easiest child and probably the sweetest little girl I have ever known, though I’m quite partial. She loves unicorns and could color for days on end. She’s also my movie-goer girl, though she is a homebody and just loves being around our house. She absolutely loves the beach and finding treasures and shells there, and cries every time we have to leave. She loves animals, especially her horse Buzz and wants to “work in an animal hospital” when she grows up. Kynlee is shy in the beginning, but has such a bubbly and loving personality once you get to know her. She’s smart, loves school, loves making crafts and creating, loves reading, and loves “learning about God and Jesus”. She is my soft, tender-hearted little lady, who loves wearing dresses and being cute! -Jeanine

Charlotte Elizabeth Bowen is a 5 year old girl that loves all sorts of things. She is just as comfortable in a dress as she is in a pair of tennis shoes and athletic pants. One side of her loves twirling around pretending she is a Disney princess and another side of her loves exploring in the woods. Some call her shy but I just say that she is very selective in who she speaks with. Strangers don’t impress her but you better believe that she is taking everything in. Charlotte is very caring and loves being a big sister to her 3 year old brother, Samuel. She always watches out for him and others. Charlotte always tries to do the right thing; she tells the truth even it it means she may get in trouble. Charlotte is naturally athletic; she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. She might need a little boost of confidence because she is cautious about new experiences but she doesn’t give up. Charlotte can “snuggle” so tightly that her hugs will make anyone’s day better. Love pours out from her daily and I hope that never changes.  -Jamie

Chloe just turned 6 in January and is loving being “older.” Chloe has a sweet spirit and is very tender-hearted, smart, silly and sometimes a little bossy. We’ll say, assertive. She is named after generations of strong women dating back to the 1700s and has proven to live up to her name. She loves pink…and white, for some reason. She is stereotypically a girly girl and into princesses, but isn’t afraid to pick up a bug or a frog. She’s pretty obsessed with lizards, in fact. She likes to make new friends and is affectionate toward them. She loves to laugh and we see Jesus shine straight through her spirit. She knows who her Savior is and we think that’s most important. She is beautiful on the outside but her beauty on the inside far outweighs her flesh. -Holli

Robyn just turned two and and she is a little firecracker!  We love her spunky, outgoing personality. She loves splashing in puddles, jumping on the trampoline, coloring, twirling in her princess dresses and riding her bike.  Despite her age, she speaks more than and just as well as her four year old brother!  She definitely has some of the family engineering genes too, as she loves to ask what things are called and how they work.  It’s fun to have full conversations with her as she discovers more about her world.  Two is a hard age full of big emotions, but we hope to raise Robyn to be a strong woman (being sandwiched between two brothers sure will help), and to know that she can be whatever God calls her to be.  We can’t wait to watch her grow and see the plans God has for her.  -Andrea

Bailey Grace- This 3 year old crazy child broke our little mold when she came into this world. She’s everything we never knew we wanted, and we love her for it! She is definitely the one that keeps us on our toes. She’s outgoing, though slightly shy at first. She is hilarious, and is the one teachers tell me is the one that makes them laugh more than the rest. There’s never a dull (or still) moment with Bailey, which is probably why her current love is gymnastics. She loves SO big, needs her daily snuggles, is passionate and determined about what she wants, loves being active and doing “a workout”, and loves being outdoors. She loves her big sister like crazy, as well as gets a thrill from driving her crazy. She’s too smart for her own (mischievous) good. Of all things she loves, her blanky and lovey take the cake! -Jeanine

Emily is a sweet yet sassy 3 1/2 year old. She may be tiny, yet she knows how to stand up for herself. One of her favorite activities includes wrestling with her big brother. When brother is not around, Emily can be found playing with baby dolls, painting, reading books, or snuggling up to mommy and daddy. Emily is also in love with gymnastics! She will climb, hang, and flip any chance she gets. Sweetest moments with Emily include morning cuddles and bedtime routines. Emily loves to “read” the Bible to the rest of the family at night and pray: “Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross because You love us.” While those are precious words out of a babes mouth, our prayer is that Emily will find her value in the love that Jesus has for her, and this is a beautiful start. -Amy

What makes Ryleigh special is that she marches to the beat of her own drum. I also lover her confidence. Whenever someone says she can’t do something, her response is “I can do anything.” And anytime someone tells her she is pretty she says “thank you, I’m smart too!” She loves her curls and isn’t afraid to tell me that she is perfect! She is strong and determined. She doesn’t tend to let anything get in the way of what she wants. I pray she continues to be this way for the rest of her life. -Jennifer

Caroline is special because she has such a tender caring heart! –Heather

Reese is special because she never gives up! She will take over the world one day! -Heather

 

My husband and I make a conscious effort to tell our girls daily how beautiful the are (multiple times a day), and both of them truly believe they are real-life princesses (their mommy and daddy’s princesses and God’s sweet  princesses of course)! Man I would have loved to have “known”that growing up. I struggled with an eating disorder (starting at the age of 14) throughout high school and college; and when we found out we were pregnant with girls both times, I truly panicked. The questions/doubts that ran through my head were: how am I going to raise girls with a healthy self-image? will they have eating disorders too? will they know that they are beautiful no matter what? What God has taught me over the past 4 yrs (and that I often have to remind myself of) is that He called me to raise these girls, and He can equip me daily to give them exactly what they need.

My oldest daughter, Marylee, 4, has the most sensitive and kind heart I’ve ever seen. I fear this trait is going to cause her to get hurt and find myself being overly protective of her at times. She was my 2lb 8 oz 29 week preemie after all! She loves to sing, dance, and twirl. She also loves all the Disney princesses! She is quite the expert! She loves to read and watch movies too (just like her mama). She likes to change her outfit 6 times a day and wants to be told how beautiful each and every wardrobe change is. She is always looking out for her younger sister and always splits her oreo cookie with her that she gets on the way out of dance class. We love this about her.

My youngest daughter, Joanna, is the funniest person I know. She makes her dad and me laugh out loud daily. We have no idea where she comes up with the stuff she says! She loves to bake (she is all in I’m when helping me bake cookies-especially chocolate chip) and helps me cook dinner nightly. She also loves to sing, dance, and twirl; and her favorite time of the week is dance class! She calls herself “the baby” and I’m totally good with that! We recently learned that she loves to kick a soccer ball around and is actually good at it (we don’t know where she got that from)! -Jill

Here’s a video highlighting my journey, the hope that was lost and then regained through recovery. The ending shows the start of our future generation of young women, and my hope for them is that their journey is much different than mine. I pray they are fighters, they can handle whatever comes their way, and that they choose to rise above the pressures our world places on them.

My decision to quit marathon running

Exercise is something that is considered healthy. Not only does it benefit us physically, but also mentally. It is a good tool to use for stress management and can also help people manage various types of psychological issues.  It’s that adrenaline produced by exercise that can bring out the competitive nature in exceptional athletes and motivate others to live a healthier lifestyle. Even people who joke to have an exercise addiction is something most consider to be admirable. The drive and determination it takes to train multiple hours a day for a certain sport is a quality that is both respected and envied. It can be hard to understand that even too much of a good thing can be negative. I’ve struggled for years with an exercise addiction, and it’s something that’s been terribly difficult to admit. There are multiple signs that have shown me the amount of exercise I was engaging in wasn’t healthy, and the steps I’ve been taking the past several months to put an end to it has definitely been more of a challenge than I thought it would be.

When I started running, it came from a healthy place. I was a freshman in high school who just wanted to be in better shape. The first running loop I created in my neighborhood was 2.5 miles. I remember liking the feeling when I was done, exhausted but proud of what I had accomplished. I liked the way my body felt, my muscles were tighter and being dehydrated made me feel lighter. My clothes began getting baggier and the compliments started coming in.

“You look great!”

“Have you lost weight? I’m so jealous!!”

“You’re such a fast runner!”

The praise motivated me to run harder and eat less. I liked feeling small and light. My mood started to become dependent on the endorphins from running- if I wasn’t able to run that day I would become depressed, irritable and angry. 2.5 miles turned into 5 miles. 5 miles turned into 10 miles.  Once I started my sophomore year of high school I was running 10 miles. Every. Single. Day. The compliments stopped and instead people were starting to worry. My doctor placed me on exercise restriction but that wouldn’t stop me. I would do anything to exercise- before school I would run up and down our stairs 100 times while my parents were still sleeping. I would come home from school and immediately go down to the basement to do aerobics. There were even Sunday mornings where I would find an empty room at our church to run laps in while my parents thought I was sitting in the service with my friends elsewhere. The need to exercise consumed me, and the amount of calories I was burning coupled with the amount I wasn’t eating was taking a toll on my body that I was in denial of. My self-worth was 100% based on how many miles I ran that day, how little I ate (or how long I could hold off eating entirely that day) and the number of ribs I could count that were protruding through my skin.

After being diagnosed with an eating disorder the middle of my sophomore year, I began the road to recovery the summer going into my junior year. I was eating again, but was not willing to stop running. It was the only thing I still felt like I had control over and the thought of giving that up terrified me. As I started to eat normally again and put on weight, my doctor was okay with me running as long as I kept my weight up. I continued to run 10 miles every day, only allowing myself a day off once every 3 weeks. I dreaded every minute of it, but I couldn’t let it go because it was the only thing that allowed me to eat. Although I looked healthy on the outside, I was still fighting a difficult battle with myself on the inside. I told myself that once I went to college I wouldn’t exercise as much because I would be too busy. I was convinced that going away to college would make everything better, but it actually made things worse.

By the middle of my freshman year at Purdue University, I was running a minimum of 11 miles every day, some days I would run 20-22 miles with some upperclassmen who were training for the Chicago marathon. 3 days a week I would run at least twice per day- whenever I had a chance between classes I would exercise. The cross country coach saw me run by the athletic complexes, and impressed with my pace, invited me to join the team. Again, I thought joining the team would give me more discipline to run only the amount my coach told me to. Nope. I became worried that the workouts were too short and would run extra on my own, sneaking in treadmill runs at the Co-Rec and running off-campus so I wouldn’t get caught. The stress on my body lead to multiple stress fractures and other injuries that would put me out of running for months at a time. I didn’t know how to cope with stress and emotions without being able to run, and every injury was a trigger for relapsing back into my eating disorder. I coped with binge drinking, blaming my thrown up dinner on the tequila shots I took that night.

During my last year of undergrad I was finally injury-free and impulsively decided to sign up for the Chicago marathon. A reason to run excessively without giving a cause for people to comment that I was running too much?! Sign me up! After completing the Chicago marathon at a respectable time of 3:29, I decided it was my first and last. Two years later I made another impulsive decision to run the Arizona marathon (only because the entry fee was only $15 more than the half-marathon- I thought, why not??). Running that marathon 7 minutes faster than my first, I had qualified for the Boston marathon twice and decided to go for it. I thought Boston would be my last, I had over-trained and was going into the race mentally and physically drained. However, the year I ran in Boston was the year of the bombings. The events of that day were difficult for me to process, so I coped with the emotions the only way I knew how- running. I ran my next marathon less than 6 months later with another PR, and then after finding out that I was pregnant, took a 2 year break. When Carli was just 14 months old, I ran the Chicago marathon again and then just 5 months later ran the Atlanta marathon. Having had a lot of success in Atlanta (I placed fourth overall female with a time of 3:16) I immediately signed up for my 7th marathon, which would take place in Columbus, IN in September, just 6 months later.

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Before running Boston, April 2013

 

Letting Go

I was able to surrender my eating disorder and body image issues to God years ago- but I’ve grasped onto my exercise addiction with excuses that allowed me to believe it was okay. It’s been easy to let myself thrive in the success I’ve had with marathon running, and I had big goals for myself when I started to train for my 7th marathon. I was going to run close to 3:10- I wanted to get faster and faster so that someday I could beat 3:00. I believed that this drive to be a faster runner was normal because all athletes are motivated to get better. I didn’t want to accept or consider that the success I wanted came at a price- not just the price of the relationships with the people closest to me, but also the price of my health. Even the price of staying in recovery from my eating disorder. Although I refuse to let myself fall into that place again, I’m realizing that training so intensely (the way I have been) can so easily open that door. I’m also learning that training for such long distances is a trigger, one that I’ve been in denial of.

There has been a transformation in my thoughts over the past several years that has allowed me to be at peace with food and my body. I didn’t allow that transformation to get in the way of my running, I wanted so badly to protect that because I was too scared to give it up. It was the one thing that my eating disorder had left to use against me, to stir up those feelings of inadequacy that food could no longer compress. I want my approach to running be similar to my approach to food- something that is healthy and well-balanced. I no longer want to use running as a form of punishment or source of self-worth. I don’t want it to be my only coping mechanism- something that I’m finding to be quite difficult but very rewarding all at the same time.

I no longer want to be defined as just being a hard-working, dedicated runner. I want people to know me as a good friend, a loving wife, a wonderful mother. Running still has a place, it always will. It’s just going to take a backseat to more important things in life.

I don’t plan on never racing again. In fact, I’m running a half-marathon with one of my best friends in early November. I have decided to resign from marathon running – I’m not sure if it’s going to be forever, but I know that right now I can no longer put so much focus on training for a 26.2 mile race. A lot of people who run marathons are able to do so without becoming so consumed by the training. I’m able to train this way for shorter distances, but it’s very hard for me to train for a marathon without running an excessive amount.

I decided to drop out of my 7th marathon just 8 weeks before I was due to race. Honestly, I’m just tired. I’m only 29, but my body feels like I’m 79 sometimes. It’s worn out and defeated. I enjoyed spending my summer running less and allowing myself to do other forms of exercise. I spent more time with friends and family. I slept in (as much as Carli would let me) and I feel refreshed. Although I felt a twinge of guilt yesterday morning when I looked at the clock and realized that I should be running mile 18 at that moment, I was at complete peace with my decision.

Let’s Put An End To This

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I was home visiting my parents over labor day weekend and fell across one of my old journals that I kept when I was 10 years old. I came across a page that had 3 goals written on it. To think that I was so fixated on changing the way I looked at such a young age makes me so sad. If you have any sort of influence in any little girl’s life right now, take just a moment to tell her today how beautiful she is. Praise her strengths and acknowledge what she excels at. Don’t criticize her weaknesses. Don’t pressure her into feeling she needs to look or act a different way to feel loved and accepted. Celebrate her uniqueness and own sense of style. Give her a chance to love who she is. Don’t let a day go by without telling her how special she is. Together we can stop the hurt and lies that are attacking these young girls. Let’s put an end to eating disorders.

A letter to my little girl- from your mommy, an eating disorder survivor

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Baby  girl, I wish more than anything that I could protect you from any pressures you may feel to be a certain size or look a certain way. I wish I could be there to cover your ears when you hear other women talk about how dissatisfied they are with their bodies, how they wish they wore a bigger bra size and how they wished their thighs were smaller. I wish I could cover your eyes when you see models in the mall or on TV who are an unobtainable version of thin. I wish I could walk you through the halls of school and whisper in your ear to ignore the boys talking about what a girl’s “perfect body” looks like. I wish I could protect you from the girls who bully and gossip and I pray that you don’t ever stoop down to their level.

As your mother I want you to stay innocent and shelter you from what our society interprets as looking perfect. I don’t want you to feel like to you have to look a certain way to please someone. I don’t want you to feel that your weight defines you. I don’t want you to compare yourself to others and wish you looked more like them. I don’t want you to look in the mirror and find things you wish you could change.

I know you are growing up, and one day you will start to notice these things. I pray that you can rise above what you feel society pressuring you to do and refuse to change the way you look. Your heavenly Father made you to be unique, someone completely different than anyone else in this world. He designed every little detail, right down to the color of your eyes, the way your eyebrows scrunch up when you don’t like something, and your infectious smile. If someone doesn’t love you for who you are, they aren’t worth it. Don’t let it get you down and don’t try to fix things to please them. It’s not worth the energy and you will never be able to please everybody.

It’s your inner beauty that matters and that will define you. When you strive to look perfect it can become to be an obsession. You may try harder and harder to change yourself but will never be satisfied. I don’t want your relationships with people you love the most to fail because you are too focused on making that number on the scale go lower and lower. I don’t want you to feel your self-worth is in the type or size of clothes you wear. There is so much more to life than fixating on these things. I know it’s hard to take advice from your mother and I understand that you have to figure some of these things out on your own. But I don’t want you to fight the battle I fought. It’s grueling, it’s relentless, and it strips you of everything- relationships, energy, love, the simple joys of life. Miss Carli Joanna, you are perfect in every way. You are beautiful. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting the signs of an eating disorder, early intervention is crucial to prevent it from turning into a full-blown eating disorder. This can not only save a life, but can prevent years of struggle with disordered eating. Eating disorders are serious and raising awareness is important to recognize the signs, triggers, causes, and treatment. Visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ for more info.

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Raising our girls to love their bodies

We are at that point where we have entered the copy stage. It’s cute and amusing at the same time to watch Carli do all the things she has picked up from me. One of her favorite toys is her toy vacuum, probably because she watches me vacuum the floors constantly. I’m ashamed to admit that because she watches everything I do she is also a pro at using my iphone and ipad. She fully understands how to watch videos, make online purchases (one-click ordering isn’t so great when you have a toddler) and has made FaceTime calls to people I haven’t talked to in years at 6:00AM (sorry to anyone she has done that to recently).

Because I am mostly at stay at home mom (I work 1.5 days per week), Carli watches me get ready in the morning. Now she loves putting on lip gloss, brushing her hair and looking in the mirror. I didn’t realize that most mornings when I’m getting ready I tend to check out my body in the mirror. Carli caught on though, and one morning shortly after Christmas I found her in front of my cousin’s full length mirror checking out her tummy and bottom- just like I (shamefully) sometimes do in front of her. It was reality check, and also a reminder of how influential a mother’s view of her own body can have on her daughter.

Now that I have a daughter, I can’t help but not notice the statistics. Body dissatisfaction starts at such a young age it’s disturbing. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 70% of 6-12 year olds want to be thinner and according to a study conducted by Duke University, 40% of all 9-10 year-old girls have already been on a diet. Implications of poor body image and dieting at such a young age include increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder, lower self-esteem, depression, and are even more likely to become obese as adults. But what causes our girls to feel this way? Is it just the media, or can the environment they’re raised in also shape the way they feel about their bodies?

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These statistics are mostly blamed on the media. The average model is much thinner than a typical sized woman, and flaws are easily covered by airbrushing and photoshop. I agree that the media plays a big role in young girls’ desire to be thinner or go on a diet, but I also think that the most influential people in these girls’ lives can change the way they perceive their self-image. What conversations are we having with our girls about body image, and how are we helping to promote their self-esteem?

It starts at home, and both mom and dad play a part. As mothers, WE have to feel confident in our own skin. If we are constantly talking about how fat we look today, the number on the scale, the 5-day detox diet we want to go on to lose weight fast- our girls are going to pick up on that! We are their biggest role models and need to make peace with our bodies and food so that our girls can too. This does not mean that it’s okay to make poor dietary choices and consume excess calories from nutrient-void foods because we are okay with our body size. These are not healthy behaviors either. It means that we are an example to our girls, eating healthy balanced meals and not jumping from one fad diet to the next to lose weight. It means that we exercise to feel good about ourselves and to stay healthy, not solely to burn calories. Help your girls understand the difference between foods that are nutritious and should be consumed regularly (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins) and foods that are okay to have as a treat but not on a regular basis (sweets, snack foods). Don’t label foods good or bad.

Dad’s role is just as important. Is he making comments about how “sexy” or “beautiful” women in the media are? Is he on mom to lose weight and telling her she should go on a diet? A father’s opinion of what a woman’s body should look like is the first a little girl will be exposed to, and that perception will mold her view of what her own figure should look like to please men.

Kids need to feel secure in their own skin. I think the worst thing we can do is stigmatize kids who are overweight, this usually results in weight gain, dieting, and body dissatisfaction- all issues that can eventually lead to obesity in adulthood. I work in pediatrics and not all kids that the BMI charts classify as “overweight” or even “obese” look to be at an unhealthy weight. Some pediatricians may recommend restricting calories, but I disagree. Instead, having an approach in the home that encourages healthy eating and exercise will not only help kids to be at a healthy weight but will also be one of the many keys to promote healthy body image. The verbiage we use around young girls is so important. Use words like “strong,” “smart” “creative” and “beautiful”- avoid using adjectives like “thin” “big” “tiny” and “stocky”. Even telling your daughter she is small may make her feel pressured into staying that way- something that can lead to restrictive behaviors to avoid weight gain.

As a mother, what I want Carli to understand is that most importantly God made her to be unique from everyone else, and that is so special. He designed every detail of her body and although she is beautiful on the outside, her heart is what’s most important. The love she exudes to others, her compassion, her desire to worship Jesus instead of her own body- that is a much more purposeful way to live.

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© Holli Hamby Photography

Luke 16:15- He said to them, “You are the ones whole justify yourselves in the eye of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”