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.

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