A great deal has been written on how fathers play strong roles in the development of their daughters’ eating disorders. Negative relationships between fathers and daughters create holes in the hearts of their daughters which they believe can be filled by getting and staying thin. Not surprisingly, girls and women have fallen prey to the jaws of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder for many reasons we have already discussed. But a massive amount of research has poured in to spell out in all caps, in bold, that fathers’ relationships with their daughters help to get them swallowed up into the mouths of eating disorders.
Since the topic of fathers’ roles in the development of their daughters’ body image issues has been covered, I have chosen not to include that in my book. Throughout my years of working with women, I have heard perhaps hundreds of stories of how mothers have influenced the development of body image issues of women and girls. Due to the powerful effect of our mothers’ own body image issues on our stories, I have decided to include a chapter on this subject in the book.
Sadly, I must warn you that most of the stories are overwhelmingly sad. In fact, you may get overwhelmed reading this chapter, and I apologize in advance. My hope and reason for writing the chapter is that women will gain great perspective about how their own words about their bodies and their daughters’ bodies blossom seeds of darkness or light in their hearts. All in all, mothers’ words have great power to bless and great power to eat away at the hearts of their daughters, creating a wake of despair and depression as well as eating disorders. And so my grandest hope is that after reading this chapter, you will be acutely aware of one of the most powerful lies: “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” In fact, words shatter our hearts and shoot bullets of shame and despair deep into our souls until we bleed from within. And this pain plummets down the shaft of despair until we land in the city of Hopelessness. But the flip side of this is that if we understand the impact of our words, we can encourage children and teens to feel good about their bodies.
When I asked my friends on Facebook to share their stories about how their mothers impacted their own body image, I received a variety of responses. One of them came from a woman in her sixties whom I will call Sally. Sally explained that her mother had a serious phobia of fat. She was hypercritical of Sally’s body, and made her take diet pills when she was in junior high. Once she grew up and married, Sally continued to navigate the line between enjoying eating with her husband and controlling her weight. Women gain an average of 18 pounds during the first year of marriage, so women often find it discouraging to move from their pre-wedding weight to their rounder, settled in weight.
During the pregnancy of her second child, Sally was sick a lot and discovered that throwing up resulted in weight loss. Eventually she became bulimic and stayed bulimic for over twenty years. Finally, during her studies at nursing school, she came to the realization that bulimia was destroying her from within and decided to kiss it goodbye.
Sally’s mother recently died at age 95, and Sally wrote in her email that her mother was still overly concerned about her weight and how she looked, even though she was quite ill and suffered from dementia for several years.
The trenches of our body image issues certainly run deep, not even lightening up due to old age or illness. Even with dementia, many womens’ love/hate relationships with their bodies and food cause great distress as they continue to obsess about how they look. The desire to get and stay thin is a constant dose of poison that our culture feeds us day in and day out to the point that we lose touch with what it means to have a normal, natural, womanly body.
By writing about the power mothers have on their daughters’ self-esteem and body image issues, I hope that women begin to understand the power of words and decide to offer encouragement instead of despair. The seeds of negativity create ugly weeds that lead to self-contempt. But the beauty of seeds of encouragement offer great joy as we learn to look at our bodies in terms of the amazing things they can do. Will you use your words to bless flowers of joy onto the next generation, or seeds of despair to heap loads of despair onto today’s children and teens?