Body Image Stories: My Body Image Story, Part I: Moving to Maui

I was moving to Paradise, where the sun would always shine on my back, the warm blue water would welcome me, and bad things never happened.  Or so I thought.  I didn’t realize that I was about to enter into shark-infested waters, but they would be inside the school.  The company my dad worked for outside of Seattle had landed a contract to put in the sewer system in Kihei, Maui.  He would be supervising.

As one of only a handful of white students attending the school, a gang of girls approached me.  “Get da hell offa dis island, haole.  Go back to da mainland whea you belong,”  the leader said.  (Translation:  Get the hell off of this island, white girl.  Go back to the Mainland where you belong.)  When Gwen and her pack cornered me on the playground that day, I started to think it was going to be a long two years .  A cloud of fear and confusion engulfed me, and began to take root in my heart.

I was used to being popular and making friends easily.  So what was the big deal?  I just didn’t get it.  After all, we were all people, but just wore different colors of skin.

Day after day, week after week I was told I was worthless and shameful because of my white skin.  I felt like an apple in a pile of papayas.  They threw rocks at me, called me names, spit on me, and despised me before I even uttered a sound.  All because I was white.

One day, a native girl handed me a new, unsharpened white pencil.  She said, “Hea.  Take dis.  It’s white like your &*#%  haole face.”  (Translation:  Here.  Take this.  It’s white like your %^&* white face.)  The pencil dropped to the old wooden floor of the classroom, and my heart dropped to another level on the elevator of despair.   It felt like it was bleeding.  I began to wonder how long I could take the pain, the loneliness, and the fact that almost everyone hated me because of my white skin.

The depression became unbearable.  I despised my white skin, and wanted to have beautiful brown skin and dark hair.  But each day I swam, surfed,  or played tennis after school, and the tropical Hawaiian sun-kissed my hair until it turned white-blonde.  My skin was a beautiful bronze, but I still paid the price for my light blonde hair and blue eyes.  If I would have been even a little darker complected, it wouldn’t have been as bad.  I could have looked half Polynesian and blended in.  But with the blue eyes and white-blonde hair,  I just didn’t fit in.  I cried myself to sleep many nights.

Sleep was my drug of choice.

One morning I noticed almost everyone wearing white bands on their upper arms.  I didn’t know until it was too late that it was Kill Haole Day.   They would be “choosing” one of the handful of white kids that attended the K-8 school to beat up until just this side of consciousness. I wasn’t chosen, but one of my friends at a local high school was. The natives held his head against a wall and prepared to crush his skull with a concrete block. Just at that moment, the assistant principal walked onto the scene and spared his life.

That was it.  I needed to move back, so I told mom and dad that I had to move back to Washington, or go to a private school where most people were not prejudiced.   If not, I would drop out of school, although I was a very good student and my parents would never have approved.  Finally my parents relented and let me attend the private school.

Decades later, I am awed by how God used my Maui experience in so many ways.  Several years ago I interned at Union Gospel Mission Women and Family Shelter in Seattle.  I had the honor of working with many women of color, and sometimes they came in for counseling with stories involving race.  They would sigh and tell me I wouldn’t understand.

And I would say, “I have never experienced your story, but let me tell you a bit about my story.”  Their eyes widened, and they looked confused.  How could a blonde, blue-eyed, pale woman know anything about being a minority, they wondered.  Once I told them about moving to Maui, we began to enter into their stories with truth and grace.

After getting my teaching degree, I taught public school in several places in which most of the population consisted of Mexican Americans.  One time I asked the students to write about three things they would like to change about themselves.

I cried after school as I read the papers and many had written,” I would like to be white.”  So of course I shared about my years on Maui, and continued to tell them that they were beautiful just as they were.  One time a girl was going to buy blue contacts, and I was able to convince her that her brown eyes were beautiful and encouraged her to embrace her heritage.  Now I understand how it is that God can create beauty from ashes,

I have lived it.

 

 

Abercrombie and Body Image

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Eating breakfast yesterday, I watched The Today Show’s segment on Abercrombie’s marketing of padded,push-up swimsuit tops for seven-year-old girls.

As if the word “padded” wasn’t bad enough, I almost choked on my Cheerios when I heard the word “push-up.”

Maybe Abercrombie should change their name to SADbercrombie. A few hours later, Abercrombie removed the phrase “push-up” from their web site. 

Really, Abercrombie…do you think you can remove the phrase “push-up”, continue to sell padded swimsuit tops for children– and think it’s all good?

I’m deeply disturbed by this. 

The sexualization of children has plunged to a darker floor of the elevator of despair. Do we want to encourage children to think their value comes from looking sexy?

Our culture already teaches kids they can get more attention by looking sexy. Do we want to encourage pedophiles by dressing kids in sexy swimsuits?  Shouldn’t kids be playing and learning instead of pondering whether or not they are sexy?

I am sickened by dragging kids into the marketing carnival, all in the name of greed.
Although your marketing techniques have always disturbed me, this is over the top. You should be ashamed of yourself.

What are your thoughts?

“For the love of money is the root of many kinds of evil.” (Note:  Many times this is misquoted to “all evil.” There is a huge difference!  Sometimes people use money for good.)

I Tim. 6:10

7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter (or Son) from Eating Disorders

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After her brother said she was fat, Karen (not her real name) vowed to do whatever it took to get into a pair of size 6 Calvin Klein jeans.  Most women who struggle with eating disorders remember this type of significant moment in their stories.  This vow included starving herself to the point that she passed out on a beach.

When she regained consciousness, the EMT asked her, “What can I do to prevent this from happening to my daughter?”  With tears in her eyes, she answered, “You can love her unconditionally.” 

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“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe these elephant thighs,” you remark in front of the mirror as you try on a new pair of jeans.

“Maybe I have elephantitis, and my doctor hasn’t diagnosed me yet.”  Your daughter hears this, and you both laugh.

But the problem with these types of negative body image statements is that they cut deeply into her soul, doing much more harm than you realize.  Such comments, even if said in jest, reinforce the belief in our culture which screams, “If you’re not toothpick thin, you are ugly.”

This spurs girls, sometimes starting before age five, into dieting.  Then they begin the roller coaster ride of dieting and later bingeing because they feel so starved.

This leads to shame, which leads back to dieting again.  Even if they get down to a normal size, they still feel fat.  If they have people-pleasing, perfectionistic personalities, they often get swallowed up with anorexia.

If they are not people-pleasers, they often flirt with throwing up until it develops into full-blown bulimia.  But when they throw up, they are actually trying to purge all the hurtful feelings stored in their hearts.

This is why learning to express true feelings is so important.  (I will write more about this in another blog.)

Here are some ways you can protect your daughter (or son, as more and more boys are developing eating disorders) from eating disorders:

  • Avoid talking about dieting, fat, or your fanny.  Whenever you do this, your daughter is getting the message that her value rests on how thin she is
  • Discourage dieting, as it usually leads to a lifelong obsession with black-and-white thinking in regards to food
  • Discourage your daughter from looking at beauty and fashion magazines.  Research shows this leads to depression
  • Stop praising girls for their beauty.  Instead, focus on their other strengths and accomplishments, When we praise girls for their appearance, we reinforce the cultural tsunami of lies that drown girls in feelings that they are only valued for their appearance.
  • Be aware that certain activities such as ballet, modeling, gymnastics, and wrestling often emphasize thinness, which puts your child more at risk for developing an eating disorder
  • Encourage your child find out which physical activities he or she enjoys, so they can have fun while getting exercise
  • Promote a healthy lifestyle.  Research shows that kids tend to pick up their parents’ lifestyle habits, whether they are smoking, exercising, obsessing about dieting, or eating lots of sweets.  Work toward moderation so that they don’t feel deprived, yet get the benefits of a well-rounded eating pattern

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Of course there are no guarantees, but these suggestions will help your child to feel good about himself or herself, appreciating the unique characteristics that God has given them.   Also keep in mind that many more boys and men are now falling prey to eating disorders.

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© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This article is taken from a newsletter on my web site:  www.notjustsymptoms.com.  Click on Newsletters on the right side of the home page.

Body Image Stories: My Body Image Story, Part I: Moving to Maui

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My Body Image Story, Part I

Well, I knew this day would come.  Those of you who have never seen me are dying to know what I look like, with questions such as, “Is she tall?  Is she short?  Is she big?  Is she small?”  Of course by now you may have seen a headshot on my web site.  (Okay, I’ll admit it – the picture is about four years old.  Since then I got glasses, but they are so cute.   Thanks, Costco! )  On a very good day, if I stretch out my neck and think “tall,” I am 5’3.”  I’m praying that big hair and platform shoes come back because I’m 5’7” or 5’8” with those!  I have a muscular, full-figured type of body so some people still think of me as petite, even when I am carrying extra weight.  I am fairly solid because I have been exercising regularly for forty plus years.

I swam competitively for years, and love to kayak and hike, although my SLE lupus (an auto-immune disease which can affect any organ) and ankylosing spondylitis (a chronic form of arthritis) sometimes make me tired.  I’ve been from a size 6 to a 12 or 14, so obviously struggle with body image myself.    Who doesn’t?  In our culture, we see 250,000 advertisements before the age of 17.  Most of the images say, “To be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is everything.”  So we all have been deeply impacted.   Fannies (the blog and the book, when it comes out) is an antidote to the tsunami of negative messages that shoot through our hearts every day.  (And by the way, you may want to do yourself a favor and recycle your fashion and beauty magazines.  Research shows that after you look at them, you feel more depressed.  Maybe we should have a big magazine recycling party!)

Before I tell you my story of wrestling with the Body Image Bandit, I would like to say that I don’t have all the answers, and I am not an eating disorders specialist.  But I have learned a lifetime of information about body image through helping women and men work process their own stories.    If you get anything out of my Fannies blog, I hope you grasp that body image issues are about the heart.  If you struggle with an eating disorder – including binge eating disorder – it is really about your life story.  Obviously calories are calories, and fat grams are fat grams, but why do we binge, purge, diet, over-exercise, and beat ourselves up because of figure flaws?  Because of our stories and because of living in a culture which teaches us that if we are not concentration camp thin, we are ugly.  In many ways, we have been brainwashed.

And so I bring you my own story, which is an unusual story about how my heart broke in a place that is often called Paradise.  In some ways I grew up everywhere, because my family moved so often.  But when I was in sixth grade my family moved from Fall City, WA to Kihei, Maui, Hawaii. Fall City was a small logging town back in the day, years before the richest man in the world opened up Microsoft down the road.  My dad supervised the updating of the sewer system in Kihei.  So whenever you vacation in Kihei, you can thank my dad each time you flush!

I could not wait to move to Maui!  My class threw a going-away party for me and collected $27.55 for me to buy a surfboard when I got there.  They had wrapped the cash in this tiny little box, which they had placed in several consecutively larger boxes.  The final box was about five feet by three feet, wrapped in sunny yellow paper.  I felt very loved, and my heart smiled.  And in the seventies, $27.55 was a lot of money for kids whose fathers logged for a living. Shortly after arriving on Maui, I wrote a thank you note directly on a coconut with a Sharpie marker, and mailed it back (without a box) to my teacher, Mr. Wright.

The first day of school on that rainy Monday in Kihei, I couldn’t wait to meet all my new friends.  At the time I had a vivacious, bubbly personality and had been on student council and had other leadership positions.  But that all changed when I first set foot in Kihei School. I watched whales breaching across the street in the Pacific as I walked to my first class, and could not believe I was living in Paradise.  I knew the sun would always shine on my back, and that life would be perfect.  Or so I thought.  What I didn’t know was that I had just entered a shark zone, but it was inside Kihei School and not in the deep blue Pacific.

I walked through the door of my first class and everyone stared.  It was as though an alien had landed in the classroom.  Silence reverberated off the walls.  Everyone was playing cards.  I noticed I was the only white person in the room, but I was thrilled to learn about new cultures and make friends.  I pictured myself surfing with my new friends and hanging out on the beach between catching waves.  Dad had told me that there were only about 400 true Hawaiians still living, so I knew that most of the people would not be Hawaiian, but various Polynesian people.

After what seemed like twenty years later, the bell rang.  I walked out, and a gang of girls approached me.  “Get da hell offa dis island, haole.  Go back to da mainland whea you belong,”  the leader said.  (Translation:  Get the hell off of this island, white girl.  Go back to the Mainland where you belong.) This was my first encounter with Pidgin English, and I had not realized that the language was so much different.  The base of Pidgin is English, but many words from various other languages are mixed in.  In the midst of dealing with a horrendous level of discrimination, I had to navigate myself through a new language because they had many different words and phrases.  When Gwen and her pack cornered me on the playground that day, I started to think it was going to be a long two years.  A cloud of fear and confusion grew within me, and began to take root in my heart.  I was used to being popular and making friends easily.  So what was the big deal?  I just didn’t get it.  After all, we were all people, but just wore different colors of skin.

Day after day, week after week I was told I was worthless and shameful because of my white skin.  I felt like an apple in a pile of papayas.  They threw rocks at me, called me names, spit on me, and despised me before I even uttered a sound.  All because I was white.    One day, a native girl handed me a new, unsharpened white pencil.  She said, “Hea.  Take dis.  It’s white like your &*#%  haole face.”  (Translation:  Here.  Take this.  It’s white like your %^&* white face.)  The pencil dropped to the old wooden floor of the beat-up classroom, and my heart dropped to another level on the elevator of despair.   It felt like it was bleeding.  I began to wonder how long I could take the pain, the loneliness, and the fact that almost everyone hated me because of my white skin.  On the weekends all of the workers’ families hung out at the beach together, and we all had similar experiences at different schools in the area because we had all come from Washington state.  A friend of mine who survived an even worse fate has a blog you may want to check out:  http://bowlingjoe.blogspot.com/

The depression became unbearable.  I despised my white skin, and wanted to have beautiful brown skin and dark hair.  But each day I swam, surfed,  or played tennis after school, and the tropical Hawaiian sun kissed my hair again and again until it turned white-blonde.  My skin was a beautiful bronze, but I still paid the price for my light blonde hair and blue eyes.  If I would have been even a little darker complected, it wouldn’t have been quite as bad.  I could have looked half Polynesian and blended in.  But with the blue eyes and white-blonde hair,  I just didn’t fit in.  I cried myself to sleep many nights.  Sleep was my drug of choice.

One morning I noticed almost everyone wearing white bands on their upper arms.  I didn’t know until it was too late that it was Kill Haole Day.   They would be “choosing” one of the handful of white kids that attended the K-8 school to beat up.  That was it.   I needed to move back, so I told mom and dad that I had to move back to Washington, or go to a Catholic school where most people were not prejudiced.   If not, I would drop out of school, although I was a great student.  I knew that would never fly with my parents.  The problem was that we didn’t have the money, as St. Anthony’s was very expensive.  I had heard from kids on the swim team that the student at St. Anthony’s actually treated people based on their personalities and not their skin color.  Finally my parents agreed to enroll my sister and I in St. Anthony’s.  They weren’t excited about it because of the expense and the fact that we were not Catholic.  (We weren’t anything, as far as religion was concerned.) But I am thankful that they decided to let me attend St. Anthony’s because the truth is that I had a date picked out.  If mom and dad did not let me return to the Mainland or go to St. Anthony’s, I had planned to end my life by a certain date.  (And thankfully, I was not “chosen” on Kill Haole Day.  But someone else was.)

Years later, I am awed by the fact that God used my Maui experience in so many ways.  Several years ago, I did an internship at Union Gospel Mission Women and Family Shelter in Seattle.  I had the honor of working with many women of color, and sometimes they came in for counseling with stories involving race.  They would sigh and tell me I would not understand because I just didn’t know what it was like.  And I would say, “I have never experienced your story, but let me tell you a bit about my story.”  Their eyes got big, and they looked confused.  How could a blonde, blue-eyed, pale woman know anything about being a minority, they wondered.  Once I told them about moving to Maui, we began to enter into their stories with truth and grace.

After getting my teaching degree, I taught public school in several places in which most of the population consisted of Mexican Americans.  One time I asked the students to write about three things they would like to change about themselves.  I cried after school as I read the papers and many had written,” I would like to be white.”  So of course I shared about my years on Maui, and continued to tell them that they were beautiful just as they were.  One time a girl was going to buy blue contacts, and I was able to convince her that her brown eyes were beautiful and encouraged her to embrace her heritage.  Now I understand how it is that God can create beauty from ashes.  I have lived it.

I imagine this is not what you were expecting on a blog about body image.  After all, what does skin color have to do with body image?  And my response is “everything,”  I understand through and through what it is like to live in a body in which you are immensely uncomfortable.  Although I am sorry if I disappointed you, stay tuned as I reveal my deepest moments of struggle as I fought (and still fight) the Body Image Bandit.  I will also address eating disorders,  weight issues, whether or not there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, and how to get off of  the sick cycle of bingeing, dieting, over-exercising, and/or purging.  More importantly, I will offer a set of tools you can use to fight the Body Image Bandit and win.  And above all else – how to be comfortable in your own skin, embracing the body God gave you.   Although I must admit – to fight the Bandit is to enter into the zone of struggling with your own story, because body image and food issues are more about the heart than they are about food.  And please feel free to tell of your own struggle with the Body Image Bandit.  After all, we’re all in this together.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28