the gregarious homebody

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My daughter said something tonight that scared the crap out of me. She was telling me how she coughed so hard on her way home from school that she threw up. Then she says "After I threw up I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt so empty."

Why does this scare me? Because from the time I was 19 until I was 22 years old I was actively bulimic. I'd always had to watch my weight and hadn't been truly *thin* since I was probably 4 years old. So I went on Weight Watchers and began to lose the weight pretty easily. But the weighing and measuring and writing everything down tapped into the OCD part of my personality--which, up until then, had really only manifested itself in wondering each night "did I put the cap back on the toothpaste??" until I had to get out of bed and check. Followed by "did I close the cabinet door?" You get the picture. Anyhoo, I was writing everything down, I was eating exactly how I was supposed to according to The Plan, and there was no room for error.

This is not how Weight Watchers is supposed to be followed. I don't blame them. It's how I am combined with WW that was a bad mix. So I followed it and followed it and steadily lost 4 pounds a week for maybe 3 weeks. And then I snapped. I don't know what started it. I don't remember the day. All I know is that at least once a week I began running to the bathroom in my college apartment and running the water in the sink while I made myself throw up whatever I'd eaten in a frenzy a few minutes before.

I did this for a long time. My roommates never knew. My boyfriend (the very same HH who is still around) didn't know. I was looking fantastic (not too thin like an anorexic--no one would've guessed) and I while I had a kind of hangover of shame later, immediately after I threw up I felt euphoric. Yes, euphoric. Weird, I know. But according to some studies about seratonin and bulimia, There is a definite “high,” which comes with the purging, and which has no analogue in anorexia. I felt in control. I felt light. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Now do you see why I'm scared?

When I was pregnant and after I found out I was having a daughter, I had some really serious panicky feelings about raising one. Did I have my shit together enough (because it never really ends--it's a lot like alcoholism except you need food to live) to NOT pass on this skewed way of looking at food to my little girl?

So now here we are today. And I forgot to mention that she told me all this after we'd just gotten done swimsuit shopping. Even skinny girls hate shopping for swim suits. And M had a really tough time finding a suit because, along with my dazzling personality I've also passed on my hips to her. And she was saying things in the dressing room like "It's not the suit that's bad. It's my body."

And, remember, SHE'S NINE YEARS OLD!!!!!

So, you may be wondering what I did after these statements, how I responded. Well, in both instances I stayed calm. I told her that there was nothing wrong with her, that it was just the way the bathing suit bottoms were cut. I suggested two things: a one-piece (although I love love love that she still has the confidence for a bikini) and/or a pair of board shorts from the junior section to go with a bikini top from the suit she liked and had at home but didn't fit into bottom-wise. Success!! She came home, tried everything on and modelled it so I think, for now, we dodged the bad body image bullet. For now. And I'm still trying to stay calm.

My mother said to me when M was really little "Don't make your issues hers." Good advice. Sound advice. But she didn't tell me how. I wish she was here to help me with that. But the really screwed up thing is that, if my mom were still alive, she'd probably be on a diet.

Now here's one trend that should be brought back! Right?!


Jules said...

Yeah, that would scare the crap out of me. And this is exactly why I wanted boys. I'm far too crazy to be raising females. Glad she ended up with a suit she liked--gives you more time to think how you're going to handle that bullet when it comes flying at you again.

knitfrique said...

Ahhhh yes, the dichotomy of being female--develop a positive self-image concept, but society will be supportive only if you've developed the right concept, i.e. the one that fits w/uber skinny models, big boobs, flat abs, and all the other completely atypical body expectations that others put on us but that we adopt. So, we need to handle our daughters delicately, but not too delicately b/c want them to survive in a world that can never settle on its expectations for them. Keep struggling Jen, I'm right there w/you.

Anonymous said...

Let me add to the post that the little girl in question is a glowing true beauty. Such is the perniciousness of female body image and it makes me so angry that it starts so young.

Excellent, excellent post, my friend.

jen said...

If so many of us feel this way, HOW do we change it?

Anonymous said...

Well, I think we change it by not letting this stuff go by without being challenged, loudly and long, by us. So even if they are subject to a cruel barrage of images and expectations, hear from very important people like their parents that they are beautiful, that the standards are ridiculous and unrealistic, and that words like 'skinny' or 'fat' are stupid. We are so much more aware of this stuff now, and that's got to matter.

tori said...

Thank you for this post. I was exactly like your little girl. I had a mother with the best intentions, but who did not know how to deal with what I was telling her. Sadly, I went down the bulimia road. I truly wish I'd had a mother who knew what I was going through. Sympathy is abundant with issues like this, empathy is rare. Best wishes for both of you.


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