The Heart of the Matter, by Deborah Grimm

She leaned in eyes wild and body tense. “Tell me,” she said, her halting words revealing the desperation within. “Tell me what I need to do to prevent my child from having an eating disorder?”

Having met with so many mothers this was not an unfamiliar question. I sighed, for I knew how badly she wanted the “golden nugget” that was at the heart of the matter. Those magic words that would save her child from a life threatening experience.

She wanted to be a knowledgeable mother.
She wanted to be an informed mother.
She wanted to be any mother, other than me.

My daughter, despite my best efforts, had found herself lost in the grip of an eating disorder so, oddly, that made me an expert in how NOT to create one.

“Well,” I began and she sat straighter in her chair, “the first things to know would be the facts.”

“The facts. Yes,” she replied, scribbling notes on a mental note pad.

“The tell tale signs of skipped meals, oversized clothes, anxious outbreaks and isolated afternoons.
Of sunken cheeks and glazed over eyes.
The fact that there is a genetic predisposition.” At this she flinched much as I knew she would.

And then the truth came next.

“I don’t know exactly how to prevent an eating disorder but I have some ideas. You ready?”

She nodded yes.

“An eating disorder is not a choice, but rather a coping mechanism that seeks to manage a hideous inner dialogue with a fella named Ed. A dialogue that promises wonders, but delivers only broken dreams and heartache.

It is a mental illness. It is not a whim or a phase ones goes through. It is most definitely not just an attempt to get attention.

And prevention? Well I have big ideas on that.

To me it means that, as a culture, we would need to create a dialogue of understanding. To tease out the truth from the fiction and fear about one another. To raise our young men to bear witness to beauty that comes from within and young women to know that they are perfectly imperfect, just like the rest of the human race. That magazines are just magazines and the players in them, well, they have been played because in reality they are meant to be background to the clothing rather than the main event. We need to ask who you are rather than what. To hold the space for hurt and sadness and joy for each other and to learn how to sit in the emotion of all of it.”

I watched as she absorbed what I had said, coming to terms that there wasn’t an easy solution.

“And that ~ that’s what might help us get to the heart of the matter.”

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