I remember the moment I found out I was having a daughter. My mind went to a million places: how am I going to raise a girl, how am I going to keep the boys away, how am I going to afford her? Most of all, I knew she would have to deal with a culture that put way too much emphasis on outward appearance. I knew the statistics; I knew the biology, pathology, psychology, and social factors that would be competing for her attention. How would I make sure she knew she was beautiful? I needed to reinforce that she is beautiful regardless of the way she looks. But instill that she is gorgeous because of the brain she reasons with, because of the eyes that will direct her to see opportunity in a broken world, because she has a mouth/voice that will allow her to lead, because she has a huge heart she loves with, because she will use her arms and legs to make a difference in this world helping her fellow man. I will reinforce she is beautiful because she is my daughter and I love her.
I say all that to say this… let’s not fool ourselves… the way people talk about the way they and others look are NEGATIVELY impacting the world around us. Many new reports are outlining the alarming rise of eating disorders on college campuses around the United States. The US in not unique in this rise of eating disorders and negative body image.
There is a multi billion-dollar industry selling a product that promises weight loss and answered dreams. All it takes to be happy is lose the weight and look like the smiling models on TV, on magazine covers, in the movies. An industry that sells – you are a failure if the number on a scale does not decrease – a smaller number is the carrot dangled in front of our faces.
On the other end is the medical community focusing on weight to sell health. Instead of educating their patients in healthy lifestyles and coming along side of them to make holistic changes, patients are told to lose 10lbs.
One side sells – skinny is better and will make you happy, and the other side sells skinny is better and it will make you healthy. Both miss the mark. Both focus on weight. Both are damaging their clients.
Both are preaching that the numbers on the scale are more important than who is standing on the scale.
In the opening of this blog I talked about my daughter. I have a son, also. I purposefully did not mention him in the opening paragraph. Why? There is a notion that eating disorders and negative body image affect females only. There is growing research and awareness that males, too, face the pressures that females face. But, all to often boys/men are left out of the discussion. I raise my son the same way I raise my daughter when it comes to his self-image. It is not about how much muscle he will have, or how good he will be at sports; I am much more interested in the man he will be to women and his fellow man. Is he building them up? Is he extending a hand? Is he ACTIVELY looking to make a positive difference in this world? I want him to know that I love him and the way he looks doesn’t change anything. In return, I want him to look at others with love regardless of the way they look.
I want to end this post on a personal note. If you have followed my blog you know that I do not minimize personal stories. Personal stories are what make us strong and allow us to help others.
My wife’s eating disorder is firmly documented on my blog. But, my wife and what she has gone through have made me a man and a physician that I would never have become without her. She allowed my eyes to see the hurt, damage, and missed opportunities that our culture possesses. She allowed me the ability to go through medical school and have empathy for those that are marginalized and stigmatized. She allowed me to see the error of “fat talk,” and yo-yo diets, the damage of scales, and the danger of talking negatively about the person in front of the mirror. But, most of all she gave me the ability to be a male voice that is eager to speak up about one of the biggest shortcomings of the human race. The enormity of that sentence is not lost on me. I truly believe the damage humans do to each other with their words is not insignificant, but extraordinary.
My wife has given me the ability to reach out to my patients, to write blog posts to people, to be an influential voice to my family and friends, but most of all, she has allowed me to be the husband and father that I always desired.
She has allowed me to shout from the mountaintops that YOU are BEAUTIFUL in spite of your negative self-talk. YOU are BEAUTIFUL despite the number on the scale. YOU are BEAUTIFUL despite the amount of weight your physician has told you to lose. YOU are BEAUTIFUL despite what culture plasters on TV, in movies, on magazine covers, or on the Internet. YOU are BEAUTIFUL despite your eating disorder. YOU are BEAUTIFUL because of your fight for recovery. YOU are BEAUTIFUL because it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, but that you keep fighting. YOU are BEAUTIFUL because you don’t give up. YOU are BEAUTIFUL because you were made to tell your story.