Loving my daughter’s body is teaching me to love my body
Long before I had kids, I worried about the impact my eating disorder would have on them. Anorexia is a disease of greed. She has a way of taking charge. She wants to be the organizing principle of your life and the lens through which you view the world. Anorexia had to say something about my children—what should I feed them (in or out of the womb), how I think of them—seemed inescapable.
I was diagnosed when I was 14 years old. I think of that time in my life as a pendulum lifting that, when it fell, sent me swinging back and forth for years to come. It never quite settled in the middle, but now, I think any outside observer would have a hard time seeing that I sway at all. You’ve come a long way.
My relationship with food has evolved slowly and arduously over the years, but it has never been the same. Not that I have a superfood diet per se; I really dont know. Breaking away from the whole project of observing or restricting the food I eat is the only way I’ve been able to break free from the more extreme patterns of disordered eating. My progression took shape for me two years ago when, while rummaging through the pantry, I found a forgotten package of shortbread I had received in a care package a few months earlier. This kind of indifference to food—the ability to forget about it—represents a triumph that a younger, sicker version of myself would never have expected.
My relationship with my body is a bit more complicated. I wouldn’t say I learned to love her so much because I trained myself not to think about it. Instead of arguing with my inevitable voice of negativity any time I linger a little too long in front of a mirror, I simply direct my attention elsewhere. I dress my body in ways that help me forget what it looks like to others. I avoid looking at it too much or too closely. So I worried about any child – and in particular any child girl—I was brought into this world, certain that my unresolved hatred of my body would find a new purpose, and instigated by the kind of body shame I had spent the better part of my life working to overcome.
I didn’t exactly think I’d be giving my kids anorexia. That’s not really how it works. As with other psychiatric conditions, people who develop anorexia tend to have a genetic predisposition that can be triggered by their environment. Parents can certainly shape a child’s attitude toward food and body image – how they talk about their bodies, and whether they will consider dieting. They can affect an eating disorder, but it’s not correct to say they can cause a disorder, said Michael Ennenbach, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute who has worked in an inpatient eating disorder unit at UCLA for 12 years. I said.
It would be more accurate to say that I am worried about my children becoming collateral damage in my eating disorder. There, my fears were not at all unfounded. Stephanie Zerwas, a psychologist and clinical director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, tells me that the impact of a parent’s eating disorder on their child isn’t clear. For mothers with an eating disorder, pregnancy can be very challenging. Having an active eating disorder during pregnancy appears to pose risks to the health and development of the baby. Even after giving birth, it can make the task of parenthood more difficult. “It really takes control of your life,” said Ennenbach. But parenting doesn’t always motivate someone with a history of eating disorders: In fact, sometimes parents find their children’s uncomplicated relationship with food inspiring, Zerwas says. And experience with eating disorders makes one well suited to spotting red flags in their children. “They’re able to pick up on those early signals and signals and intervene early,” Zarwas said. In other words, it can be done in many different ways.
Still, the prospect of my relationship with my child becoming part of the massive social machine of body scrutiny that makes our culture such a breeding ground for disordered eating was more than I could bear. I thought maybe it would be better for someone like me not to have a daughter at all. So when I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I hoped I’d have a boy.
Months later, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. It didn’t take long for the panic to set in: I was annoyed by the casual remarks—”Those thighs!” – made by people about her tiny body. I still worry that my sensitivity to such comments might inadvertently give her more value than she deserves. I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop her from internalizing harmful thoughts about her appearance. The truth is, I don’t think it’s possible for me to know with any certainty how a history of anorexia might or might not affect my daughter. I will leave it to her to make that judgment. But the idea that she—and then her younger sister—could become an object of loathing to me as I once feared now seems ludicrous. Which is great because, with each passing day, the little girl I fell in love with looks more and more like me.
It didn’t start out that way. When she first arrived, I remember feeling kind of relieved when I couldn’t discern anything for myself in her petite personality. But that soon changed. A week or two after she was born, when I put her on the changing table and removed her diaper, I noticed the remnants of her umbilical cord falling out. I didn’t think belly buttons were the thing that could be passed from mother to daughter, yet there was my oddly symmetrical belly button, which looked like the top view of a pumpkin, staring back at me.
The uncomfortable recognition I felt as I stood at that changing table became a feature of my life as a mother. To everyone else, I imagine she looked just like every other tiny little kid awkwardly growing into her body. But I could see—and a quick glance at old family videos and photos made sure—that her body was regulating itself the same way it was regulating her own. the limbs are oblique and intertwined at the same angles; Flesh and muscle settled into the same pockets and proportions. The similarity became more striking as time went on. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking in a way to see the body you’ve spent so long trying to obliterate emerge in another human being and discover so much beauty in it. She is still only in elementary school, but so far there is no angle that allows me to escape from my thoughts. And there is no corner that escapes my love.
Zerwas wasn’t surprised to hear any of this. In her clinical work, she encourages people who experience body shame to “imagine their bodies in a place of compassion” as a means of shifting their perspective—to see themselves as a whole, as more than just a collection of body parts. Parenting, she said, may benefit from a “wellspring” of such empathy.
It’s hard to talk about parenting for granted, but there’s just something about being a mom, I think. She has a way of taking charge, too. It’s famous for blinding those who’ve overcome it, obscuring obvious flaws and making even the most frustrating idiosyncrasies endearing. But maybe this is all wrong. Perhaps it allows you to see the person more clearly. I am grateful to my daughter for letting me see myself through my mother’s eyes. in his book The four luvC.S. Lewis wrote that unlike the bond between lovers or friends, who often feel made for one another, the love of a parent for a child is such that it can reconcile even the least compatible. mother and daughter. mother and herself.