I was walking out of the local gym this morning, and overheard someone say something that made me do a double take. There was a mother and daughter, and they were obviously arguing about something. What caught me was when the mother blatantly said “if you don’t run on the treadmills with me, you’ll stay fat.” I was astonished. First off, the girl couldn’t have been older than 14.
As I go through my memories of high school, my self-confidence at 14 wasn’t the strongest. With the pressures of peers, school, and the media, there is no need for a parent to come down harshly on this young girl, or any young child at all, for that matter. Secondly, the girl was far from “fat,” as her mother claimed her to be. She was a beautiful young girl, who appeared to be a healthy weight. Third, the look in her eyes when our eyes made contact for that brief second was heart breaking. The saddest part is that this is not the first time I’ve encountered this body-shaming phenomenon between parent and child.
Parents are meant to be our role models. They brought us into the world, and the unwritten rulebook states that they should strive to bring us up healthy, happy and ready to face the harsh world that we live in with confidence. The little comments they throw our way, whether it be “that dress looks good, but it’d look good if your tummy were a bit smaller” or something more obviously cruel, such as “you’re fat, no one will find you attractive” dissolve their self-esteem, fiber by fiber.
Think about the phrase “a face only a mother could love.” What happens when your mother starts making comments that are cruel? The child only has one thought left, that if their own mother doesn’t see their beauty, then no one will. The impact on their self-perspective is dreary to think about.
With media and technology showing these perfect bodies at younger and younger ages, the pressure is on for adolescents to get as close as physically possible to this dream look that everyone puts so much value on. When your parents put value on it, it’s something they strive for even more. We aim to please; we crave the validation and support of our parents, and when it comes down to it, when they reward us for that extra hour on the treadmill to lose that tummy pouch, it feels good! When they punish us, even verbally, for our shortcomings, it stings, like a punch to the face. Parents, its part of your role to be an advocate for healthy self-esteems and for realistic views on beauty. I beg of you to try your hardest to promote these amongst your children, or the unimaginable could happen.
Negative self esteem and value can result in diets, often time crash diets, that end poorly, either with binging and self hate, or by success that leads to more intense dieting, which waterfalls into full blown eating disorders. Eating disorders are the deadliest of all psychological disorders, and even if one is to recover, the fact of the matter is that the impact will be with them for the rest of their life.
As a recovered anorexic, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t wonder about the calorie contents, or a day where I avoid mirrors. More so, there are lasting physical marks of this disorder, which can greatly impact the quality of life of the individual. The point of this tangent is that a single negative comment, especially from someone we love and trust, such as our parents, can cannonball into a cycle of self-hate, denial and illness.
With that, I beg of you all, to be careful with the words you say to a child. Whilst obesity is indeed a condition that has quickly grown to be an epidemic, and intervention should be initiated, tact and respect must always be considered first. Secondly, if the child isn’t in danger of obesity, leave them be, for God’s sake! Perfection is unattainable. The more you press for it, the further you’ll ever get to fulfilling your definition of it.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s everywhere, if you open your eyes wide enough to see the bigger picture. We are unique, it’s what makes us human and so damn special. So next time you think about telling that gorgeous, innocent 14 year old that she needs to “hop on the treadmill or she’ll stay fat,” think again. Your words now could impact her eternally.