Parents, Think Before You Speak: A Few “Harmless” Comments Can Make a Large Impact
written by MEDA undergraduate intern, Kellie Marie Martin
For as long as I can remember my mom has told me that I need to be thinner, that I can’t wear specific types of clothing, that I always have to be careful about what I’m eating. I remember being in kindergarten and getting upset because my mom told me that I couldn’t wear a certain shirt because it made my stomach look too big. I don’t blame her because I know she did not do it on purpose, but my mom convinced me from a young age that I would always be “bigger” than my friends. Unfortunately, those thoughts stuck with me for a very long time.
In high school it was hard for me to not look at everyone around me and compare myself to them. Girls would talk in the locker room during gym class about how “fat” they looked when they actually were very physically healthy. This made me think that if they thought they were overweight, what did they think of me? I chose to hide in baggy clothing or oversized sweaters, but in reality, nothing seemed to make me feel more at ease with my appearance.
I remember going shopping one summer with my mom before school started up again. She let me pick out a bunch of clothes to try on, so I grabbed a ton of stuff and headed to the dressing rooms. The first shirt I tried on didn’t fit right, but I was okay with that. It was only the first and there were many more to go. But then the second didn’t fit, and the third, and the fourth. My thoughts popped back to what my mom would always tell me – that I’d never be able to wear what my friends wore and that I would always struggle to find clothes that looked good on me. Rather than accepting that the problem was with the clothing, I believed that I was the problem and that something had to be inherently wrong with me.
As I became more self-conscious about my size, I started developing some very bad habits. It seemed that the only way I could feel better as well as prove my mom wrong was to be thinner. To say the least, I ended up losing a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. At first my mom applauded me for losing weight. She told me that I looked really good and that I should be proud of myself. As the pounds began to drop farther, however, she started saying that I looked too thin. I was baffled. My whole life she had told me to be thinner because if I wasn’t I’d never be as good as anyone else, and now that I was thinner she didn’t like it.
It took me awhile to figure out what to do after that. I started looking in the mirror a lot and thinking about what I’d done to myself. Eventually I realized that the only way for me to feel better about myself was to try and forget what others thought, especially my mom. I needed to try and let go of what I’d been raised to believe about how I should look. This was no easy task, of course, and took a great deal of time.
At this point in my life, I was graduating high school and preparing to move on to college. I was so excited to start college, but I knew I wanted to be healthy at school especially since I would be living away from home. My freshman year roommate taught me that caring about what others thought was never going to make me feel better about myself. I gained back the weight that I’d previously lost and, to my surprise, I was okay with that. For one of the first times in my life, I was comfortable in my own skin.
Going away to school and meeting people with new ideas finally made me realize how much of an influence I’d allowed my mom to have on me when I was younger. I do not blame her for making me feel like I wasn’t good enough, but now that I am able to recognize the impact her words had on me growing up, I believe more parents should be made aware of how they might be influencing their children. I know my mom never intended to hurt me, but I believe that if she knew back then how to appropriately handle the issues surrounding body image and weight, I might have grown up feeling differently about myself.
Even though I never received professional help in regard to my past unhealthy eating habits, that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with receiving help. Looking back, I probably would have benefited from talking to someone, but not everyone reacts in the same ways. For some people, not getting professional help is okay, but for others it might be necessary. There is no one correct path to feeling better about yourself, just as there is no one correct way to have a body. Figuring out what works for you is important, but a little help along the way never hurts, too.