Monday, April 19, 2010

Body Education

I was sitting on the roof of my building with a friend, when a nine-year-old girl came up with her sitter. Her sitter wandered around and the girl approached us and began gabbing away in the hallmark style of a precocious nine-year-old girl. I forget how we arrived here, but the next thing you know, we're talking about pubic hair.

"I saw my mom naked once and she had hair down there!" she said in surprise.

"When you get older, you'll have hair down there, too," I replied.

"Ooh, that's gross. I have a little hair there now."

"It's just what happens to girls as they get older."

While I'm not sure this was the best way to handle the topic (and if the girl's mother would have even wanted me to respond), it made me consider how mothers are with their bodies and what tacit messages they send their daughters.

Truth be told, it surprised me that this girl had only seen her mother naked once. It made me think that her mother may be ashamed of her body, and that she was communicating to her daughter that a woman's body was something to be covered, not celebrated. Sure, we don't want our daughters parading naked around the block, but there's something to be said for them knowing and therefore fully accepting the female form. I can't help but wonder that if girls, from early on, witness their mothers' unabashed bodies (pubic hair and cellulite and bra-less breasts and all), they'll have fewer problems with body image later on.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Your Choice?

Are eating disorders choices? Do you choose to develop an eating disorder, or to continue to engage in your symptoms, or are eating disorders strictly diseases, without any decision involved?

I think most of us would agree that by the time someone is knee deep in her eating disorder, there isn't much choice involved. And yes, there are factors such as genetic influences, familial circumstances, and comorbidity with other psychological disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, substance abuse), all of which make eating disorders appear to be a fait accompli.

Eating disorders are diseases, right? Why would anyone choose to develop a disease? No one is questioning someone's depression or schizophrenia, and certainly not her Parkinson's or cancer.

But, for many who suffer from eating disorders, there's a moment, early on, when we make a choice--a choice to restrict, to binge, to purge, because in the moment, these behaviors seem to be the best option available to us.

Maybe it's just semantics, as this choice is made without informed consent, without recognition of what will follow. For others, even if there is an understanding of consequences, we might make the same choice, anyway, not really thinking the consequences will apply to us. Does a choice count if you don't even know you're making a choice?

When recovery is on the table, and we continue to engage in symptoms, is this a choice, or are our eating disorders speaking for us? Do you choose to hold on to an eating disorder, or does the disorder hold on to you?