Body İmage, Eating Disorders

Body İmage, Eating Disorders

We Learn A Lot From Our Moms — Including How to Hate Our Bodies

It's not necessarily their fault. We're all doing our best.

8/2/2021 7:05:00 PM

“There’s such a cycle of shame, and we're living proof that it's really hard to break.'

It's not necessarily their fault. We're all doing our best.

of the ’90s.These women then inadvertently passed their toxic habits down to their daughters. But their Gen Z and millennial daughters, like me, born into a growing revolution of body positivity — or, more recently,body neutrality— and self-acceptance, have come to recognize their mothers’ behavior as problematic.

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“For women who have a history of dieting — even when they try really hard — I think they do sometimes pass on those destructive ideas about how you’re supposed to eat, how you think about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, what it means to be thin,” Contois said. “There’s lots of pressure on moms to figure out how to do that right.”

Annie*, a 22-year-old public relations professional, attributes her issues with food to her Gen X mom.“My mom has always struggled with herweight, and my grandma was a food pusher, and so she wanted to be the opposite of that for us,” Annie said. “I think [my mom] started weighing me in maybe fourth grade.… That really started me down the path of being obsessed with my weight and having body dysmorphia.”

April, a 25-year-old woman in Pennsylvania, grew up watching the women in her life harbor unhealthy relationships with food. In high school, she began taking diet pills and skipping meals. She later developed bingeeating disorder.But in their best efforts to prevent their daughters from experiencing the same strife they did, our moms seemed to accidentally send the wrong message.

“My mom so badly didn’t want us to struggle with the same things she did,” said April. “[During certain times in my childhood] my mom was just projecting because she wanted me to be healthy, but it was too much.”Annie and April both echo what I grew up hearing my mom tell me — that she didn’t want me to have to spend my whole life dieting like her.

But in their best efforts to prevent their daughters from experiencing the same strife they did, our moms seemed to accidentally send the wrong message.Parents are agents of socialization, said Rayanne Streeter, a professor of sociology at Maryville College.

“If your parents have a particular idea about what a body should look like, or have their own feelings about their bodies and dieting and diet culture, you would be similarly socialized,” Streeter said.Still, we can’t always fault our parents for instilling this culture, Streeter said. “They exist in the same world that we do,” she said, “and they probably have their own body trauma to deal with.”

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Many mothers want the best for their daughters, but their ideals aren’t necessarily the same as their daughters’.Meg, 57, grew up beingshamedabout her body. She was cajoled into dieting when she was very young and developed eating disorders that persisted through adulthood.

When Meg had her own daughter, Carson, who’s now 22, she knew she didn’t want to treat her like her parents had treated her. But when Carson gained weight naturally, Meg panicked and began restricting her eating, perpetuating the cycle.“I knew I was doing it, but I didn't feel like I had a lot of power over the fact,” said Meg, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist and yoga teacher. “It was just so central to how I determined my worth as a human being, and therefore her worth as a human being."

“I had this inherent opinion that being in a larger body wasbad,” said Meg’s daughter Carson. “So I spent a lot of energy and time as a kid trying to not have that.”“There’s such a cycle of shame, and we're living proof that it's really hard to break.”

As Meg went through eating disorder recovery, she spent time reflecting on how her actions had affected her daughter. “I put Carson through the wringer,” she admitted.Over the past few years, Meg and Carson have had many conversations about their relationship and diet culture. The road to self-acceptance has been hard for both.

“It’s a hard thing to unlearn,” Carson said. “It’s [hard to come to terms with] seeing your body change and being OK with it.”“There’s such a cycle of shame, and we're living proof that it's really hard to break,” Meg said.The pushback and tough conversations between mothers and daughters may be in part because of increased social awareness — within Gen Z and millennials, but also among society in general.

“We’re more conscious of [diet culture] now,” Meg said.Contois explained that Gen Z has grown up in a different environment. “There’s a lot more diversity in size and shapes and what people will wear and how they'll put their bodies on display proudly,” Contois said.

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Social media has led to a lot of the younger generations’ education. It has taught young women to learn about concepts like diet culture and examine how it’s impacted their own lives. For instance, I first saw the term “diet culture” on Twitter and learned about intuitive eating through TikTok.

“Social media has shifted the narrative about bodies and diet culture and has given younger generations a real accessible platform to talk about diet culture and push back against it,” Streeter, the sociology professor, said.Breaking the cycleThe conversations happening between mothers and daughters are important, but they’re just a beginning. Education — on what diet culture is, how it manifests, how it impacts relationships, and how to combat it — may be the key to breaking this toxic cycle.

It’s not an easy thing to do. Contois said that for women who have known only diet culture and its trappings, a change in thinking and lifestyle can feel “destabilizing.”“It’s really hard when you’ve spent decades of your life absorbing these ideas to just throw them away,” Contois said.

But the$71 billion diet industryprobably isn’t going away soon. “There's too much invested in that,” Meg said.But Meg — and others — are hopeful. Change is evidently coming, and the more we talk about diet culture, the more power we have to escape it.

I’ve moved out of the house I grew up in, but when I come home to visit, it’s difficult to not fall back into old habits. It’s even harder to see my mother continue to diet and restrict herself.Last year, my mom and I sat down on the couch and had a conversation. It wasn’t easy, and we both cried. But it felt good to express how I had been feeling.

I’ve been able to educate her on diet culture and encourage her to see food without such a strict lens. Still, as Contois said, it’s hard for my mother — and other women — to change their outlook after 50-or-so years.She’s learning and growing, and so am I. Most importantly — we’re doing it together.

*Names have been changed for privacy.If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder,NEDA’s toll-free, confidential helpline (800-931-2237) is here to help: Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. NEDA's helpline volunteers offer support and basic information, locate treatment options in your area, and can help you find answers to any questions you may have.

Read more: Teen Vogue »

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