This is heavy stuff Monkees. It’s also long.
When I suggested this as a topic to Glennon I was really nervous. If I’m going to be completely honest, I’m still nervous as I’m writing this. I know this is something our fearless leader struggled with for decades and that it is a sensitive topic for many women, so it is with much love and great fear and trepidation that I talk to you now.
I’m going to talk about food and our often bizarre, abusive, and unhealthy relationship with it. And how not only what we say, but also what we do, impacts our daughters and the other young women we coach, mentor, and love. More than anything with this post I don’t want to upset, offend, or trivialize anyone’s problems or suggest that redefining our relationships with food or body image will be easy.
But I believe it’s important to talk about and, even though it’s not easy, I know that we’re Monkees and we can do hard things. And knowing that gives me the courage to write this.
So here we go.
The first time I remember thinking I was fat was in 7th grade. My best friend, who was built like a bean-pole, was sporting her new Jordache jeans (that’s right, I just dated myself) and I wanted a pair. Bad. After many tears and countless attempts to squeeze my more athletic build into the latest and greatest designer jeans, I blurted out to my mother that it was useless because I was fat. I don’t remember what she said to me that day – all the right things, I’m sure – but I can imagine how hearing her 13-year old criticize herself so harshly must have crushed her mommy spirit.
I remember my mom always saying the right things to me – that I was healthy and fit and smart and talented and kind and beautiful. You know, all those things that we tell our children so that they will learn to see themselves and love themselves as we do. But I also remember my mother always being on a diet. I remember hearing her complain about her weight, label certain foods as “good” or “bad” and verbally flog herself when she “cheated” on her diet or gained weight. I think that, combined with my own perfectionism and drive to excel, was enough to cultivate my own body issues and unhealthy relationship with food. Issues that lasted until quite recently.
I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that I experimented with binging, purging, and fad diets in the same way someone else might experiment with drugs: just long enough to realize it wasn’t for me. I do remember feeling that if I just lost 5 more pounds or toned this or that body part that I would be “perfect.” That I would be happy. That someone, or maybe everyone, would love me. Of course, now I see how dangerous that mentality is – the notion that happiness lies in a number on the scale or some other aspect of our outward appearance, rather than the content of our soul.
It’s only in the last year, since becoming a mother that I have completely redefined my relationship with food. This happened in part because I don’t want my daughter to inherit my obsessions and also because I have finally embraced my physical imperfections. Short of surgical intervention, there’s nothing I can do to remedy the deflated breasts and excess tummy skin that seem to remain a year after the twins’ birth, but I’m strangely okay with it. How I look is not what’s important or what defines me as a person.
So I no longer label foods as good or bad. It’s just food. It is meant to fuel my body to do the things I enjoy and give me energy to care for my babies. I eat when I’m hungry, and only very rarely now when I am stressed or sad. I don’t ever purchase or eat “diet” food because I have learned that it’s not really even food. I try to avoid processed, fake foods with ingredients I can’t pronounce knowing that if it doesn’t come from the ground or have a mother, it’s probably not good for me. And, when in doubt, I eat a banana because that’s what Monkees do.
I have found that since I no longer divide foods into good or bad categories that I enjoy food more and naturally seem to eat less of what I shouldn’t and more of what I should, perhaps because I’m interested in energizing my body rather than depriving it or harming it. I try to exercise because I enjoy it and it helps me stay balanced, but I don’t freak out if I miss a day … or a month. And here’s the irony of it all: I not only weigh less but I also obsess less than I did two years ago before I got pregnant with twins. Go figure. The real transformation, however, is that I feel emotionally lighter and generally much more relaxed.
Now my mission is to encourage my loved ones exercise more and eat well so they can feel better and be healthier. So I pester my parents. A lot. I’m like a broken record. Nag. Nag. Nag. My mom has become my favorite pet-project because I love her and have watched her struggle with her weight my whole life. And, also because the twins are a LOT of work and I need her help.
The other night I was trying to convince her that most of what she’s learned over the years with regard to dieting is wrong and that she needs to focus on the quality of the food she is eating. Nourishing her body with nutritious food rather than depriving it or polluting it with unnatural ingredients. She told me that she’s always been on a diet because she has always struggled with her weight, and I reminded her that she wasn’t always overweight. I’ve seen pictures – the woman was, and is, beautiful. Then, with big tears in her eyes, she said that her mother always told her she was heavy. It breaks my heart to think that my sweet, generous, compassionate, and kind mother has carried that with her all these years.
The entire time my mom was telling me this I kept hearing the words that a very wise friend told me when the twins were newborns: “whatever you tell your children about themselves, they will believe.” Think about that. Think about the power we have to shape the way our children, especially our girls, view themselves and their self-worth. Powerful stuff.
I’m suddenly acutely aware of how important it is for us to set an example for our girls. They should not have to listen to us condemning our own bodies or see us abusing them via extreme exercise or radical, unhealthy diets. After seeing how hurtful my grand-mother’s words were to my mother I know we need to be extra careful with what we say too because they are listening and they will believe what we say about them.
But I digress. The real reason for writing this was not to talk about myself but rather to figure out how we avoid making the same mistakes with our daughters. How do we, amidst the constant bombardment of air-brushed “beauty” advertisements, ensure that they will value their bodies and develop a healthy relationship with exercise and food?
Where does this leave us? I’m not sure exactly. But I imagine the first step is to forgive the mother, coach, mentor, friend, stranger, or self who made us feel a certain way about ourselves. Because I believe they were doing the best they could at the time, even if we were a little hurt by their actions or words. Then, we need to seize control and take ownership of our issues and decide what to do about it.
So let’s decide to focus on our achievements, attributes, and talents rather than what we perceive to be our shortcomings. Let’s remind our sisters, friends, mothers, and daughters what makes them special and important and unique so they never doubt themselves. Let’s eat and exercise to be healthy and strong and to set a good example. And let’s remember that God made us all in different shapes and sizes for a reason and we are all beautiful and that the world would be a very, very boring place if we all looked like a Barbie doll. Let’s remind each other that food is simply fuel and its purpose is to nourish and fuel our bodies. But mostly, let’s make sure we don’t pass our body image and food issues down to our daughters. This is one burden they don’t have to carry.
Who’s with me?
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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