Do Family Dynamics Shape Our Body Image?
By Rachel Taylor--The dynamics of a family are never set in stone. They change over time and with the world. But, in my family, one thing that never seems to change is our attitudes towards our bodies and how that impacts interactions between the various generations. Even after I received treatment for an eating disorder, my family members views and attitudes towards their bodies have changed very little.
Trigger warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior.
My family has tried extremely hard to change for my benefit, but that is easier said than done. I just hope it does eventually change, for the sake of my future children.
Growing up, the women in my family were always obsessed with their weight and how their bodies looked. Although I was an average-sized child, that didn’t stop me from picking up on the things that my grandmother, aunt and mom did. All of these women dieted throughout my entire childhood. They made comments that held little meaning to them but were world-shaking to me. They were so obsessed with their bodies and the negative views they had of them that I don’t think they realized how much their words and actions were affecting me.
I was nine when my weight became a “problem.” I remember being taken to my pediatrician to talk about my weight. He recommended that my mother have me eat plain, air-popped popcorn if I was still hungry after I ate dinner. I can also recall meeting with a nutritionist and trying diet pills when I was only twelve. When I was still in grade school my grandma even offered to pay me if I lost weight. All of these things were approved by my family because the world was telling them that I was too big. They loved me so much that they wanted what was best for me, and being thin was what they believed was best.
My grandma would try diet after diet to lose weight, and I would watch her with fascination. I observed her precisely measuring out her food as if it were pure magic. My aunt would fast all day and drink all night while she, my sisters, my cousin and I would swim in the pool in my backyard. “I’ve eaten nothing today so I could drink all night!” she would sing as she dove into the pool drunk. And my mom eventually had gastric bypass surgery to solve her weight “problem.”
All these things that happened while I was growing up greatly affected my self-confidence and the development of my eating disorder. I would survive on these memories as I struggled to lose weight. When I was fourteen I began restricting. My aunt had recently lost a lot of weight by doing the same and I was determined to follow in her footsteps. At first it worked; I lost a decent amount of weight and my friends and family praised me, telling me how amazing I looked. But then, people decided I was taking the diet thing too seriously.
Often in the summer my aunt would take my cousin, my sisters and me to the local ice cream shop after dinner. While everyone else would order whatever they liked, I would skip the ice cream, going simply for the joy of the adventure and time with my family. “Live a little!” my aunt would shout throughout the shop as I sat empty-handed in the booth next to my (much-smaller) twin sister, even though I had just quietly reminded her that I was on a diet. While my aunt didn’t start my deadly bingeing behaviors, she definitely excused them or even encouraged them, especially on holidays.
By the time I was sixteen I was doomed. Surrounded by my family’s triggering ways I felt little hope that I would ever be thin, but I kept trying. If the women in my family weren’t happy with their not-thin bodies, then how could they be happy with mine?
I don’t blame the women in my family for my eating disorder. They can’t help but believe what society has drilled into our minds about how our bodies should look. Sometimes it feels as if they will never truly accept me until I’m skinny, but I know that’s just the eating disorder voice in my ear trying its best to make me relapse. But now I realize that they love me and that they could never stop loving me no matter what my weight is.
Yes, my family’s dynamics around food and body image have affected the development of my eating disorder, but that didn’t stop me from recovering. Was it perhaps a bit harder to overcome my eating disorder because of my family? Maybe. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It just shows that anything is possible if you want it badly enough, and I’ve never wanted anything more than recovery.
For recovery resources and treatment options, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 800-931-2237.
About the blogger: Rachel Taylor is from Tacoma, a city not far off from Seattle, Washington. She is attending college for her degree in creative writing. Her goal is to be a writer and public speaker and to break the stigmas with eating disorders, mental illness and fat acceptance. You can follow her blog.