This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association. According to their website, the mission is not only to provide resources for those suffering from eating disorders, but to address all body image issues as well.
The Today show is also hosting a week to address body image, inviting viewers to contribute to conversations with #LoveYourSelfie on social media. Photos celebrating smiles without digital enhancement, or even make up, were the topic one day. Another day, women were invited to share what their mothers taught them about beauty.
While in college, I was part of PAWS, or Peers Advocating Wellness for Students. We address a whole range of issues, including substance abuse, sexual violence and cancer prevention, but body image and eating disorders were included each year as well. One memorable project I participated in was Operation Beautiful, where we wrote positive notes and posted them on bathroom mirrors all over campus, to remind students, and staff, that they are beautiful and to end negative self-talk.
Sadly, I know that people of all ages participate in this negative self-talk, and can have low self-esteem. This issue has become particularly important to me after having worked with young girls who are being affected by the language they hear both in the media and at home. During my brief time teaching elementary school, I was shocked by some of the things I heard. I heard Kindergarteners praising each other for being skinny. Kindergarteners! I had a first grader tell me that, “It’s good to eat fruit because it makes you more skinnier.” A second grader told me that her classmate called her fat; when I talked to that classmate, she told me that she was called fat. I wanted to convey to all these girls that they are beautiful, that they have so much potential, and that the comments their classmates make about their appearances should not discourage them from believing that.
However, I fall prey to negative self-talk too. I sigh when my jeans don’t fit right and I fuss over my hair. I even found flaws when going through our wedding pictures with Nick, pointing out how chubby my arms looked, etc.
I’ve been a nanny and a teacher. I’m about to nanny for another little girl, hopefully for the next few years. I would love to coach soccer or cross country. I look forward to having my own children someday. I want to be a young woman that sets a good example for other girls, whether they’re in Kindergarten or closer to my age. I want them to believe that they are special, that they should dream big, that even if they may fail at something they are not failures, that they are beautiful. I want to encourage them to value health, family, friendship, adventure and service.
So, I’m setting a goal for myself: I want to live my life this way, not just tell them about it. I want them to see me loving myself and loving others. Even if I have a positive influence on just one girl, we’ll both be the better for it.
Since I’m a huge fan of the selfie, here’s one from a few weeks ago. Do I look great? No, but I had just finished running, something that brings joy and confidence to my life, and I embrace this look. (Does Catniss look good in her cone? No, she looks goofy, but she’s a kitten so she doesn’t care.)
For another great campaign, check out Lauren Fleshman, a fellow runner and super cool gal.