I’ve been thinking about offering Beyond Chocolate sessions in secondary schools. I feel angry and terribly sad to see so many lovely young women (these days from 10 upwards it seems… or even younger) who are critical of the size of their bodies, who talk about calories and what they should or shouldn't eat… My daughter who is almost 12 and started secondary school this year often comes home with tales of this friend who is anorexic, that one who hates how she looks, the other who is on a diet or isn’t allowed chocolate or sweets because her mother has said she needs to be careful, of how they count calories one minute and then pig out on sweets and chocolates the next.
Having worked with hundreds and hundreds of women who tell me how their dieting misery started when they were children, I know where these girls are headed and what they will be dealing with when they grow up. I despair that nothing has changed since I was that young girl, or maybe it's become even worse - mother's botoxing their daughters was unheard of in the 80's! What I’ve seen over the years is that when we step on to the diet treadmill aged...8, 9 10, 12... we’re there for life and we are far more likely to be overweight and miserable by the time we reach our early thirties than happy and relaxed about the way we look and eat! The diets create the problem. I wonder, if you were one of those young girls who went on a diet before you even reached your teens... what do you see when you look back at photos of yourself? In so many cases I wonder if you look back and think "I looked ok, maybe a little bit of 'puppy fat' but certainly no more than that". And even those of you who look back and do think you were overweight, did going on a diet back then solve all the problems or are you still yoyoing 30, 40 or even 50 years on? Sadly putting girls on diets doesn't help them manage their relationship with food and stabilise their body weight - it causes the problems we see on our workshops day in day out.
Telling growing young women to watch what they eat, putting them on diets, supporting their expectations that they should all look like the slimmest girl in the class is guaranteed to start a lifetime of misery. As they strive to look right; long slim legs - perfect for leggings, flat tummies, smallish (but not too small) breasts, slender arms, long straight hair... they are trying to fit into a mould rather than celebrating who they are and where they come from. I’d love these girls to look at pictures of their mothers and grand mothers and great grandmothers… what did they look like? What ‘stock’ do they come from? Women come in all shapes and sizes, not just the long lanky shape. There’s nothing wrong with being slim, with having slender thighs and a taught flat tummy, it’s just that not every girl has the potential to look like that, unless they starve themselves… and even then… And the fact that the long slim look is the 'in' one at the moment is just about fashion and trends. In the 20th (and so far the 21st) century the particular image of beauty we are sold has little do do with what is actually beautiful. After all there is no objective, 'definition' of beauty. Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, colours... in many different guises. It's tragic that the media seem hell bent (except for a precious few) on presenting just one embodiment of beauty.
I’d like to talk to school girls about what is really beautiful. I'd like to get them thinking about how they feel about their bodies and why they feel the way they do. I'd like to introduce them to the idea that feeling good about themselves starts with valuing who they are, beyond how they look - that kind of beauty radiates outwards. I want to talk to them about what food means to them, why they choose to eat when they do and how they choose what to eat. I’d like to empower them, to give them tools and the confidence to make choices that feel good to them and to celebrate the diversity of shapes and sizes among them rather than condemning them to a lifetime of counting calories, depriving themselves and hating their bodies.
It’s time to offer these young women something more positive, intelligent and useful than their mothers were given. I’m working on it!