I’ll never forget when my father made that statement when he heard the ‘swish-swish’ of my mother coming down the stairs for church one early Sunday morning. I’m sure in my mother’s mind, she was doing very well as far as being prone to genetic obesity, depression and severe anxiety. All of those things combine together often. Either over- or under-eating can be coping skills for depression and anxiety. Why do I remember that so well? Because it came from my father, in my very early days of learning, I couldn't forget those words if I wanted to, (and I wanted to).
“Okay,” I thought to myself. “Thin is better than what my mother is or at least thinner than her. Got it.” But, what was it about the whole idea of his disdain for women in general? That’s what it seemed like to me at that age of about eight or nine.
I began to realize if I was going to make it in this world, there was certain criteria I must adhere to. Being physically pleasing must be number one to the male population. “Okay, got that one, too.”
From that point on, I began to really listen to the things Dad was saying about women in general and it didn’t seem as though there was anything that a woman could do that he would like.
At church that Sunday morning, we were sitting in the same pew where we always sat in our very small Catholic church that had been completed and blessed as our small village, town and district place of worship, if you were Catholic. So, at least, we could agree that there was something redeeming about these women if they were Catholic. Whew, I made the grade on that one.
Now, for the way they walked, talked, dressed, sat either still or fidgeted, smiled, frowned, noticed or didn’t notice him, all came out on the one-mile ride home after the mass. Mom would chime in and agree that all of the other women were far less superior to her.
What a way to learn how to be female in the mid-1960’s and, unfortunately, for every female, those are the years (about 12- 16 or so) that the outside matters more, far more, than the worth and value we struggle to find on our insides.
This, my friends, is where eating disorders begin. Women watch what and how their mother’s eat. They listen to what the fathers think about females, especially how they look and for how long. He would be sure to point out that most of the women he went to high school with let go of themselves quickly. Many of those women were sitting in the pews in front of us. That, to my parents, was a very vain thing to do. As if they were showing off by going farther up the church aisle than we were sitting. Just obnoxious and grand standing.
How are we continuing this horrible cycle to this day? There is not much that has changed in this area, at all. Anorexia and Bulimia dominate the parts of addictive behavior that are fatal. In fact, working with ED (eating disorder) clients is some of the most difficult work of all. This is where denial, blaming and secrecy rule. Especially secrecy.
How many of our female population in the United States do we think have an ED? According to the National Eating Disorder Association:
“A review of nearly fifty years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder (Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, & Nielsen, 2011).
For females between fifteen to twenty-four years old who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death.” (Sullivan, 1995).
According to ANAD, another non-profit association geared toward Anorexia states that:
· At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.
· Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder.3
· Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.4
· 13% of women over 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors.5
· In a large national study of college students, 3.5% sexual minority women and 2.1% of sexual minority men reported having an eating disorder.6
· 16% of transgender college students reported having an eating disorder.6
· In a study following active duty military personnel over time, 5.5% of women and 4% of men had an eating disorder at the beginning of the study, and within just a few years of continued service, 3.3% more women and 2.6% more men developed an eating disorder.7
· Eating disorders affect all races and ethnic groups.8
· Genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits all combine to create risk for an eating disorder.9
When our children are very young, like sponges, they soak up the things we say. Let’s rather share what we think is awesome about one another and cut back on what we think is wrong.
Let’s talk about it.
Debra Whittam is the author of “I'm I Going to be Ok?" For any media inquiries or questions please contact: Contact@DebraWhittam.com