What should I tell my daughter?

I’ve received a lot of interesting and good feedback from the interview I did with Jean at The Bubble Hour podcast (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2017/07/02/quitting-everything-ingrid-on-dumping-cigarettes-booze-and-diets).

Thank you to all who listened to the whole thing! It’s a long meandering story, but in the end (and I hope you got to the end), there is definitely redemption: freedom from alcohol addiction, cigarette addiction, and a laying down of arms in my lifelong battle with the world’s fat phobia (and my own).

One question I got from a couple of women was “how do I help my daughter navigate this stuff?”

You may have noticed in my interview that I tried several times to – very intentionally – give my mom a break in all of this. If she had known better, she absolutely would have done better. We were, all of us, being fed the same well-meaning misinformation at that time in the 70s and 80s.

And, we all know the misinformation continues today, just cloaked in “health” instead of “attractiveness.” Peddlers of health products – shakes, cleanses, gluten-free, etc. – still profit from our self-hatred. Healthism is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The underlying message is still: thin=healthy, fat=unhealthy (or obesity epidemic, or healthcare costs, or childhood type 2 diabetes, or whatever.) And that message is flat out inaccurate.

So, back to the question of how to help your daughters deal with this crap.

Educate yourselves, together: learn about health at every size (HAES), the diet industry, and weight set-point theory. We have as many (pre-determined) body types as we have hair colors, noses, ears, and skin colors. Everybody is pretty much pre-ordained to be within a 10-20 pound weight range. Dieting to control that is only going to cause your body to get confused, go into “starvation” mode, and – after years of restricting food intake on a regular basis – will likely raise your natural set-point weight (to protect you).

I recommend this Ted Talk: Why Dieting Doesn’t Usually Work.
And this article: Minnesota Starvation Experiment
And this book: Body Respect, by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor

And that’s just a start…

Talk to your daughter about these things. Ask her what she’s hearing about weight management and control, and try to warn her that restricting food won’t reduce the size of her body permanently. In fact, it will likely increase her body size over time, and create a disordered relationship to food that will be very hard to emerge from later (see Starvation Study above). This is not a good thing to mess with, and it’s no joke in terms of health consequences down the line.

Model acceptance. You don’t have to think your body is stunning, you just have to model that you understand the ways of the world. That our bodies are what they are, and they may not reflect what society today thinks is beautiful or lovable. We can be rebellious role models for our daughters. We can show them that we can confidently fall in love, go to the beach and wear bikinis, travel the world, and show her that you find real joy in movement and you get emotional/functional benefits from hard core exercise that don’t include controlling your body size or shape.

Talk about her beauty. I’m not sure if this is good advice. As a feminist, I resist the idea of teaching girls to revere beauty above other things. But I also wanted to hear it so badly when I was younger, because honestly, that’s how girls are measured in our world. I really wonder what’s a healthy way to do this?

I remember my mom once told me that you never really get out of adolescence. The popular girls, the bitches, the nerds… they all continue to exist in the adult, real world.

What I heard, when she said this, was: you’ll never be acceptable to the world. You better get this weight thing under control because there is no land where people are truly open-minded and accepting and loving toward all types of women and women’s bodies.

And you know, I think she’s probably right. There is no perfectly safe place to be a fat woman in this world. There’s no safe place to be a woman – period (thank you Kristi Coulter for Enjoli, a gorgeous essay about the fact that there is no right way to be a woman in this world, and maybe that’s a reason why we drink). And, as a white fat woman, I should add that all of this applies to being any kind of skin color that isn’t white. No matter what we do, say, or look like, we will never be worshipped for the perfect women – people – we are, by all people on earth.

But, and this is a big but (ha): there is an adult world within our minds and hearts where we don’t have to give a fuck. And there are individuals in the world who will love us as we are, will think we’re beautiful, and will make us decide to give a big fat middle finger to “society” and focus entirely on our own wellbeing and peace.

This is where being a larger woman is so similar to being a sober woman. People think you have a disease, but you know – deep inside – that you are fiercely free and healthy, and happy, and at peace. You know, for yourself, that life isn’t actually about controlling how you are perceived by the world or men (the fucking male gaze).

And finally – and I mean this in a good way – there’s nothing we can really do about our body type and size (unless we want to live forever on a diet – which is proven to be impossible for 95% + people, or will literally drive you insane, per starvation study. For example, at 1600 calories/day actual madness ensued). So let it go and do/be other things in the world.

If you’re already bigger due to restricting your weight over and over in your life, cut your damn losses, dig in and re-build your relationship with delicious food and joyful movement. Maybe read Intuitive Eating or other mindful eating books with your daughter. One warning: be careful of introducing the “hunger/fullness” diet into your life. Any way of eating that you can “fail” at is akin to restricting and will lead to crazy food choices (compulsiveness comes from any attempt at control – even if you’re trying to only eat when hungry, or stop when full).

So that’s what I’d say.

Readers, what would you say?


2 thoughts on “What should I tell my daughter?

  1. I finally listened to your interview today, Ingrid. I wanted to cry hearing some of those stories — the puppy’s broken leg, your dad, what that woman said to you when you were only 4 or 5. I wish I could go back in time and just hold the little girl you used to be. Thank you so much for sharing your story in such an honest, vulnerable way. There was SO much in it I could relate to. And your question about what a mother should tell her daughter about all these issues — as you know, I have four daughters, so I think about this a lot. Thank you for a thought-provoking blog post and a beautifully moving interview.

    Liked by 1 person

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