If We Knew Then What We Know Now: Talking to Young Women About Prevention

BlogHer is sponsoring its annual blogging conference next week in Chicago, and a few of my blogging friends MizFit and Roni (along with Heather from MAMAvision, Claire Mysko and Kate Harding) are hosting an afternoon session on Friday, July 24, called “Blogs & Body Image: What are we teaching our kids?”

For a synopsis and more information about this session, please click on this link to MizFit’s posting. Even if you cannot attend in person, you can participate through Twitter and through posting your own blog about this topic.

Over at Refuse to Regain a few weeks ago, I wrote the following:

“None of us can really know why lies underneath as we shed pounds. I was thin a few times when I was younger, but I was just that: younger. My skin was younger, my muscles were younger, my breasts and thighs and tummy were younger. Then they were introduced to gravity and cellulite, and as I got bigger and smaller and bigger again, my body got confused, and the things that bounced back before didn’t this time…

“Years of such extreme weights has caused me to have such sad, flappy skin (and I) mourn the loss of elasticity that could have been mine if I’d taken better care of myself in the past. I just wish there was a way to get that message across to young women today. Alas, so many more people are obese now than ever.”

There is a fine line we walk when we contemplate discussing overweight/obesity prevention with young people, particularly females. How do we encourage them to embrace being “healthy thin” rather than allowing their body to gain and gain OR lose and lose in a bulemic/anorexic nightmare as they try to live up to societal standards of beauty? How can I, as someone who’s been there, done that on the obesity side say to a young woman, “You’re gonna really be happy you maintained a healthy weight as a young woman when you get older”?

I posed the question, “What would you have done differently if I knew then what you know now?” to MizFit and here is her answer:

For me, absolutely nothing. For me I think it took knowing the ‘pain’ (eating poorly, feeling bloated and **tired** and plain ole UNCOMFY in my skin. On all levels) to have the Ah Ha! moment of realizing I needed to change my ways to live longer and enjoy that life more.

But that’s just for me and to me.

I spend lots of time working with tween girls and what I try to convey to them is simple: We get one body, that’s it. Take care of it and keep it healthy and strong and it will serve you well. Sure we are amazingly resilient creatures (I rebounded nicely from my beer and pizza diet days) but why put yourself through that?

I try and convey to them that, in my opinion, thin and starving is silent and unnoticed. I watched one girl in particular grow thinner & thinner (I didn’t just watch…being euphemistic here) and the more she became the ‘media feminine ideal’ the less she participated in our discussions and the more silent she became.

I would (no shocker here) encourage any young woman to explore resistance training not for the health benefits (though there are many) but for the internal strength I’ve found through this pursuit. The confidence. The certainty when it comes to speaking up and stating my mind in group situations. That is something I wish I’d discovered when I was younger.

Miz is right; we all need to have our own personal aha! moment to really make it our own journey. But I love that she discovered it early and not at 300 pounds as I did. Aha! must come from a healthy self-worth, from a place that says, “I’m worth taking care of.”

So perhaps the focus shouldn’t be on food and nutrition as much as self-compassion and awareness.

Those of you who’ve been reading me for years know that I preach self-friendship as the way to get started on a weight-loss journey and to stay on track down the scale. I’m learning that the same philosophy can apply to obesity prevention as well. What a different path I’d have trod if, when I was 16 or 18, I had the self-respect to love the body I had in that moment – the one I thought was “fat.” Because I listened to other people (“You’d be so pretty if you’d just lose weight…” Sound familiar?) and was sucked into societal norms of beauty, I treated my body harshly for years.

I’ve raised two daughters, both of whom have a few hang-ups about their bodies, but for the most part, love and respect themselves and treat themselves accordingly. Somehow my “self-friendship” message was present during their growing up. Funny how I didn’t apply it to myself, though, until recently. Why is it that we want what’s best for others, but treat our own needs as second-class citizens?

Writer Anne Sexton wrote, “Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself.” My hope is that more young women will find the beauty in being themselves.

So now it’s your turn. What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now? And how would you talk to a young woman (your children, friends’ children, etc.) today about your experiences with weight and body image?

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