I remember it like it was yesterday. I stood behind the mother and her little girl at the concession stand observing their togetherness. Her fingers ran through the girl’s curly medium-length hair. It was the kind of hair you would assume to find on a doll – mostly in place with some strands taking a stand against perfection. I watched as the girl peeked around the man’s lengthy bottom that stood in front of her. Though I was behind her, I imagine that she was inspecting the candy options – M & M’s, Sour Patch Kids, Twizzlers – the choices endless, the options laid out. Excitement filled her limbs in a way that she could not contain and she gave a little hop. The man grabbed whatever it was that he had ordered and departed to his show, leaving a clear view of what was in store for her. Mother and daughter stepped up to the register and the girl reached for her mom’s hand as if to say, “We’re here!”
When asked by the gentleman behind the counter what the girl would like she glanced hopefully up at her mother and responded, “Mom, what are you gonna have?” Mom cocked her head down towards her little one, “Oh nothing for me honey. I’m not going to be bad today.” The response of her mother seemed to reverberate through her daughter’s body, as I witnessed the excitement, anticipation, and childlike elation begin to deflate. Her shoulders fell limp, her head bowed, and she turned back towards the candy. “But you get what you want,” the mother followed-up. The girl’s answer will forever be etched in my memory: “Nah. I’m okay.” And with that, a simple order of water was requested, the bottle grabbed, money exchanged, and the pair were on their way. In that simple moment a message had been sent, an energy transferred, a false truth internalized that what we eat has the power to become an indication of whether we are in fact good or bad.
As a mother, I am virulently cautious in what I say to my children and in how I say it. I do my best. I mess up. I circle back and try to make it better. The mother in this story could have been me. Had I not been working specifically with those who have eating disorders, I may have never even noticed this exchange between a mother and her daughter. But I did. And it has impacted me ever since. When I call it into consciousness it still brings tears to my eyes, a shiver in my heart. Who knows? The girl may have walked away unscathed, unaffected, without impact. But she may not have. And it’s that second one that gets me.
We aren’t perfect, for there is no such thing. We stumble on our words, we make ignorant comments, we say the wrong thing. We are HUMAN. With our humanity, however, comes a responsibility: A responsibility to show up in this world, to be as thoughtful as we can be, and as loving as is possible – towards and with ourselves first and others next. Please consider this, especially in light of what we call into awareness this week – the truth of eating disorders, the pervasiveness of the struggle, and the hope that is critical for recovery. Our language around food and our bodies may seem to be trivial but I promise you that it’s not. Words do matter. What we say does have impact. And you never know who may be listening.
Dr. Lara Pence
Executive LOVE Director