My child hates her body. What did I do wrong?

I was raised in a family and a community that was all about diversity and self-esteem and empowerment. In that era it was about women throwing off the shackles of sexist oppression of our bodies and roles, and racist ideas about intellect, and conformist views of personal destiny. College towns in the 1970s were a beautiful thing. Lots of naked swimming and tie-dyed dancing and pot luck dinners.

So, as a parent when I met teenage body angst: "my hair!" "my thighs!" I was prepared. I had always been about love your body for what it does, not how it looks -- about self-care, and valuing people by relationship and accomplishment by effort and kumbaya kumbaya.

It took a while to figure out that some teen body angst is not coming from outside, and not even coming from one's genuine inside: it can be signs of brain disorder.

You know how when you look at an Escher painting and your vision just shifts so you see something you couldn't before and now you can't see it the other way? It's like that.

So, while I surrounded my children with books and media that featured all kinds of bodies and gender roles and ethnicities, and I highly endorse those values and goals, it really troubles me when books and campaigns about raising children's body esteem are offered as an antidote to eating disorders and mental illness. It is frightening to me that people IN the field, who know how dangerous eating disorders are and I feel should know better, think that the pathological body image distress and body dysmorphia and unquenchable drive for "thinness" can possibly be mistaken for a dearth of positive messages.

Are you kidding me?

It isn't just that these are like paper swords in a rainstorm it's really harmful and insulting to parents who have kids with mental illness right now. These "prevention" efforts are not only useless they not at all subtly say to families that we failed to nurture our children with enough positivity or we failed to arm our loved ones against these messages.

Again, are you kidding me? Have you MET these patients? Do you really think that their harrowing devolution into mental illness is a self-image problem?

That says more about how disordered our society is -- and it is -- than anything else. We're way too close to genuine madness to tell the difference.

If your son or daughter starts talking about hating their body or being "too fat" or skipping meals they MAY be copying their environment. They MAY be rebelling against their environment. But they also may have the early symptoms of a life threatening eating disorder that has nothing to do with anything you or anyone said or did or failed to do. At that moment you don't need a self-esteem book. You need psychiatric intervention, and fast. If anyone throws you a book on body image, trade it for one on evidence-based treatment.


  1. I am really sorry to hear this, you are definitely write about how disordered society is.

  2. I did not like my body ... I got tired of just complaining. have been hitting the gym for over 5 years now.!!

  3. The irrelevance of those comments did not slip past me. Lol


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