What do you think we should be teaching our girls?
I used to work for a weight loss company. I wrote about my experience in this blog post, but there was something I didn’t write about, something I want to talk about today. I want to talk about my clients who didn’t come in of their own accord, the ones who were brought in by their mothers. I want to talk about teenage girls and what we teach them when we tell them to diet.
I had two clients in particular that I think of often. They were beautiful, kind, both very quiet, and fourteen years old. We had them on 1500 calorie plans, which was the lowest we could go with teenagers. They originally came in with their moms, who signed them up, but then they attended all of their meetings with me alone after that. And in those meetings, they eventually both confided to me that they didn’t really care about losing weight. They just wanted to make their moms happy.
I helped both of these girls to lose weight, although neither of them were overweight to begin with.
I think that’s the ultimate testament to the brainwashing of women in our culture. The majority of my clients were at normal weights and many of them were actually quite thin. There was nothing wrong with them. (To be clear, I don’t think there was anything wrong with any of the women, no matter their weight, but that’s another post.) But these women thought there was something wrong with them. And in the case of these two girls, they thought there was something wrong because their parents were clearly telling them there was.
Now I look back, and I think about the damage we were doing, not just to their psyches, but to their growing bodies. Our bodies need nourishment, especially when we’re young, and instead of teaching them how to be healthy, we were teaching them how to count carbs. I don’t deny that our youth need some lessons in nutrition (so do most adults), but they shouldn’t be taught by weight loss consultants who are motivated by commission. They should be taught by qualified nutritionists, registered dietitians, and I personally believe, by men and women who love to cook and can impart the joy of working with fresh, natural ingredients.
If I could go back in time, I would want to teach these girls that their bodies were beautiful, that their minds were strong, that no one else should dictate how they felt about themselves, and that the word “willpower” had nothing to do with what they ate. I’d like to teach them how to cook tasty food and how to appreciate homemade lasagna without thinking that they had “been bad” for eating too many carbs. In fact, I’d like to teach them to never say, “I’ve been bad,” a sentence that came out the mouths of my clients on a daily basis.
“I’ve been bad.”
Are you hearing it now? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Are we teaching our girls to quietly duck their heads and say, “I’m bad,” when they allow themselves to savor life? Ultimately, I believe the way we approach food is the way we approach life, and I fear that we’re teaching girls that as children, they can eat life up, but after puberty, when they transition to womanhood, they must shake their heads and say, “No, thank you. I have to be good.”
Why is it okay for little girls to be hungry and eat cupcakes, but teenage girls and women are taught that their hunger is something to be denied, to be willed away? When we teach our girls that their hunger for food is wrong, are we also teaching them that hunger for life should be suppressed?
What have we done? What are we doing to our girls?
I’m pregnant with my first child, and should I have a daughter, I want to encourage her to devour life. I want her to be able to say, “Heck yeah, I’ll have an ice cream sundae!” And I want her to enjoy that sundae with no guilt, shame, or other unnecessary emotions attached to her hunger.
I want her to eat with joy, not fear, love, not guilt, daring, not caution. What do you say we start teaching our girls that instead of the latest diet?