“I just never thought I’d have to deal with this.”
This, from a woman - a professor - who was grading papers on the patio at Whole Foods. I had arrived a wee early for our event there yesterday morning and had extra time to ungracefully untangle every odd item required for the event. I could feel this woman looking at me suspiciously as I set up a camera pointed in her direction and then took off my sweater revealing a homemade ripped Star Wars shirt resting oddly on top of leggings that illustrate city lights.
She immediately, with a side-eye glance, started packing up her papers, which I noticed and responded by awkwardly yelling, “No No! We like people doing things! Don’t leave!”
She kept packing up her papers. Maybe even more quickly. Yes, definitely more quickly.
I laughed and then summoned my inner Barbie (our Chief Operations Officer), who has a PhD in talking to people, and asked with moderate eloquence, “We are MOMMASTRONG and we’re offering a free workout, would you like to join us?”
The woman looked a bit relieved and then, as it always happens, we start talking about the whos and the whats of MOMMASTRONG and then boom. She tells me that her “baby,” her 12-year old daughter, is suffering from anorexia. I can see the pain on her face as she rewinds the story that we all would rewind. As she tells me about her child, the one who used to wonder and play and wander and be ... and now, she says,
“I just never thought I’d have to deal with this.”
It hit me hard. My experience and relationship to eating disorders runs deep and I could feel this woman’s plight as a vein in my own body. I knew her helplessness and her confusion. I recognized her anger and her bitterness. But, above all, I saw her love and her belief that this curse, this disease her child was carrying was absolutely absurd and completely reversible.
She told me, after a good chat, that I ought to consider a program for young girls inside of MOMMASTRONG. I nodded and while I agreed, I knew I couldn’t even begin to take on the scope of a project like that. Because, dang, it needs to be done right and, DANG, it’s huge.
Our conversation has been sticking in my brain ever since. I know eating disorders are a conflagration of causes and triggers, so I'm not trying to oversimplify the tentacles of their resolution by what I'm about to say. But, within the lens of MOMMASTRONG, I am left with one main quandary:
We have math class. And language arts. And history. And sex ed. Why? Because we’re teaching our children the way of the world and how to be educated so that they can be above ignorance and thusly above the abuses inherent in ignorance.
I think, then, if we’re looking at education and why it’s essential, that all young girls should also have a mandatory class about objectification. They ought to be taught that the world, as it is now, will objectify them, that it is as ruling a currency in their future as the dollar. And they should be taught about how to mitigate this reality. They should be educated in a currency of their own object value so that they can transcend that currency and find a sustainable path to wholeness and productivity. So they can NOT participate.
Why not teach these girls how to not participate in that? Why not teach them instead how to participate in the safe evolution of their identity, beyond their skin and their selfies and their desirability?
Why don’t we do this? Are we afraid to give girls this sort of power that they actually have an option to opt-out of their objectification?
Yes, we are.
I myself got this education in a street-smart sort of way. My whole childhood I had huge glasses, braces, zero boobs, 100% scrawny legs, giant forehead - I was completely awkward. And I was treated the way you would assume this sort of girl to be treated. Teased. Belittled. Cast aside. And then - THEN- in the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, I started to actually go through puberty. And I grew like 5 inches in 6 weeks. I got rid of my glasses. Buh bye braces. You can guess, rather accurately I’m sure, what happened when I entered junior year that Fall. Suddenly, I was invited to parties. No more teasing. People listened to me, especially my male teachers. I had position instantly, but only because of my appearance. 100%. And I knew it.
I’m grateful to this education because I was able to take a very critical eye to what was happening. I was old enough to not be able to forget the years of harm caused by teasing and belittling and to hold my self steady in the rise of stardom courtesy of a bra that carried size C boobs. I knew instantly what my currency was as a girl.
What if we surpassed this crappy real life lesson and actually gave girls the lesson they deserve, directly and with total candor? What if we all started NOW talking to our girls in a way that was effective so that they could grow up being a step ahead of objectification, like we are all a step ahead of other societal bull shit? What if we took this gorgeous 12-year old daughter of this amazing professor and we treated her condition in the way it deserved?
If I could, I would tell this 12-year old that she’s not a label. She’s not a statistic. She’s not a medical diagnosis. She’s just a kid with incredible power who only knows to turn that power into herself and eat her own self away.
I would tell her to take that power outside of herself and direct it towards the things that truly do matter. That nothing is wrong with her. It’s just a whole lot of badass energy directed in the wrong place.
In honor of this mother today and her 12-year old daughter, I challenge you all to stop the tornado of energy that has you moving around trying to look better or be better and send that tornado outside of yourself instead and do better. Screw the rules. Show up to work as you are. Play in the mud. Wear what you want to wear. Be visible now, not under the right surface conditions. And do, rather than just be.
I feel like I need to end this post with a yearbook picture of me at my most awkward. OR maybe you could just watch any and every video I’ve ever made for MOMMASTRONG. Yes, that’ll do. ;)