April 10, 2024
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April 10, 2024
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Sticks and Stones May Hurt Me

In past articles I’ve written about the need for sensitivity when speaking to those suffering or in recovery from an eating disorder. I fight passionately to create a more fluid conversation around mental illness, one that is open and considered normal, rather than hush-hush or with a tone of embarrassment. And yet it became clear to me of late that a conversation must also be created around everyday speech, that relates to everyone, not only eating disorder sufferers.

I was recently having a coffee date—I’m so appreciative of my friends and how my coffee dates with them lead to stimulating topics to talk about—and my friend and I were discussing the nature of casual conversation. We both commented that too many times we overhear both men and women making insensitive comments, either unknowingly or perhaps because of a simple lack of awareness on the impact of one’s words.

When an individual is prone to poor self-esteem or poor body image, we may not realize the impact we can have with our words. Imagine this: going out to eat for pizza with friends and before beginning commenting on the calorie and fat content and about how really one should skip dinner in order to compensate. What if one friend sitting at that table is really struggling with self-image, and even the process of convincing him/herself to go out to eat was considered a challenge? Picture the mental minefield that s/he will have to overcome in order to eat the food after hearing these words.

Next, imagine a scene of young women, out to a movie on the weekend. One of them goes to buy some snacks and a soda and hears comments from her friends about how many “wasted calories” a soda is, how many carbs are in the candies, and how she should really be drinking diet instead. Perhaps she is a resilient young woman, strong in her views of self-worth, understanding that these comments are altogether meaningless in the context of who she is as a person… But what if she isn’t? What if this young woman believes her friends’ words to be true? What if she thinks that in order to fit in, to find love and connections with these friends, she needs to deprive herself of a snack and to mindlessly agree with their views on food?

Finally, picture a young man whose friends make comments about their latest workout and put such emphasis on being fit or buff, even going as far as making fun of other young men and women who don’t follow society’s “standards” of appearance. He begins to wonder how they see him; do they think he’s attractive? Do they make fun of him as well?

These conversations are all too familiar and take place among all age ranges. Foods are evaluated exclusively for their calorie content rather than for their taste and how they satisfy our basic human need to eat. Bodies are critiqued and judged and hours are spent each day feeling terrible about one’s self and seeking ways to alter one’s appearance. And this is among individuals without eating disorders. Weight and shape have become markers of “good” or “bad” and hold such power in our society when in reality these things do not measure a human being’s character or soul.

So what should we do? Do we avoid any talk about food or weight, cutting out comments about meals and dieting? My intention in this article is not to say that we can never talk about bodies or appearance. This would be impractical and also might have a negative impact by creating a “bubble situation” where topics become taboo. Instead, my message is to be mindful about the way we speak about these subjects and how we may be unknowingly influencing and hurting those around us.

To live a fulfilling life is to find meaning and purpose. One’s depth, one’s purpose, will most likely not relate to the size or shape of their body. We must practice fostering a sense of values and teaching those around us, whether it be the next generation or our friends and family, that unkind words make us that—unkind. It is wonderful to feel good about ourselves, but to what cost? To make others feel bad? To set a tone for the need to look good as the only way to feel good?

This is about challenging ourselves to know that obsession with calorie counting and the comments about other peoples’ sizes should not be considered “normal.” We are not intended, as human beings, to feel negatively about our bodies as the general norm. If only we put in as much effort toward chesed, kindness and community as we did toward dieting and self-loathing based on weight.

My message as an advocate is not to ban talk about weight. But, instead, it is to be mindful and sensitive of how your speaking influences others and how you are influencing yourself.

By Temimah Zucker, LMSW

Temimah Zucker, LMSW, is a therapist at Eating Disorder Treatment of New York, Monte Nido. After recovering from her struggle with anorexia she immersed herself in the field as a writer, therapist, meal mentor and public speaker. She is currently working on a venture to provide eating disorder support for the Jewish community. To learn more visit: snackingonlife.com.

 

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