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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Archive: April, 2010

28 Apr

A Call to Be Body-Talk Free

Ideas to Consider No Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Having spent the past weekend with seven of my dearest girlfriends, I began thinking this week about the often underestimated power of our dialogue with one another. Amidst the loud chatter, the warm laughter, and clinking beverage glasses (of course), I observed the familiar remarks about weight and bodies that comprise every female gathering: You look so wonderful! Wow, you’re so tiny! Ugh, I wish I could manage to stay on track. Fortunately for me, I have very healthy (physically and emotionally) friends who support and build one another up, rather than tear one another down.

Unfortunately, however, not all women are as cognizant of their commentary. We as women are constantly noting our observations about other women’s bodies. And, sadly, we often fail to recognize the potential impact that our words can have, even when we perceive our words as “positive.”

Take for example when someone says, “Holy cow! You’re so skinny! You need to eat something!” A friend of mine notes that she wishes she could say in response, “And you need to lay off the donuts!” While we all know that this response would be extremely socially inappropriate and hurtful, it is understandable that a person at the receiving end of such comments would be a bit peeved. The initial comments may derive from feelings of jealousy or curiosity or frustration with one’s own weight; however, they are insulting to the recipient and contribute to an unhealthy culture of body-bashing. As we all know, everyone’s body is unique and we need to recognize the beauty in our world’s wide spectrum of curves (or lack thereof). Next time you want to comment on someone’s “bird legs” or “needing some meat on her bones,” remember that beauty and health come in all sizes and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

To take it a step further, I would challenge us to try to reverse our cultural obsession with body ideals by deciding to stop making body-focused comments altogether. This is an admittedly challenging endeavor, but I think that we’re up to the task. Instead of pointing out how teeny someone’s waist looks in her new dress, mention how confident and happy she appears. Or instead of noting that your friend has dropped her baby weight quickly, observe how great she must feel to have so much energy. Maybe we can create, however small, a shift in focus.

Ultimately it’s about helping each other. While I’ll refrain from delving into a feminist diatribe, I mention that I feel it is imperative that women are each other’s biggest advocates. We need all the support  we can get to become a stronger and more powerful force. And focusing on each other’s jean’s sizes does nothing but keep us stuck in a small box. So do something different. Vow to be body-talk free this week and take note of how this small change also impacts the way you talk about yourself.

20 Apr

Our Daughters Bodies: The Personal and Political

Current Events 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

 

With childhood obesity tripling in the last 30 years and the prevalence of this condition reaching almost 20% among American youth (CDC, 2008), most believe that Michelle Obama’s recent initiative to address childhood obesity could not come at more crucial time. Like many others, I was excited to hear that the first lady was planning to use her pivotal influence to focus on the health of our youth.

I stayed thrilled until I heard that Mrs. Obama kicked off the campaign on January 29, 2010 by sharing her own concern about her daughters’ weight, as encouraged by their family physician. She noted that the First Family’s doctor had warned her that the girls may be becoming overweight. Mrs. Obama reflected, “In my eyes I thought my children were perfect [...] I didn’t see the changes.”

Unfortunately, this was not the first time that the “weight issues” of the Obama daughters was put on public display. President Obama, in a 2008 interview with Parents magazine, noted, “A couple of years ago – you’d never know it by looking at her now – Malia was getting a little chubby.” Cringe!!!!

First, it’s important for me to note that the intent of the Obamas, particularly Mrs. Obama, is, in my opinion, extremely admirable. The message that we must take notice of our (literally) growing problem is vital and can come from no better source than the First Parents, to whom many other parents look to for modeling. And speaking of modeling, the Obamas do an excellent job of that as well. Following the expression of concern by their doctor, the Obamas began making healthy changes to the family’s lifestyle – no weekday television, water instead of sugary beverages, cutting back on (but not eliminating – good demonstration of moderation!) burgers.

However, comments in national magazines or on national platforms about your daughter’s weight? Think again!

Sasha and Malia, whose lives have already been put on an international stage without truly being given the right to contest it, are already in a vulnerable position. Like all celebrities, they will inevitably (and in many ways already have) be scrutinized on everything from their athleticism to their dating choices to their hairstyles. And in true western culture tradition, their bodies will certainly be at the center of our rapt attention – and, unfortunately, dissection – as they continue to grow and mature into young women. It’s the sickening American way.

And then to have your Mom and Dad go and tell the world that they thought you had put on a few too many pounds? Oh, the pre-adolescent horror!

Seriously though, to put even more focus on the girls’ physique (“Do you think Malia looks chunky?” “Oh, I don’t know, her hips did look a little fuller in that jumper she was wearing…”) is not only putting their self-esteem at jeopardy, but also putting unnecessary attention on weight, rather than health, which should be at the center of the obesity initiative.

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, but far more important is for the parent, and the child, to understand health itself. And indeed, weight is not always a good indicator of health.

So I urge the Obamas, who are certainly reading my blog at least weekly, to consider their use of language and the use of their daughters as examples in public health initiatives, particularly when it means subjecting their bodies to undue scrutiny. Do I think that Sasha and Malia will develop eating disorders because of a few public comments? No, definitely not. But setting an example to both the girls and the public on how to talk about and respect each others’ boundaries will certainly be protective against such problems in the future.

16 Apr

“Quit being such a capitulator!”

Ideas to Consider 7 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Capitulate. Capitulation, Capitulating. Any way you dice it, it’s pretty much my favorite word as of late. It has this sound to it, this harshness. This sense of roughness. But this isn’t a vocabulary blog (Does one of those exist? If not, I have my next idea!), and thus I’ll move on to explain just why I love this word. And no, it’s not just the way it feels on my tongue to say it.

First, I must give credit. The idea behind capitulation comes to us, or at least to me, by way of Debra Safer, PhD, one of the developers and researchers of Dialectical Behavior Therapy for the treatment of eating disorders. Safer describes capitulating as giving up on your goals or acting as if there is no other option other than to do what you usually do (e.g. binge and purge).

We might think of capitulating as surrendering, as that is the word’s usual definition. To capitulate is to surrender to your habits or to your disorder or to your history. It is to cut off all option of making a different choice in this moment than you did yesterday. It is to give up on reinventing yourself and do more of the same (And we all know the definition of insanity, correct?).

Unfortunately, capitulation is a stubborn, sneaky little bugger. It shows up in the most imperceptible ways, wiggling in when we least expect it. For example, capitulation is what’s happening when we decide that, “I’m this far into the binge, I’m going to have to throw up anyway. I’ll just keep going.” Or, “I haven’t worked out in five days. Really, what’s one more?” Or, “This yoga teacher is nuts. It’s too hard to try to keep my mind focused on my breath… I wonder what I should do about Rachel being such a jerk.” Or, “I’m never going to get that job. Why bother wasting my time on the cover letter?”

The problem with capitulating is that it not only giving up on abstinence or health or employment opportunity, it’s giving up on yourself. And to give up on yourself is quite a dangerous endeavor. Capitulating leaves us feeling we are subject to the whims of others and our circumstances and thus robs us of our sense of agency. And that, my friend, leads to more… capitulating.

Change is no walk in the park. I particularly like the phrase…

“I never said it would be easy. I just said it would be worth it,”

…often cited by religious denominations (but even the non-religious can appreciate this message). And capitulating is a part of change. The first step is simply to recognize the ways in which you are surrendering, giving up on an idea of who you might or could be. Then you sigh, cognizant of your desire to let go, and you resume the reigns. Unless you’re my husband, in which case you should capitulate to my every desire… <insert evil laugh>

Your homework, dear readers, is to consider just how you capitulate, and (if you’re brave or maybe bored) why. And, even if it’s just once over the course of the week, choose to take the road less traveled.

12 Apr

What are you really hungry for?

Ideas to Consider 7 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Barring extremely unusual circumstances, around nine o’clock each night my mind starts wandering to what is, perhaps, my greatest edible weakness. Rich, creamy, and delicious, I am course referring to ice cream. Black raspberry chip, strawberry, vanilla drizzled with chocolate sauce… The list could go on endlessly, but I might faint if I proceed.

No one can dispute that ice cream is truly the great American dessert. Did you know that it was served by George Washington to his most distinguished guests? However, despite its absolute deliciousness and intriguing historical roots, ice cream is ice cream. It is food (well, sort of) and, at least physically, nothing more.

Despite common misconceptions, ice cream cannot, in fact, repair a broken heart or soothe a wounded ego or cure the common cold (though food scientists should really start working on this). It does not heal, no matter the power that we try to attribute to it.

I should know. I have many a time tried to mend my ailments, be they physical or emotional, with a big scoop, or two, of ice cream. And despite the few moments of being lost in the euphoria of a mammoth chocolate chip, I always end up feeling like the bowl… empty.

So after hearing a lecture by a well-known psychologist and reading a book on this idea (check out Appetites by Caroline Knapp), I began asking myself a simple question:

What are you really hungry for?

When I say that I ask myself this question, I don’t mean that I simply consider it in passing on my way to the freezer. Rather, I find a quiet spot, away from the television set, and sit with myself for a moment. I try to remove the distractions that prevent me from truly hearing my internal voice and ask myself, “What is it that you need right now?”

Amazingly, the answer, 99% of the time, is not in fact Rocky Road. For me, usually, it’s human connection. I find that when I’m longing for the richness of ice cream, or another dessert, I am often actually longing for the richness of relationship with others. I realize that I am missing my husband who has been working late or haven’t talked to my mom in, oh, 72 hours (yes, this would be a problem). Or maybe I am hungry for a sense of accomplishment or hungry for a change in my routine. Perhaps I desire an adventure or a sense of peace amid the chaos of my day. Or maybe I’m simply hungry for a good night’s sleep.

The point is that our physical hunger can quite often be a signal for a deeper hunger, one that we are trying subdue because it’s not quite as easy to fulfill as the desire for food. However, the deeper hunger is rarely satisfied by a temporary food-gasm. The deeper hunger requires a space that allows for introspection and a willingness to go excavating.

This is all not to say that one should avoid the foods we love to love. Heck no! In fact, it’s an invitation to enjoy your ice cream knowing that you are eating it because it brings you joy rather than shadowing a unmet need.

So, what are you really hungry for?

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