How to train your daughter not to have an eating disorder (when you’ve had one yourself)

Gosh, I’m trying not to project my body issues onto my daughter.

I think she’s stunning. And beautiful. And a little snotty, but mostly good-hearted. And this week was incredibly eye-opening for me.

Sophia has this performing arts thing going on. She’s got some great natural talent when it comes to singing and acting…of course she has a lot to learn, but the passion is there. And she’s good.

She has dang vibrato. She teaches herself songs on the piano. I could never do any of that. So, we enrolled her in dance last summer because I can tell you from experience that performers can only benefit from having some dance training…

And she picks it up fairly quickly.

But she hates it. The summer classes were fine, but from the second she started this fall, there has been nothing but tears and complaining. It’s horrible. Wednesday morning brings with it the hovering dread of 5 o’clock. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even remember why we were doing this.

It’s important to finish what you start. That’s the lesson we wanted her to learn. That and the fact that even though you have a modicum of natural talent, there’s still SO much to learn…and no one learns by being lazy.
Instead, all we’ve taught her is that dance is something she has to do, whether she likes it or not.

So, after posting on Facebook about my revelation that maybe forcing this on her was a bad idea, I got a wealth of knowledge from other moms and even people who’d been there as kids…and it started to make so much sense to me to pull her out…to let her study an instrument and voice and pursue the performing thing in another way…

But my friend Ali mentioned something about digging a little deeper…maybe there was something more to this…so last night, I took Sophia shopping with me. Apparently, it’s winter and no one has appropriate outerwear, so off we went.
And as we scooted through Target, she asked me how you find out how much your supposed to weigh when you’re ten.

And just like that, I was a kid again, back in my own dance class and embarrassed to be wearing a leotard. Just like that, I was the tallest (and probably biggest) kid in my class, feeling awkward and out of place in my own skin.

“Is that what this whole dance thing is about?”

She shrugged. “The other girls in my class are like *this little*” She put her hand below her chin. She’s right too, they are the tiniest girls.

Because dance isn’t really friendly towards girls who aren’t tiny. And there’s not a lot of sympathy for changing bodies and the awkwardness of not wanting to wear a skin-tight leotard in front of a bunch of smaller people.

How do I, with all my disordered eating, a former anorexic/bulimic, train up a girl who doesn’t see herself as anything but just right? How big a deal do I make of this to help her see that health is the most important thing? How do I encourage her not to let that feeling of being different stop her from being amazing–from going after the things she’s so good at?

And most of all, how do I make sure she knows she is loved…exactly the way she is?

It’s interesting to see your struggles reflecting in the faces of little ones you love so much. And as I talk to her and tell her not to compare herself to other girls…and explain that different is GOOD and it makes us special and unique…I wonder if these are the same words God’s spoken to me over and over again…
The same words I have yet to really hear.

How do you teach a child to be exactly the opposite of you?

(By Courtney Walsh)

(Please visit my dear friend Courtney here, at her blog… and be sure to look for her novel, A Sweethaven Summer, coming out soon!)

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6 thoughts on “How to train your daughter not to have an eating disorder (when you’ve had one yourself)

  1. Point out the people on Broadway who are currently NOT that stick thin body type. ALSO, note that the people who have that dance body are DANCERS on Broadway, not actors for the most part. Theatre is actually very forgiving and awesome – all types are welcome because directors need many different types to make their cast look good as a whole! Dance for her should not be about becoming a dancer, but becoming a triple threat on the musical theatre stage. Help her to look at it as a tool rather than a lifestyle.

  2. I have some of the same issues. My daughter is about to be 13, and this has been the big year of her body changing. The good news is that although she has some issues, she’s not acting on them, as I was at her age. And although she’s completely not a dancer, she performs through band and theater. This year she discovered she’s a good runner. We’re walking through this together.

  3. Great post yet hard questions with no easy answers. I have 3 girls and it weighs (pardon the pun) on me heavily as I parent them. My wise doctor who treated me years ago and I have had many conversations since my treatment about this. While I am no longer anorexic it is something I live with in the deepest part of me everyday. He reminds me to love them unconditionally, really know them, let me feel safe, free to succeed and free to fail, to work on being physically, emotionally, spiritually healthy. It is my prayer that God can use such an ugly period in my life for good as I parent them.

  4. Hey! I think focusing on how God made her and He does NOT make mistakes! He made her just the way she is! As you have been doing, keep praising and recognizing the gifts God gave her… I know comparing is not good but is still natural to do so if we want to compare people, she is heads and tails ahead of people in so many areas! She is truly gifted in singing and performance presence! That is some thing to be proud of!

    On the other hand, I think you can continue to train her to make good eating choices and how to incorporate exercise as “normal” part of life. But keeping it all just part of life and not a stress or a mandate.

    Sophia is an amazing, beautiful girl! She can shine in any situation.

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