A Culture of Caring
In my experience, I developed an eating disorder in grade two. I was obsessed with making sure I ate what I knew to be healthy and helped my family learn about healthy eating through the Canada Food Guide posted on the fridge. I purged our house of unhealthy foods and lectured my parents on their eating habits. This was my domain, I was in control. My healthy-food obsession matured. In grade six, I remember thinking I didn’t want to develop the breasts I was developing because I didn’t want to be like her – my mother. In my eyes, she was insecure and disengaged. So, I hid my breasts with collapsed posture, sports bras, and baggy t-shirts. To me, my role model of femininity was weakness and if I looked female, I too would be weak. By grade 8, I started my period and I felt like a failure. Until, I discovered triathlon. The flat chested athletic woman became my new body ideal. I took up running and abandoned play. I journaled everything I ate, every step I took and was constantly working out to lose body fat I.e. my breasts.
By grade 10, I had clinical anorexia nervosa. Two years later, I had developed binge eating disorders, lasting into my second year of university. Between the ages of 18 and 22, I also binge drank. I hated how I realized that all this time, I was never actually in control.
I got ahead of the illness by doing personal and academic research on Sheena’s place and The Looking Glass websites. I registered for a family psychology class. I stopped keeping track of my dietary intake, my workouts. I stopped feeding the illness. Now, at 34, I run now for joy. I am mindful in my parenting and present in my peer relationships. I never felt more beautiful and feminine than when I was pregnant.
We can get ahead of this illness and stop others from being gripped by it in two ways: as a culture and through the government. I believe that if I had grown up in a home that empowered, encouraged, and facilitated a sense of self-worth that I would not have been vulnerable to the illness. I was not set-up to be resilient to the illness. We need, as a culture in Canada, to take care of each other. Support other parents without judgement, reconnect spiritually through religion, create safe spaces for families to develop and cultivate resilience. Our families are our primary role models and sense of worth. They (families) need to be strong.
As a federal and provincial government, we need to revitalize the education children, youths, and young adults receive to be empathetic and engaged citizens. Our laws need to be reflective and inclusive of a culture of strong morals so that advertising and media standards support scholarly research and not pop-culture. We can get ahead of eating disorders together.
~ Natalie Pyke