Girl talk: boys, bullies and body image

An excerpt by Carol Langlois

Megan: Stuck in Neutral
I see self-esteem as how I perceive myself in relation to others and if I see myself as pretty or fat or smart. It has to do with whether I’m confident or not.

For me, my biggest issue is weight. I was obese, clinically. I also struggled with depression and went to a therapist who gave me medication. It didn’t help that I was teased throughout school. Like in sixth grade this guy I thought was my friend asked me out, but then on the bus he told everybody it was a big joke. He told them that he thought it was funny I said yes. Can you imagine how much that crushed me? You don’t just get over something like that.

I lost like 40 pounds the summer between eighth and ninth grade. I started swimming and ate healthier, but then I began to exhibit all the textbook symptoms of anorexia. I mostly ate trail mix. I would eat those all-natural bars – Think Thin bars – but I would eat them as a whole meal. For dinner I would have an apple with peanut butter. I would count calories and keep a food journal. At the end of the day I’d look through it and be like, “Oh, I had too many of this.”

I don’t do that anymore. I know I can’t go back there, but I think about it every time I eat. Can you imagine struggling every single time you’re hungry? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks – wanting food so badly, but not wanting it at the same time? Now I have healthy eating patterns, but people have to talk to me or distract me so I don’t know how much I’m taking in. The hard part is as I gain the weight back, I see myself as I was before. Even though I’m a healthy weight now, when I look in the mirror I feel like I’m obese compared to where I was when I was anorexic.

I think about body image a lot subconsciously, and I shouldn’t. Hopefully when I get older I won’t be surrounded by people who talk about stuff like that all the time. I feel like if they wouldn’t talk about it then I wouldn’t fixate on it so much.

When I think of what makes me happy, eating is the first thing that comes to mind. Isn’t that sad? In fact, during this whole conversation, the mention of food is the only thing that will make me smile.

Literally.

Unfortunately, I’m the person who loves food but it doesn’t love me. Then I have no choice but to hate it back. Food helped me through some difficult times though. When I was younger, I would “eat my feelings” if I was sad. Now instead of eating a lot I just have like a spoonful and dip it in ice cream, just to taste it. But there’s still this fat child within me that has that feeling, that longing. It’s the fat child that just ate and ate whenever her parents fought.

My mom and I are close but I don’t have a relationship with my dad at all. He leaves early for work, gets home late and eats dinner in a separate room. We just never really had a good relationship.

I guess he never really cared.

I don’t know.

I just accept it now.

I don’t think it’s me; I think it’s stuff from his past. I think he had childhood issues. But it’s almost like too late now. Like you get to a certain age and you can’t be fixed anymore. I tried so hard to please him for so many years. I tried to get good grades and changed from a public to a private school to make him happy. But none of it worked. Mom said now I just need to do things for myself to make myself happy. But for a long time I think I just felt like I wasn’t good enough for him, and like if my father couldn’t even accept me then no one could. I’ve grown up with all of these issues and I’m used to them.

In my art class, I just did a project on the senses and different ways women alter themselves, like applying makeup, putting holes in their ears, taking diet pills. The video I’m doing is how numbers control us. Like weight, age, measurements. I’m tired of seeing others fall for this nonsense. I’m tired of seeing myself fall for this nonsense, and yet, I still do.

I want to work through therapy and get to a good place. Like I’m healthy now, but I want to feel good about my health instead of thinking there’s always the next step to achieve. I want to be in the best shape of my life and feel like I am, instead of feeling like I need to go further.

I want to grow out of numbers and neutrality and into my own. I want something more than food to make me smile.
It’s almost unachievable, but I still do hope that.

RAISE (Resilience, Attitude, Independence, Self-Respect & Empowerment) is an effective and practical system designed to RAISE teen self-esteem.

Resilience
If Megan practiced mindfulness techniques, she would visualize that day in grade school when the boy asked her out, remembering the hurt and pain, but learning to release it all. She could revisit the memory, but change the outcome to where the boy never asked her out or where she said “no thanks” to him. This would help her release the sadness rather than encouraging that unpleasant memory that feeds her depression.

Attitude
Since Megan is considered clinically depressed, she thinks staying neutral in social situations helps, but it doesn’t. She stays under the radar, she doesn’t make waves and she doesn’t want to be popular. In other words, she’s trying to be invisible. However, she’s still upset, bothered by the past, thinking about her anorexia and struggling through her relationship with her dad. All the while she doesn’t say or do anything different.
She needs to voice an opinion as a start. Remaining silent
only adds to her problems.

Independence
Although Megan is independent, she is also often stuck in her own head. Because of this, she struggles with perfectionism. She believes that thinner is better and strives for an unattainable ideal. She sets herself up for unrealistic expectations and likes it that way. She needs to challenge herself in a different way and learn that making mistakes is OK.

Self-Respect
Megan respects herself enough to avoid drinking and smoking, but she doesn’t have enough love or respect for herself to put herself first. She doesn’t show or verbalize how she thinks and feels with anyone really. She is her own worst enemy. She needs to start taking on the issues she has with others and sharing her needs.

Empowerment
Megan is the person who loves food, but the food doesn’t love her back. She needs to be freed from the food. She has an unhealthy love affair with it. It has power over her. She clearly identifies the eating disorder and depression as directly related to her father – or rather, the lack of relationship with her father. She is a smart girl for seeing this, but she needs to do something about it. She needs to build an alliance or a support system. |

Dr. Carol Langlois is a former university associate provost and dean, trained therapist, researcher and author. She recently completed her book called “Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image,” which is a compilation of interviews with teen girls on the topic of self-esteem. Check out her book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywB1HjqAahg. Dr. Langlois hosts a blog, “Girl Talk w/ Dr Carol,” which offers practical advice and guidance on self-esteem issues as a tool for parents and teens. You can also find Dr. Langlois on Twitter, sharing information, articles and tips related to this very important topic.