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The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

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On April 21, Quyen Van Tran was in a Safeway store near Monterey when he began abusing his pregnant girlfriend. He was in full view of customers and workers but no one did anything to stop him until a meat clerk, Ryan Young, intervened.

KION, a local news channel in Del Rey Oaks, reports on how Young described the incident:

“Every few seconds he would turn around and push her and then he actually kicked her,” Young said. “I told him to calm down and he was just irate.”

Young said Tran refused to stop and jumped in to stop the assault.

“I saw no one was intervening in the situation and I just became afraid for her safety and also other customers safety,” Young said. “The guy was out of control and pretty much lost it in there.”

Not only did witnesses corroborate Young’s story and applaud his reaction, so did local police. Police Chief Ron Langford said that if Ryan had not intervened, things could have become much worse.

But Safeway didn’t commend its hero-worker. Instead the company suspended Young without pay with Safeway spokeswoman, Wendy Gutshall, making this ambiguous statement:

“Safeway is taking this matter seriously. We have store security video of the incident and have been engaged in a careful and thoughtful forensic review of what transpired.”

It’s been a month since Young has been without work and without pay. Young also has a pregnant wife and he says that earning no wages has been a hardship and a stress on his family. Yet Safeway has not shared any information with him about when or if he can expect to get his job back.

Then last Tuesday, Safeway held a shareholders meeting at which the company’s General Counsel, Robert Gordon, made a sexist joke where he compared Nancy Pelosi and Hilary Clinton to pigs. A blogger, Kaili Joy Gray, posted the joke and an audio clip. The news spread around the internet; Congressmembers heard it and wrote this letter to Safeway asking for an apology:

We are writing to express our strong disapproval of inappropriate comments reportedly made by Safeway General Counsel Robert Gordon at Safeway’s May 15 shareholder meeting. We are deeply disappointed by these comments and believe Safeway must take corrective steps immediately.

According to an audio recording reportedly taken from the shareholder meeting, General Counsel Gordon inappropriately used House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the butt of his joke, as follows:

You know, this is the season when companies and other institutions are interested in enhancing their reputation and their image for the general public, and one of the institutions that’s doing this is the Secret Service, particularly after the calamity in Colombia. And among the instructions given to the Secret Service agents was to try to agree with the president more and support his decisions. And that led to this exchange that took place last week, when the president flew into the White House lawn and an agent greeted him at the helicopter. The president was carrying two pigs under his arms and the Secret Service agents said, “Nice pigs, sir.”And the president said, “These are not ordinary pigs, these are genuine Arkansas razorback hogs. I got one for former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and one for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” And the Secret Service agent said, “Excellent trade, sir.”

Poking fun at politicians is part of our culture, and TV comedians carry this out nightly. But sexist jokes told by a top executive of a Fortune 500 company to an international audience are completely inappropriate and demonstrate a shocking lack of respect, not only for two of the most important and respected people in our country but for all women.

Safeway owes an apology to Secretary Clinton, Leader Pelosi, and the country. It is up to the Safeway board to decide what action to take against its general counsel for his comments but let there be no doubt as to our strong disapproval and deep disappointment in your company for what he said.

Sincerely,

Reps. George Miller, Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, Mike Thompson, Lynn Woolsey, Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi, Doris Matsui, Barbara Lee, and Mike Honda

Robert Gordon then made this half-hearted response:

“I sincerely apologize if the opening comments I made at the recent annual stockholders meeting offended anyone. As these comments have been interpreted, they are not a reflection of my personal beliefs or that of my employer. I understand how my comments have impacted others and I hope they will accept my apology.”

As these comments have been interpreted? Huh? Is there some other way to interpret them that I’m not seeing here?

Because of links on the internet, that sexist joke story combined with the Ryan Young story to fuel public awareness about Safeway’s mistreatment of its worker.

A petition on Change.org to get Ryan Young his job back had about 3,000 signatures on Friday. But as of this writing, the petition has grown to 177,630 signatures. Safeway’s Facebook page has also been deluged with comments from customers upset about how Young has been treated.

Yesterday, Safeway came out with another statement in reaction to the public outcry. Here it is in full:

We’ve heard from a lot of customers who don’t feel Mr. Young should have been suspended following an altercation with a customer in our Del Rey store.

We understand this reaction.  We agree that Mr. Young is to be commended for choosing to intervene and come to the defense of the woman involved.

However, a videotape of the entire incident appears to reveal actions we cannot condone.  It is those actions, subsequent to the initial confrontation, that we are trying to understand more clearly.

We wish to be very clear about the fact that Mr. Young was not suspended for coming to the aid of one of our customers.  That action was courageous and correct.

At the same time, we believe we owe it to our employees and our customers to understand as fully as possible everything that took place in this incident.

It is important that we complete a thorough investigation of this incident and respect the process we have in place with the union representing Mr. Young before we reach a decision on his status with our company.

Safeway is obviously indicating that there is something on that video tape, something the public doesn’t know about, something quite separate from Young’s “courageous and correct” action, that somehow justifies suspending Young without pay. It’s curious that Safeway would think that when police condone Young’s actions.

If there is something we don’t know about here, please release the tape, Safeway. Or be more clear about what you have an issue with. Because right now, from your ambiguous statements and slow reactions, it seems like your first priority is to prevent potential lawsuits rather than prevent domestic violence.

What is also disturbing about this story is that Safeway’s fear of getting involved in stopping a crime, its abysmal treatment of Young, is symptomatic of culture that consistently doesn’t get, doesn’t respond to, and doesn’t care much about stopping domestic violence.

Domestic violence is the most common health problem for pregnant women. Do you know how many health problems pregnant women have? And DV is the most common?

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

If DV is so widespread, why do so few people know basic facts about this epidemic?

Part of the reason is that because only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

Survivors are often too ashamed or too frightened to follow through with charges. It’s pretty hard to imagine how survivors have much hope of of getting over being shamed when the people who try to help them also get punished.

That’s actually a major reason why DV is so common: time and again, bystanders look away. People who could help instead decide that DV is none of their business, that it’s a private matter. That intervention taboo exists without even taking into account worry about a lawsuit or job loss.

Nearly three out of four (74%) of us personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. That means you probably know a survivor.

For years, direct service workers in the DV community have been working hard to educate bystanders so more people will do their part to stop the violence.

Right now, Safeway has the opportunity to take a leadership role in educating the public about violence against women. Instead, the company chooses to punish its worker by suspending him without pay and hardly communicating with him for one month.

Please don’t be a passive bystander. Tell Safeway that its behavior is unacceptable. Go to Change.org and sign the petition to get Ryan Young his job back with back pay.

Update: The Mayor of Del Ray Oaks, Jerry B. Edelen, wrote this letter to the Monterey County Herald:

The recent incident involving the Safeway employee who intervened to protect a pregnant woman from being struck by her male companion represents a gross miscarriage of justice on the part of Safeway.

Del Rey Oaks Police Chief Ron Langford, a law enforcement officer with over 30 years of experience, has thoroughly investigated the incident, including viewing a videotape of occurrence, and has concluded that the employee was justified in his actions. Chief Langford has written the employee a letter praising him for his actions.

Of course Safeway has the authority and responsibility to conduct its own investigation. Where Safeway has erred is placing the employee on unpaid leave. This action, in effect, is punitive. By theoretically saving an insignificant amount of money by not paying the employee during the investigation, Safeway is losing considerable sales revenue and customer goodwill. Citing “having to follow set administrative procedures” is no excuse. Leadership means that sometimes standard operating procedures should be modified to ensure justice.

I will place this matter on our next City Council agenda and ask that the council support a resolution praising the Safeway employee for his courageous actions.

Jerry B. Edelen
Del Rey Oaks mayor

(Full disclosure: My father is a former CEO of Safeway. He left the company in 1993 and the board in 2005.)

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One more thing that really bothered me about Disneyland– and again, it’s not so different than San Francisco: I heard parents berate their kids for wasting food. I heard a mom yell at her kid because the girl did not finish her pink mountain of cotton candy. Seriously.

It’s not that I can’t understand parental frustration and anger when your child doesn’t eat what she’s asked for. You’ve stood on the line. You paid $5 for the cotton candy and the kid doesn’t eat it? It’s annoying, no doubt. But take a look at what you’re doing: you are making your kid eat that crap because you don’t want to “waste” it?

I suppose your other option is to refuse to buy your kid the cotton candy. But in my experience, not allowing her to have the “forbidden” food only glamorizes it, making her want it even more.

My daughter did the same not eating thing to me when I got her the cotton candy (which is HUGE otherwise how could they charge that much money?) She had about three bites. Literally. There was a tiny, furry cave in the mountain. Then she said her tummy didn’t want anymore. I always tell her to listen to her tummy about how much to eat. I threw it out in one of the many waste baskets that Disneyland so generously provides. (I’m not being sarcastic here. I was really impressed by all of the waste baskets at Disneyland, color coded for recycling, again just like San Francisco. There are also water fountains everywhere. Disneyland is also incredibly well equipped for people with disabilities, all of the rides and swimming pools, but I digress.) Wow, just realized I wrote my daughter “did the same thing to me.” See? We take it all so personally.

Here is what you are doing when you tell your kid not to waste food: you make her feel shame, guilt, and worry associated with eating. (And for goodness sake, haven’t you ever thought you could eat more than you actually could? Do you want someone berating you? Or do you just do it to yourself in your own head? Stop that, too.)

When you berate your kid for wasting food, not only do you make her feel shame, guilt, and worry but you make her concerned about your approval in association with her eating. In this day and age, your kid has enough to do maintaining her ability to listen to and respond to her own hunger cues, to her own body. Your focus should be supporting her in that. Unfortunately, there are many ways in our current culture for a brain, especially a female brain, to get wired up to make guilt, shame, and worry part of the human eating experience. Many of those factors parents can do very little about. But no longer ordering your kid not to waste food is one thing you CAN do something about. So bite your tongue. Think about or feel your own issues around “wasting” food, but don’t project your issues onto a little kid.

To be sure, food waste is a national problem: 20 to 30% food in the U.S. is wasted. Not only that,  10% of U.S. energy is used to put food on the table so global warming is affected by food waste. Nor is it debatable that American rates of obesity are growing, believed to hit 42% by 2030. Americans have a disordered relationship with food, but berating a kid is a short-term, simplified, superficial “solution” that exacerbates the problem instead of healing it. Also, in the long run, a kid with who has a healthy relationship with food is less of a strain on the family budget than a kid with an eating disorder. So get creative with leftovers. (There are more great tips for raising healthy kids on a budget in the book Preventing Childhood Eating Disorders.)

Admonishing your kid not to waste food may not make her fat (I just wrote that as a headline so people who put their kids on diets would read this post) but it can easily contribute to making her eating disordered and her mind crazy. It’s not worth it. One might even call it a waste.

 

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CNN reports:

A teacher at a Catholic school in Indiana is suing the diocese where she worked after being fired because the in vitro fertilization treatments she received were considered against church teachings.

Emily Herx, a former English teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, filed a federal lawsuit against the school and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

She says in the suit filed Friday that she was discriminated against in 2011 after the school’s pastor found out that she had begun treatments with a fertility doctor, according to the complaint.

Herx says the school’s priest called her a “grave, immoral sinner” and told her she should have kept mum about her fertility treatments because some things are “better left between the individual and God,” the complaint said.

“I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” Herx told CNN on Thursday. “I had never had any complaints about me as a teacher.”

In 2010, Herx learned that she suffered from a medical condition that caused infertility. At that time, she told her principal she needed time off for IVF treatment. Her request was granted and the principal allegedly told Herx: “You are in my prayers.”

Herx is claiming sex discrimination and disabilities discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and requesting lost wages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and compensation for her mental anguish and emotional distress.

This is an important lawsuit that will determine how far a religious school can go to control the behavior of its staff.

No employer has the right to control another human being’s body like this, to take away a teacher’s wages, her job, because she was treated for a medical condition.

As a commenter to this post asked: If a male teacher at that school was found to have a wife who was having fertility treatments, would he also be fired? Conceiving a child takes a contribution from both male and female.

Just like infertility, pregnancy is also medical condition. Women have all kinds of serious health complications from ectoptic pregnancies to hemorrhaging. Contraception is preventative health care. Women’s bodies are different than men’s bodies and have different medical needs. To deny women health care based on those differences is to deny women a basic human right. It’s sex discrimination, and it is appalling that this kind of abuse is tolerated in America.

The Herx case also shows the hypocrisy of the Catholic church which claims it’s defending a “right to life.” Whose life? What about the embryos created in the IVF treatment? According to the church, don’t those embryos have a “right to life?”

Clearly, the “right to life” has little to do with supporting “life” and everything to do with controlling women’s bodies. The church is terrified to allow “grave and immoral sinners” to be in charge of their own reproduction.

Obviously, this whole issue goes to the abortion debate which should never have strayed into the ambiguous, infinitely vague, existential question: when does life begin?

The abortion debate should be centered on one issue: the rights of a human being versus the rights of an embryo/ fetus.

As long as a fetus is physically dependent on another human being, you cannot force a human being to give birth or not to give birth. A moral government cannot force abortions (as in China) or make them illegal. Reproductive rights are human rights. For a male-dominated government or organization to take away the rights of its female citizens is a crime.

Please read my follow up post: Women’s rights are not a ‘cultural’ issue.

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Dear Dara-Lynn Weiss,

I know you have good intentions: you want to help and protect your daughter, Bea. You want to keep her healthy and safe. Moms are told, in the pages of Vogue, no less, in ads like this one from Elizabeth Arden, that an important way to be a good mother is to make sure that our daughters are “beautiful.”

And that’s not just some crazy notion. Being “beautiful” for a woman has come to mean being successful, powerful, or important; being “beautiful” in our culture means that you exist. If you are “beautiful,” there is the promise that things will happen in your life: you will have adventures, excitement, love, and admiration. If you are fat, you may as well be invisible, right? I get that. You want your daughter to be popular, you want her to have friends, you want to spare her unhappiness.

But here’s the problem. It’s all a big lie, because what’s really happening is that you’re setting Bea up for a lifetime of enduring a distorted relationship with food, you, her own body, success, competition, power, and love.

You write that as a child, you suffered through your own issues of food, eating, and weight. That you hated your body and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to change it. Even now, you write: “I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight.”

It’s clear from your article that you have an eating disorder. You are still sick. In your NYC subculture, your behavior may even be “normal,” but it’s not healthy. You’re obsessed with food and weight. Your disease is contagious, and you’re passing it onto your daughter. The best way for you to help Bea is to stop focusing on her and start focusing on getting yourself better.

I know you have a book deal now. It’s going to be so damaging to Bea if you keep writing about her weight publicly this way. If you are really going to write that book, please consider really researching this topic. There is an excellent book called Preventing Childhood Eating Disorders by Jane Hirschmann. The whole book is about intuitive eating: letting kids eat what they want, when they want. It would be a great program for Bea. They also help adults. Jane Hirschmann is based in NYC.

You write in Vogue that when you could totally control your daughter’s eating, up until age three, she was fine. “The world of sweets and junk food from which she has been shielded, was now available to her at social gatherings and there wasn’t anything she didn’t absolutely love eating.”

When candy and sugar came into her world, all hell broke loose. But, of course it did. She’d never seen it before. All of your anxiety and control around food would make any kid want to break free.

The Hirschmann book teaches you how to do something completely different than monitoring your kid’s every mouthful. It teaches parents how to let their kids trust their own bodies. And once kids get to do this, the practice goes much deeper than trusting their bodies: it becomes about trusting their intuition, themselves, looking inward for guidance instead of outward for direction and approval.

One of the many things you worry about is Halloween: “Who’s informing parents of treats distributed on Halloween?”

What if no one is? My kids are allowed to eat candy whenever they want, all year long. Halloween is not a big deal to them. They eat a couple candies and forget about it. Candy is not forbidden to them. It is not a prize or a reward. It’s not even a dessert. I learned all of this from Hirschmann’s book, and it works so well.

Hirschmann also wrote a book for adults that I used to get better from bulimia (along with a program in San Rafael, CA called Beyond Hunger which is similar to Hirschmann’s program in NYC)  I am 100% cured from my eating disorder. I am not “sick for life” as I was told I would be by so many therapists. Now I never think about food except when I’m hungry. I eat whatever I want. My weight is normal. After I had three daughters, I wanted to make sure not to pass any sickness I may not have been aware of onto them; I am bringing them up based on Hirschmann’s book, and I’ve written about this extensively on my blog.

In Vogue, you write:  “And so Bea wouldn’t feel isolated with her comparatively meager lunch, I joined her, eating exactly what she did.”

Your identity is completely entwined with your daughter’s through food. What about what you want to eat? What you’re hungry for? Eating your daughter’s food and portions is not good for you; it won’t protect her or help her. It will confuse her.

You write about Bea: “Sometimes she cheated and ate what she wasn’t supposed to. And sometimes she lied about it, such as the time she assured me she’d only had one slice of pizza at school, only to confess several days later that it had been three…I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories…I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week…I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend or a friend’s parent or caretaker… rather than direct my irritation at the caregiver I often derided Bea for not refusing the appropriate snack.”

Bea is seeking approval and love from you through what she eats and what she tells you about what she eats. She is also using food to rebel against you. This kind of behavior is dangerous, and it’s at the heart of the sickness. Her eating disorder is not about food; it’s about her relationship with you.

You write: “The struggle is not over.  I don’t think it will ever be, for either of us.”

But it can be, if you get yourself better, for her, at least. You don’t need to live with your food obsession for the rest of your life.

You write (italics mine): “As a result of our amazing efforts over the past year, Bea showed up at her doctor’s office for her eight year check up sixteen pounds lighter and almost two inches taller. She is now at a healthy weight and seems to takes enormous pride in her appearance.”

Is that really an accomplishment? That she takes “enormous pride” in her appearance? She is being set up for a life of rating her success, value, and her mother’s love for her based on what she eats, what she weighs, and how she looks. Again, is Bea’s weight about Bea or about you?

You end your article with this:

For Bea, the achievement is bittersweet. When I asks her if she likes how she looks now, if she’s proud of what she’s accomplished, she says yes.  We’ve celebrated with the purchase of many new dresses.  And when she officially reached her goal, I took her to a salon and let her get feather hair extentsions as a reward, a trend I’d staunchly resisted. Even so, the person she used to be still weighs in her. Tears of pain filed her eyes as she reflected on her yearlong journey. ‘That’s still me,’ she said. ‘I’m not a different person because I lost sixteen pounds.’ I protest that indeed she is different.  At this moment, the fat girls is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued in feather.  ‘Just because its in the past, she says, ‘doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.’

Though Bea lost weight, your obsession with that is making her unhealthy in a multitude of other ways. What would happen if you risked letting that obsession go?

Again, I know you love your daughter. I know you’ve been criticized for what you’ve done, and that it seems like everyone is always telling mothers what to do; we can’t get it right no matter what. But I’m writing you because you wrote about this publicly and from your article, it is so obvious to me, as someone who has recovered from an eating disorder and also has three daughters, what is happening. Please at least, check out the book and see what you think of it.

Sincerely,

Margot Magowan

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This is yet another post inspired by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals. Here’s what she wrote on Facebook:

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Guess what? I can’t find a single link or post with information geared towards young kids and Eating Disorders. This concerns me when diagnosis of ED’s in kids under 12yo is on the rise, 25% of 7yo have tried dieting, and 42% of 1-3rd graders want to be thinner.
I firmly believe healthy body image has to be taught in early childhood, as fundamental as ABC’s and 123’s. What are your concerns about body image, Eating Disorders, and your children?

I’ve been really successful with my kids by teaching them how to listen to their own bodies about what to eat. I tell them I’m not the boss, whoever put the food on their plate is not the boss, her own tummy is the boss. She alone knows how much to eat. I never tell my kids when to stop eating or how much they should eat. I don’t give them “treats” or “dessert” as a separate category from other food. I never get mad at them for wasting food.

They all have foodshelves where they have all the food they like, easily accessible. They have shelves in a cupboard and in the refrigerator. They get to pick what they want on their foodshelves and there is an abundance of food there, more than they could eat, enough to share without getting worried.

We have a sit down dinner and breakfast every day withe lots of healthy options but they don’t have to eat their dad or I make. If they don’t like the hot meal, they can go to their foodshelves and get something they do like.

My kids are incredibly healthy eaters. We hardly ever fight over food. They like to try new foods. My kid who is the pickiest eater is the only one whose intake I restricted and was by far the most anxious around as far as her food. My middle daughter has an egg allergy and I was really freaked out about it early on and was constantly checking her food for eggs, telling her to be careful about eating, and controlling her eating. Now, she is the most shy about trying new foods. She grew out of the allergy for the most part (its very mild now, pure eggs, custard) by the time she was three, but her menu is the most limited by her own choice now. (She’s still a pretty adventurous eater– last night she had middle eastern food: chick peas and rice, hummus and pita, and mousakka.) I really think the best thing for parents to do is to be calm around food and about food and moms, if you have an eating disorder, make it a priority to get yourself better. Eating disorders are contagious.

If my kids make it through the turmoil of adolescence and into adulthood still knowing how to eat intuitively, it’ll be a huge accomplishment. I seriously hope it keeps working and serves them for a lifetime.

All the techniques I use I got from an excellent book called Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. Please read my many posts on the book, how I feed my kids, and how I recovered fully from an eating disorder myself many years ago, starting here.

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