Eating Disorders, Invisibility, and Other Socialization Ills

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Her weight hovers just above one hundred pounds. If she lost a little more, she'd be in the double digits. The thought thrills her. That would be an achievement she could claim, a fact about her that people couldn't strip away, and she'd be so skinny! On the one side, she relished her friends telling her she was the skinniest person they knew--even if it was couched in concern for her health. On the other, she imagined herself becoming ever more invisible as her physical frame shrunk from intentional starvation. To be skinny is to be beautiful, and skinny she could do. In the petty world of her twisted social circle, this was the best course of action.

Eating disorders. I don't know why, but I've been having a bunch of conversations about them recently. And if it's a theme in the lives of girls I know, it may be a broader issue right now as well. So, I'm blogging about it--as uncomfortable as that is for me. Also, it seems as though adults are often unaware of how their thoughtless comments encourage this destructive behavior in their daughters.

I'm a writer, not a psychologist, but this societal ill seems best bred in bad socialization. "I wanted to disappear," one girl told me. She had just described her social group, headed by a particularly nasty alpha female. Another confessed that she didn't feel beautiful, and so she weighed herself every morning to get a numerical value of her physical worth--a practice she learned from her mom. Another girl put it simply: "I liked the attention." I've been told it can also be a way of maintaining some control in life or mitigating feelings of guilt.


And I was reminded, yet again, of one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling: confidence. That's not to say that homeschoolers never have eating disorders. I'm sure some do. But you pick it up from somewhere: a mom too obsessed with body image; a dad who calls you ugly (seriously? <grr>); friends who, somehow, allow you to equate weight with value; a group from which you wish you could vanish; a constant barrage of messages repeating "you aren't good enough" ...and on and on it goes. This issue is one of socialization. Yes, it's psychological with physiological repercussions, but it is rooted in a lack of love and support.

And, as homeschoolers, we can do love and support.

If you know someone suffering from an eating disorder, please connect with someone who made it out of one. There is much to learn. I was horrified to discover that telling my friend that she needed "to eat more" produced the opposite result. By mentioning food, it further solidified her resolve to stay skinny. Insidious.

The surprise to me is how much bad socialization drives this disorder. It is good to be able to interact in society, but I'm becoming increasingly disgusted by the idea that kids "need to spend time in school" as if it only produced good things in them.

It doesn't.

And, please, as you consider your resolutions and plans for the new year, keep in mind how your discussion of them may be interpreted by your children. We want to be healthy and godly and do good works so people glorify God. But we do not want to be focused on our appearance, legalistic, or miss out on grace. Here's to a balanced, beautiful, and beneficial new year.

Do you have any advice for someone struggling with an eating disorder (or a parent with a child suffering from one)? What socialization ills plagued you as a child? How do you maintain a healthy balance of pressing forward and resting in grace in your house?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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