Why you should never talk to your children about their body (unless you're explaining how it works)
Nearly eight years ago, when I watched Brené Brown’s massively viral TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability for the very first time, I found myself in tears.
It wasn’t that I was moved to tears by her talk - it was like she had cracked me open and found the core of my being. It was as if she truly saw who I was and named my struggle.
It was shame.
In India, we often confuse shame with guilt - I don’t know if Indian languages even have separate words for the two. “You should be ashamed of yourself” - is a saying we’ve all often heard when we did something wrong growing up.
But as Brené herself has explained this brilliantly, the difference in meanings and outcomes for shame and guilt is vastly different.
Ever since I can remember, I've always heard stories about me being chubby from when I was around ages 1 to 3.
You were such a heavy toddler, it was so difficult to carry you around.
You always liked to sit on soft sofas and beds, that's why you're soft and round.
You were so lazy, you were always asking for people to carry you around.
My mom often tells me (fondly) that she lied about me being older than I really was, when I was less than a year old, to random strangers on the streets who gushed about what a cute baby I was, because she didn't want them to think I was too big.
As I grew a bit older, the tone of the messages began to change.
At around ages 4 to 6, I recall my kindergarten teacher saying I was Tom (a la 'Tom & Jerry') but picking two Jerrys because I was so big.
I remember my dad dropping me off at an early morning yoga class because I needed to lose weight.
One instance I recall with particular horror, was my mom pointing out obese women in the family and saying that I would suffer from back problems or other health problems and become ill-tempered like them if I stayed fat as I grew older.
Between ages 7 and 11, I was woken at 5 am so that I could do various forms of exercise - walk three rounds around the school stadium, or five rounds around the park near our house, or go to yoga classes, or walk 5 km with my dad.
I was constantly told by everyone how fat I was. It was meant to be something they found endearing (concealed behind words such as “chubby”, “healthy”), but there was often a note of incredulity, like they couldn’t believe how I could possibly be so big.
Now, to all of you who may be wondering how fat was I?
Here’s a picture of me at around 10 months.
Here’s another picture of me at around 6. I’m the second from left.
Was I as skinny as my sister and my cousins? No.
But was I fat? You know what, maybe I was.
I won’t pretend to know or remember the exact details of my weight corresponding to my height. I do recall, however, that my parents could almost never find me readymade clothing and my mom spent a lot of time making my clothes herself - which seems to suggest that I was quite possibly on the heavier side.
Over the years, one pattern began to emerge clearly, and this idea took shape in my mind.
I learnt that who I was, was not enough.
I wasn’t thin enough. Maybe that meant I was not good enough. Not loveable enough. Not desirable enough.
I looked at exercise as a punishment. I was afraid of growing up to be a fat, angry woman who would constantly be in pain. I hated going clothes shopping.
I couldn’t see how a fat woman could be happy, lead a fulfilling life, or find love.
The damaging message in all of this, was that it was a focus on who I was, rather than what I did.
Given what I know now, I would have welcomed a healthy modelling of behaviour from my family when it came to exercise - but it was always made painfully obvious to me that my sister or my dad were only accompanying me on my walk because I was too young to go by myself. It was still “my” walk that we were going on, for me to lose weight.
And so, unfortunately, my weight has always been a reminder of my shame, of my personal failure of morals and discipline.
So, when I watched Brené Brown’s TED talk and sobbed, it was because she finally gave me the answer that I didn’t know I was seeking.
To be worthy of love and belonging, all you need is to believe that you’re worthy of love and belonging.
The Reading Diet
Actor Ethan Suplee (of Remember the Titans fame) talks about the roots of his addiction with food in this podcast with Lewis Howes. See the similarities?
I recently came across this beautiful poem by Rumi, where he asks us to welcome and entertain all emotions and to look at them with gratitude, for they teach us self-compassion.
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