Updated and graciously re-posted from Gürze:
We are sitting in a circle, a dozen high school students and I. It is coming to the end of our time together and the 8’x10′ portable classroom is getting a bit stuffy. I open the door and wedge my purse between it and the door casing to bring in a bit of fresh air. Two young women are new to the group and have remained quiet except for their introductions at the start of our time together.
One of the two girls clears her throat and begins talking. Her shiny dark hair is pulled back into a bouncy scrunchy-held pony tail. Her dark eyelashes are so long they touch the bottoms of her eyebrows…I don’t think I’ve ever seen such amazing eyes–there is a depth to them that astonishes. She pulls her red sweatshirt down to below her hips as her levi covered legs cross. She has a dazzling smile that brightens her face in a way that seems in discord with the sadness she speaks of. She tells us how she has endured teasing all of her life for her body size–a stunning revelation–her body size does not appear to be one that would be the target of negative attention.
She talks about how she has endured this reality alone. She cannot share her agony with her parents as they have, since she was very young, encouraged her to do something about changing her body. A few years earlier her father purchased a membership at a health club for he and his daughter. She describes her parents as very thin and very fit. She went faithfully to the club, with her dad planning her daily workout regime. Her desire to please him assured that she followed his every suggestion and ate only what he allowed. At the end of two months her body remained unchanged. Her father expressed complete exasperation with her. He was sure she’d been cheating because “no one’s body could remain unchanged” if they’d done all that he’d advised.
This amazingly bright, sensitive young woman’s face crumbled into wretched sadness as her eyes overflowed with tears. “Do you know” she asked in an agonized voice, “how much it hurts to know that your father, whom you adore, hates your body??”
I sat there witnessing this young person’s pain. I suspected that her parents’ attempts at helping their daughter “re-sculpt” her body may have come from a place of care…they had most likely bought into our culture’s “thin ideal” and would like to spare their child the ramifications that can come from having a body that attracts hurtful attention. Maybe they are projecting onto her their own body discomforts and fears or maybe they just want desperately for their child to be a reflection of their own fit and thin physiques. Or maybe none of these reasons apply. It really doesn’t matter. Without knowing it (or not), this girl’s parents are the source of tremendous pain for their child.
Without fail these sorts of revelations force me to look at myself as a parent. In what ways may I have caused my own daughters unintentional pain? What aspirations for myself did I project onto them? Would they have had the courage to tell me? Prior to Andrea’s death, would I have been able to hear? I now have two grandchildren. I need to ponder the answers to these questions so that I can be in relationship with them in a different way. I know I will continue to make mistakes … I’d just rather they be new ones.
Until next time,