When I found out this morning that Dr. Drew’s college-aged daughter, Paulina, struggles with anorexia and bulimia, I wasn’t surprised. As the child of a celebrity parent, I imagine there is a ton of pressure on her to embody Hollywood’s unrealistic definition of beauty. And it probably doesn’t help that her dad has made his name by exploiting and sensationalizing the health problems of vulnerable people, many of whom view their looks as the basis of their self-worth (and paychecks).
Reading through Paulina Pinksy's essay on the Columbia Spectator, I couldn’t help but notice one thing: she seems to blame many of her issues almost entirely on her mom. Perhaps I notice this because I've struggled with an eating disorder since I was fourteen. Or, just as likely, this stood out for me because I’m already worried that my problems with body dysmorphia will soon impact my daughter, or have already.
Though only seven, my daughter already knows something is off. "You're too hard on yourself, Mommy," she stated recently. When I asked why, she responded that I am hard on myself "when it comes to my body." Damn. What the heck do you say when you hear this from your first grader?
She certainly noticed my struggles last week while we were on vacation in South Florida. It was an idyllic 8 days of fun in the sun, except for one problem. Me. I was obsessed with food and completely preoccupied with how fat I thought I looked. And I felt guilty about it, because I know my daughter could tell I was struggling no matter how hard I tried to hide it.
Though twice Paulina’s age, I identify with the pain she describes in her essay. Thinness has become inextricably linked to my identity. I've convinced myself that a perfect life means a certain pant size and certain number on the scale. Decades later, I am still embarrassed about the 20 pounds I gained during my first year of college, during a semester abroad and then during Peace Corps. I’m even ashamed of the weight I gained during pregnancy and how I’m still carrying around an extra 5-10 pounds.
The difference between Paulina and me, though, is that I didn’t have a mother who cared about my weight. In that sense, I guess I got lucky. Based on Paulina’s telling of the story, her mother sounds incredibly superficial and vapid. Actually, she sounds just plain awful. Sure, we’re only hearing one side of the story, but responding to the news that her daughter forces herself to throw up multiple times a day by saying, “Well, get your teeth checked” is pretty disgusting.
But what about Drew Pinsky? I know as girls we learn so much about our bodies from our moms, but where is the supposedly awe-inspiring Dr. Drew in all this? Did he not see how his wife was treating his daughter? Did he not notice that his sons were shoveling in steaks while his wife and daughter picked at lettuce? Sure, mothers play a critical role in the development of girls' self-esteem, but we're letting dads like Dr. Drew off the hook way too easily.
I can certainly see how my father contributed to my body issues. His approval meant everything to me. Throughout childhood and adolescence, my perceptions of beauty and sexuality were shaped by him, even during the years in which he was only intermittently part of my life. All I wanted was for him to love me, and I convinced myself that being thin would help. It didn't, and it has taken me years to reframe how I see myself. I guess you could say I'm still trying.
We absorb so much from the men in our lives when we are young, lessons that stay with us forever. It's time to stop placing all of the blame on mothers. We've all had a hand in creating a society that values women's looks over our intellect. Perhaps Paulina Pinksy's story will help us start a new and more honest conversation about eating disorders so our daughters - and our sons - can build a future that does not include hating their own bodies.
(photo credit: sattva/freedigitalphotos.net)
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