I’m was in Florida visiting my parents for the week, working remotely and, well, was really excited when I heard Demi Lovato would be on Katie Couric‘s new show – not only because I don’t usually have the opportunity to watch daytime television and had yet to see Katie, but also because I appreciated the strong, powerful message it sent to viewers that Katie tackled eating disorders in the first few weeks of being on air: that this is important, that it matters, and that we’re not ignoring the elephant in far too many rooms, in far too many houses. Moreover, I loved that she had Demi Lovato on who, for all intents and purposes, has become the face of eating disorder recovery for so many young girls today.
It started off brilliantly.
Demi spoke about her struggles, the pressure, her progress, her treatment, the lessons she learned and the work she’s consistently doing to work towards loving her body. I loved her honesty, openness and vulnerability. I connected with her family dynamics and early childhood memories of being acutely aware of her body, how it looked and how it was “supposed” to look. I related to her memories of being teased.
Mostly, though, I loved that by having a teen star delve into these issues with Katie Couric the show was perfectly suited to appeal to mother/daughter pairs who were captivated by Demi Lovato or Katie Couric, respectively, and to encourage them to engage in dialogue throughout.
My mom and I regularly hit pause to talk about my memories, struggles, process and more. And while my mom is extraordinarily open to this dialogue any time, it’s not something we often discuss. It’s not something I’m often comfortable discussing. (Writing objective analyses here, for example, where I can sit on the sidelines and commentate rather than put my soul on the field feels safe. Divulging childhood memories of feeling fat, doing sit ups in my room, however – even now just typing this – makes my breath shallow, my stomach clench, my heart speed up).
While the show was definitely stirring up demons inside of me, forcing me to address them and set them back in their place, I felt grateful for the opportunity to prove to myself that I’m stronger than they are. I felt in control.
And then this happened.
Towards the end of the segment, Katie (who also revealed she had struggled with bulimia in college) asked Demi Lovato’s recovery counselor about how mothers can simultaneously promote healthy eating habits without putting a focus on body image, weight and dieting, to which he replied (along with something about leading by example, having open dialogue, etc.) about not telling your daughters not to eat ice cream or pasta (or something along those lines – I watched a few days ago but failed to DVR).
And here’s where it went all wrong…
In attempt to be cute and illicit laughs, Katie said something to the effect of “that’s just what I tell myself.”
Lovato smirked. The audience chuckled. I cringed.
Here’s the deal: when mother’s tell themselves these messages – when any women tells herself this message – she’s saying that depriving yourself of something in the unwinnable race to body perfection is okay. She’s saying that there are “bad foods.” She’s saying she’s not perfect just the way she is. And the fact is, she’s not just telling herself this. She’s very clearly (and loudly) telling her daughters this. I wish the argument were about portion control. About health. About making healthier food choices. But that wasn’t it. (I would have supported that). The takeaway wasn’t “everything in moderation,” it wasn’t even “go for wholegrain.” It was, “you eat the cake, but I can’t,” “you eat the pasta, but I won’t.” And when those are the messages we’re sending to young girls – when that’s what they’re seeing on TV and in their own kitchens (moms who spend time – whether it’s minutes or hours – to feed their families but don’t feed themselves), you’re telling your daughters that grown women aren’t worthy of indulgence, that unrealistic beauty ideals rule and that, if they want to be like you, to be loved by you, to be valued by you, to be thought of as beautiful by you, that they damn well better be skinny – and they damn well better not eat the pasta…___
Dedicated to newborn Ellie Dornbush – and her beautiful mother, Maureen Shaw, who convinced me that this wasn’t just a feminist rant and is sure to raise a daughter who won’t have to learn for herself the lessons we’ve learned (often the hard way). Image Credit: ABC/Disney