When I was little, my Mom already knew it. I was sensitive. Not exactly the best characteristic for a gal who liked to speak her mind. She would tell me “You can’t please all the people all the time.” I know. But I sure tried.
As an adult I take my Mom’s words to heart. But still, I admit it, I’m sensitive. It’s not uncommon for girls’ to try to please, as we know from reading books like Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons and SchoolGirls by Peggy Orenstein. What we also know though, is that girls grow up to be women. And try as I may to insulate myself, I’m still hurt when people attack me. Especially when they’re attacking something that isn’t true. That’s the worst.
So this morning, someone who wanted to support the book, talked about it on their fan page. It started an ugly stormy reaction from a group of parents who simply read 5 words. “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat.” They didn’t read the subtitle; How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It, nor any description. They didn’t click on any links or read anything more about the book at all. They only read those 5 words. And BAM. I was the enemy. The book was touted by commenters as “promoting eating disorders” which, as anyone who knows me, my work, or the topic of the book, would say is the opposite of what I do.
Comment after comment, each feeding off the other, attacked me, my looks, my work, my book, everything. Even though they hadn’t seen any of it. Like an insidious game of telephone, each simply read the title and the comment above theirs and took it as the truth– just like how false rumors start in middle school. No question, no investigation–all starting with 5 words read in isolation and nothing more.
It got me thinking. How often do we do this? And when we do, do we ever think of the person on the other side? It’s one of those things I talk about with parents—when your child comes to you with a question or a statement that you don’t like: Stop. Think. Ask. What do you mean by that? Where is that coming from? Who did you hear that from? Do I have all the information? When we do that, we get the full story and head off many wild miscommunications and possible unintentional hurt.
Had this been the questioning I received, I would have told them exactly where the title came from and what it means.
“Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” is a statement I hear from the girls with whom I work, talk with, present to, and coach. Oh, how I love these girls. They are being poisoned by negative messaging that tells them that what is good is thin and what is thin is beautiful, controlled, popular, smart, well-liked, and good. And, of course, they hear the flip side too; What is bad is fat and what is fat is blameworthy, ugly, gross, stupid, and worthless. When we discuss these messages they tell me that it’s pervasive in their school, among their friends, in the media, and in some cases, in their own homes. It echoes in their brains and grows like a wild weed inside their minds. It affects everyone.
As teens grow, it is normal for them to put on weight. Due to “fat is bad” messaging, the girls start to believe that if I have fat, if I’m gaining weight, I must be bad too…and they’ll do whatever they can to be good. Dieting, laxative use, over-exercising and more. You’ll be shocked by what some of these girls talk about doing to themselves to get thin in the book. Scary stuff. It’s the mission of the book to help parents help their girls combat that kind of negative messaging and bring out their assets to help them thrive.
After some parents and teachers chimed in, revealing the misrepresentation of the book, I did indeed receive some private apologies and explanations from parents. One wrote; “I will take some time to read the book and with the same effort and enthusiasm, I will encourage young girls to read it if I find it helpful” while another wrote “Keep loving on those children….we need more people to tell our kids to turn off society’s voices and grow to be all that God intended them to be, but most of all to know that God and we love them just as they are…no strings attached.” I certainly appreciated that.
But perhaps what I appreciated the most was the amazing number of you who wrote in publicly to set the record straight– and those who wrote me private notes of solidarity and encouragement (I’ll let you read them for yourself). I’m so humbled by your kindness and support. Thank you for loving me and helping me give voice to our girls. I’ve never been so proud to work on your behalf…and be in this field…and be among the amazing parents, teachers, and professionals in this community. What a beautiful bunch you are. With role models like you, our children will surely thrive.
Oh, and thanks Mom. I got your note too!
With sincere gratitude,