This post was contributed by Cara Reinbrecht as part of our Voices Amplified series.
As a therapist, I am very aware of my role as an agent for change…behind the safe, confidential, closed door in my office. Clients come in with varying degrees of opinions, backgrounds, and politics, but the overall themes of low self-worth, shame, and striving for an ideal body image are a norm in my professional world. The 2016 elections have brought up so much emotion, controversy, and conversation in our country. It’s left me wondering: How am I affected? What is my role?
Typically, women are confused about how their body hatred started. Why do they feel so strongly about changing their body in order to conform? Most of the time they aren’t even sure what a different body would get them, it’s just what they believe they should be doing.
Culture and Society are one of the many pieces that contribute to Eating Disorders, yet I found myself highlighting this piece more frequently during the election season. As a society we are working on talking about the uncomfortable stuff, gender stigmas, sexual orientation, race; but for some reason body image is still taboo. What’s it like to live in a world that you literally don’t fit in? Our society doesn’t fully acknowledge how the cultural drive for thinness creates a devastating stigma against those living a in a larger body. The thin ideal and disordered eating continues to be a norm, That’s awesome you lost ## lbs.! I’m eating clean these days. I can’t eat that today, I’m trying to be good. These statements are so common in our culture they’ve become normal.
So why aren’t we talking about weight stigma, why aren’t we challenging these lies? The diet and beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that feeds off of us feeling bad about ourselves. We are so terrified of fat in our culture that we have declared a WAR ON OBESITY and sought to fight this war by using scare tactics in the public and with our children in schools. WITH OUR CHILDREN who have no idea that their bodies will continue to grow and develop until their mid-twenties, they just know a high number on the scale would be bad! These scare tactics are not making people “healthier” they are further stigmatizing those who live in a larger body and perpetuating the cycle of shame; it’s enhancing body image issues that already exist and causing binge eating as well as Anorexic and Bulimic behaviors. Remember the dreaded BMI scale? This was created by a statistician, never intended to be used for what we use it for. It does not take into consideration factors such as genetics, muscle mass, gender, or age.
So the question remains, how will we ever feel safe enough in our society to embrace our differences, if we aren’t safe to embrace the very body we live in? When women’s bodies are being criticized by peers, families, coaches, doctors, and world leaders – how will young girls break through the glass ceiling? As a therapist who specializes in Eating Disorders and Body Image, I am very aware of the role my own body image plays in a therapeutic session, but this election has taught me that it is far past time to take these conversations outside of those office doors. It’s time to stop the fat-talk, the body shaming, the weight stigma; we have far more important things to talk about as women. It is time to embrace weight and size diversity and create a space where young girls and women can truly celebrate and respect their bodies.
Cara Reinbrecht is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist in Fishers, Indiana. She began working with Eating Disorders in a residential treatment center in 2009 and currently works with adolescents and adults in private practice. Cara has a passion for helping young girls and women achieve a healthy relationship with their body and uses a Health At Every Size approach to her work.