Killing Us Softly

June 25, 2012

My sister-in-law, Margaret, shared this video and it ended up being one of the main topics of conversation at our house over the weekend. And it made me love Kate Winslet!

Over the past few years, I’ve had 6 close friends that have struggled with anorexia — in 2 cases, to the point of hospitalization. Eating disorders are so complicated. I feel like I’ve learned a ton about them and still know almost nothing. And in conversations with both friends and strangers, it’s easy to see how much confusion and misunderstanding about the topic exists.

As a parent of six, I wonder if an eating disorder will be part of our family at some point, and we try to speak openly about the subject with our children. How about you? Is this a topic of concern at your house? Any specific ways you’ve addressed it?

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 courtney June 25, 2012 at 7:54 am

My sister has been hospitalized and in and out of treatment centers for years dealing with anorexia and bulimia. To say I am worried about raising my daughter to be healthy and confident in her own body would be an understatement. Unfortunately, the biggest trigger we have seen in our family (my original family) is how my mom treats and talks about food. I think the best way to help raise my daughter to be healthy is for me to have a healthy relationship with food and for me to be confident with my body. I talk very openly about loving my body and how magnificent the human body is, and I will never let her hear me make any criticism about my own body, which means I try to not even criticize my body when I’m alone– it’s so hard!


2 Janae @ Bring-Joy June 25, 2012 at 7:56 am

Thank you for sharing this Gabrielle.

Such an important message, one I feel so strongly about! Oh, can’t even tell you how much I feel about this issue. I have 2 girls, & more than anything, hope to raise them confidence & awareness that they are so much more than the sum of their parts.

Retouching photos may very well be the female curse of the 21st century–we are constantly be compared & comparing ourselves to women who do not, nor ever can, exist! I’m definitely sharing this video & information on twitter, FB & my blog. So important.


3 Tasha June 25, 2012 at 8:22 am

I feel for anyone raising small children, boys included, for they too can have issues with body image. I also feel so strongly thet we need to raise confident, loving men to stop some of this as well…it is not all societal (media, etc.).
As a teacher, and much heavier than I’ve ever been, I DO work at spreading an image of acceptance and love for myself as well as students. I show confidence outwardly (I hope:) and althought I comment on their intellectual successess, I do also comment on their talents as well as apprearances – “hey gorgeous” or “hi handsome” to noting a new hairdo or complimenting a clothing item, etc. I DO think those little words are key:) Others may not agree and that’s alright, it has seemed to work for me:)


4 Tamsin June 25, 2012 at 8:27 am

As someone who struggled with eating disorders myself as a teenager, I am trying hard to teach my child(ren) how to have a normal, healthy relationship to their bodies. A friend who worked at a treatment center for eating disorders once told me that the vast majority of girls there (it was an all-girls facility, I realize this affects boys too) had mothers who struggled with their own body image and projected that onto their children. So many of them had been taken to Weight Watchers meetings as children by parents who thought that losing weight together would help their daughters. But it didn’t. Instead it taught the children that their parents thought there was something wrong with them and their bodies, and that being thin equated success and what their parents wanted from them.

In our home, we are trying to teach good nutrition, moderation and how to be active. We’re trying to place the emphasis on taking care of our bodies and having fun, rather than on appearance and size.


5 Beth June 25, 2012 at 8:28 am

Thanks for sharing this video. I was particularly shocked by the model who died of anorexia but modelled right up to the very end.

Here is a beautifully written essay by Sarah Bessey (about her reaction when her 6 year old daughter states that she wants to lose some weight). Highly recommended:


6 teresa June 25, 2012 at 8:43 am

It is sad…that quite often in the “world”….how a women looks determines her value….
as a grandmother I’m trying to change that one granddaughter at a time.
They know their value around me….when I asked them why I love them….they usually respond…”Because I’m Kind”
While raising our children….we used words like kind, honest, brave, smart when giving praise to our children.
I think we can change the world a little…at least our own little world.


7 Erin June 25, 2012 at 9:32 am

I recently read the memoir “Brave Girl Eating,” written by a mother of a young teenager who stops eating. It was riveting, and gave me a whole different perspective on eating disorders. I highly recommend it.


8 Englandia June 25, 2012 at 9:58 am

I spent almost two years in psychiatric hospitals/psycho-somatic treatment centers.
My lowest weight was 83 pounds when I was 22….anorexia is one of the worst things and it comes with depression and anxiety and all kinds of other things.

My partner now has a teenager and she struggles a bit with her weight and I am so proud that we don’t own a scale. I haven’t owned one since I got out of treatment. I try other ways to help her a little without talking about diet. We talk a lot more about society, what beauty means and where it comes from and all of that.

I also watched “Miss Representation” with her, which she loved…..


9 Francie June 25, 2012 at 10:02 am

The GQ cover of Kate Winslet and her reaction quote are quite old. It’s great that she did that, and I’ve always liked her for it. Nowadays, though, it seems like she’s given in to the pressure to slim down and be closer to the size they made her look like in that cover photo.


10 Caroline June 25, 2012 at 10:03 am

Bravo for this post.

p.s.Kate Winslet is my hero!


11 courtney June 25, 2012 at 10:03 am

No talk yet in my house, I have a baby and a toddler. But I already am encouraging my daughter to feel strong and beautiful no matter what her body looks like, while encouraging healthy eating and lots of exercise. And treats are a good thing! Life is not complete without treats.

What I HAVE seen is an up-tick in what I would call eating disorders among my friends who are mothers of young children. It’s like we feel we must uphold the image of Victoria Beckham as Mom – perfectly put together, perfectly skinny and stylish, with a brood of four running around. My best friend actually has lost huge amounts of weight since having her second daughter two years ago, and people (inlcuding myself) are worried about her and have talked to her. Most of my friends are careeer-driven and work 40+ hours outside the home and have two or more little ones – it can be a stressful time in our lives, and we all also put a large amount of energy thinking about our appearance. It’s sad. Can’t we carry ten extra pounds after having a few kids? From what we see in the media, and from what I see in my friends (and my) own behaviors, it seems we think the answer is “No”.


12 bdaiss June 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

This. I was just thinking this this morning while getting ready. I have two kids (5 and 2). Sure I’d like to weigh 10 pounds less. But what with working a full time job, my priority when I’m home is my family. Sure I’d like to spend an hour everyday out running or playing hocky like I used to. But what will that give my kids besides a view of their mom as putting them second all the time (work, my exercise, then kids)? Instead I focus on getting up early a few times a week for a hard workout, and then incorporating “family play” into our daily routines – bike rides, hikes, etc. My burning question is have we really become such a vain society that we will forgo building strong families for our own looks and cast a disapproving eye on a new mom who hasn’t “bounced back” in 30 days? If so, I think we’ve lost it.


13 Summer June 25, 2012 at 10:12 am

We don’e delve into the specifics of any particular eating disorders, but we do emphasize, promote and live a very healthy and active life-style. We always talk about the importance of good nutrition and the value of eating organic, locally produced foods. We just started receiving a weekly box of organic produce, so it’s been fun to cook and try out new foods. Our girls know that healthy eating habits make for healthy bodies. Everyday we also hike, bike, run around and get plenty exercise and fresh air. I think the healthy habits and routines they form now will carry on throughout their lives.


14 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay June 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

I can not begin to say how concerned I am about all of this.

My daughter had a huge weight gain in 2nd grade due to stress brought on by the death of a friend, her best friends moving away and my husband having to travel for work. She would now be considered obese.

The “popular” girls in 1st grade were already bullying other girls about their weight.

One friend on our block has been taking her 13-year-old daughter to visit a friend who in in the hospital due to anorexia. They are not sure the girl is going to survive she is so ill.

My daughter notices everything. People on diets, magazines in the check-out lane in the grocery store, the fact that she has a hard time finding clothes that fit, having a hard time keeping up in gym class.

We hope to keep our home and family a safe place for her. It feels like an uphill battle.

I hope to God that we can all get through raising our girls to be healthy and happy with themselves.


15 Jody June 25, 2012 at 11:04 am

I’m so glad you brought this up. I feel the need to add that this is not just a women’s/girls’ issue. If fathers and brothers stand up against this unhealthy and unrealistic expectation, we could really address the issue.


16 Salt Lake Lovely June 25, 2012 at 11:42 am

My first thought was don’t bring it up with kids so they never even think/know about it, but then I realized how widespread/known this is now and how kids might know others who have body image issues or even themselves have issues so I think talking openly like you mentioned is best.


17 val June 25, 2012 at 11:49 am

What a timely topic! As the mother of 3 teenage girls, I have already delved into this serious discussion. I had several roommates in college with anorexia, and I feel very strongly that all girls should recognize and celebrate their individual beauty, regardless of body size and shape. I make every effort to compliment my daughters and their friends on their individual beauty.

I heartily agree with what others have already said about encouraging girls to exercise and eat healthy. These things have definitely helped me with my own beautiful daughters. However, I’m not sure it’s enough. In my own limited experience with eating disorders, I found that those suffering wanted a measure of control over their own lives, and eating (or not eating) gave them that control. As a mom, my ultimate goal is to raise beautiful independent children, so I have consciously made an effort to let them know that they are in charge of their own choices… while resisting my own urges to control them in an effort to make sure they don’t choose something harmful. My hope is that the combination of well-intentioned teaching and implicit trust will be enough to guide them in those choices.

We’re definitely not through the teenage years yet, but so far it’s working. We talk openly about these kinds of subjects, and when they come to me with questions, I do my very best to answer honestly and in a way that leaves the line of communication open.


18 Gillian June 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I know this is a world-wide issue but I wonder if you have noticed any difference in these issues in France? When I was 18 I had a summer job in France and I couldn’t believe how frank (rude/insensitive) people were about other peoples bodies. I remember my fatness being discussed one day in front of me, one girl arguing that I was, and a guy arguing that I wasn’t (I wasn’t, I was a european size 8). My boss saying I needed to get a better tan (impossible I’m Irish!). I’ve always thought its a very cruel place to be a teenager. They say french women don’t get fat but I’ve always thought a big part of that was that it would be intolerable to be overweight in school in France, also unacceptable to any french mother to have an over weight daughter.


19 Alison June 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm

What a great presentation!

The starving model shook me because there was a time I may have been jealous of exposed bones, then to hear of her death, it hit me in the gut. The disillusion of what we are to look like as women robs the life of even those who are still living with eating disorders. I admit there are still times I struggle with this but did find a breakthrough here.

Thanks for sharing and keeping the conversation open – there is power in that!


20 Traveling Mama June 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm

My husband is a photographer and recently was hanging out with one of his friends who is a high end fashion photographer here in Denmark. He does many of the front covers for some of the biggest fashion magazines here and admitted that there isn’t a single cover that he has done that hasn’t taken at least eight hours to “fix.” He showed my husband the before and after of one of the front covers and my husband was shocked. Apparently the girl had started out looking thin and pretty, but was made to look even thinner. Craziness! I post photos of myself on my blog and even though it is tempting to have my husband photoshop out wrinkles and crinkles, I have made it very clear to him that he will never give me a “photoshop makeover.” The way I see it is that people are eventually going to see me in person and I don’t want them to be shocked! :-) Plus, I believe that every one of us is beautiful in our own skin!


21 Barefoot Hippie Girl June 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I don’t have access to a photo shopping hubby, but I agree with you totally. In person I have wrinkles and bulges and bad hair days. And so I post pics of the real me. Then people won’t be completely shocked when they meet me.=)


22 Cammie June 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Anorexia was so foreign to me in my youth. When I started college a close friend of mine developed anorexia and was nearly hospitalized. I’ve looked closely at my life/upbringing wondering why it was such a shock that my friend would hurt herself like that. I’ve come to realize that my mom never talked about her own body or anyone else’s bodies. People were people and that is that. She also never allowed magazines, Teen, Seventeen, etc into the house. The only magazine I remember reading were Sport’s Illustrated and News Week. I’m extremely grateful for these two things. I believe they kept me willing to see myself as beautiful, even as a super-tall, gangly teenager.


23 Karyl June 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Wow, thanks Gabrielle, this hit home for me. I am still struggling with my post-baby weight and can’t seem to shake the 30 pounds off, but am working on it. I talk a lot about it at home but I need to stop, just act on eating healthy, limit sugars and working out daily and stop moaning about it. My kids are 4 and 2 and my 4 year old asked me last week, “Mommy am I fat?” while poking his tummy. He is stick thin since he’s so active but has a little bit of a belly, like all kids should. I was mortified that I brought this on since I’m always poking at my own belly. For the sake of my kid, I will stop talking about it and really do lose the weight. I hope and pray I haven’t damaged him for life yet.


24 Kate June 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I dislike strongly how society tells girls, “You’re beautiful! You should love yourself! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” but tells boys, “Eh, whatever.” Girls are put on this special pedestal of being of the utmost value while boys are disregarded, both in entertainment, the media, and in reality (Misandry runs rampant in society but that isn’t the focus here).

My brother had a combination of anorexia and bulimia in his freshman year of college. There was no help available at college (but there was for females) and it was a shock when my little brother came home for the winter break and looked like a skeleton. He had been so worried about gaining the freshman fifteen (and being hideously unattractive, in his eyes) that he lost a frightening amount of weight in five months and was dangerously malnourished. Luckily, he hadn’t turned eighteen yet so we were able to get him help, and he’s healthy now five years later, but it was an awful experience for everyone involved.

For my children, my husband and I have tried our absolute hardest to establish their value as wonderful human beings in them, to ensure that health of the body and mind is far more important to them than appearance. It is painful to see that what we as parents do sometimes isn’t enough. The other day my oldest son asked me if I thought he needed to lose weight, if I thought he was fat. He’s twelve. And he doesn’t at all, he shouldn’t, he’s perfectly healthy–I told him this. But he didn’t believe me. He clammed up when I tried to find out why he feels this way about himself. When I told him about his uncle and broached the subject of eating disorders he refused to say anything. I’m keeping an eye on him, making sure he eats enough, but there’s this cold ache of fear in me that my son will develop an eating disorder or has one already. I don’t want what my brother experienced–and what our entire family experienced–to happen to my son or us.

My point is that horrible body image doesn’t segregate itself within one gender. Males suffer just as much as females do, and ignoring that fact causes much harm to everyone. Anorexia and bulimia are vile mental diseases that affect both genders. Turning our backs on one gender is vehemently damaging and incredibly wrong.


25 Darcy June 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm

This is a subject that is very close to my heart. I worked for a few years in an eating disorder treatment center. I also struggled through eating disordered behaviors as a teen. I had body dysmorphia. It is still a struggle at times. With my family (four kiddos) I try to instill good eating habits starting with eating at the table together for dinner, never skipping meals (unless they are super sick), and eating healthy: veggies, fruits, and homemade foods. I also NEVER EVER EVER speak badly about my own body in front of them EVER. I have spoken openly with my children about eating disorders and how they affect your body and how there are other ways to deal with pain and inabilities to control their lives. I also have an open door policy with them; they can tell me anything without judgment. I have no scales in my home either. I find it counter productive to weigh yourself constantly. We play outside, swim, play sports, and take walks. I like for them to understand that what you weigh has nothing do with being healthy and happy.


26 Lisa June 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Having Having had a daughter fight with anorexia for over 6 years, and having lost a very precious time to build my relationship with her, I yearn to help other mothers and loved ones understand the pain of the child with the eating disorder so that there can be an increase in compassion when there is also an increase in worry. It wasn’t until after my daughter was in recovery and had moved away from our home that I read what a typical person with anorexia self talk might be. Reading it made me weep. This young girls and boys—or older girls and boys—are dealing with a mental illness that is real and destructive—to themselves and relationships. Understanding the disease with compassion along with great concern can help deepen the relationships and thus help the family help the child over this disease. Here are some of the self talk that goes on inside of a child who is feeling like the world is too much for him/her:

“Everyone hates you. You only cause trouble. There’s nothing you do right. You are demanding, selfish, greedy and mean. Things never will work out of you. You make the world miserable. A person like you doesn’t deserved any pleasure, and eating is pleasurable. If you try to get rid of me [ED], I will only go and hurt someone else; and if I did that, you know you couldn’t live with yourself, so I’m here to stay!! You’re fat and gross and ugly. Your father will die in a plane crash if you eat. You should burn in hell. You don’t deserve to live. You should not eat because to eat is to live. You are a burden to society. You should die. You’re evil. You should go to hell. You don’t deserve your family’s love. They love you only because they have to. They would be better off if you were dead.”

Anorexia and other eating disorders are a way of coping with a life that seems overwhelming. In a workbook on anorexia used at the Denver Children’s hospital, the question is raised, “What causes eating disorders?” They give a short and long answer: The short answer, “We don’t know.” The long answer is, “We really don’t know.” (Off the C.U.F.F. Nancy Zucker, Ph.D. Duke University Medical Center.) But we do know that love, compassion and understanding can help the child accept help in overcoming the disease.


27 Heather June 25, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I struggled with Anorexia and am really glad to see you bringing it up here on your blog. You are right about the many misconceptions, but the secrecy surrounding eating disorders also allows them to thrive. I have two sons and to be honest, have been grateful to not have daughters simply because of my fears of unwittingly passing on my issues to them. I know that seeing my mom struggle with her weight, constantly trying to lose weight but not being able to, contributed to my distorted self-image. Also being frequently complimented on how I looked, even as a little girl, was a contributing factor. It seems like people often tell boys they are “brave” and “strong” and then tell girls they are “pretty” or “cute,” when they can be just as brave and strong as boys. It’s a really complicated issue, but from what I can see about how you are raising your girls, they are getting really well-rounded reinforcement and being exposed to so much more about women than aesthetics.


28 Lexy @ The Proper Pinwheel June 25, 2012 at 6:13 pm

It is so refreshing to see people discussing this openly. Both of my sisters struggled with Anorexia and Bulemia and they are realizing the consequences years later. It’s a very complex, but very real issue among women these days. My best friend growing up suffered from both eating disorders and was hospitalized because of it. When trying to help her and her family, it only drove a wedge between us that took YEARS to repair. I’m very happy to see that women are becoming more aware and that parents are recognizing this early. I don’t have any children yet, but when I do, they’ll be sure to know that they’re beautiful! :)


29 Trina {Beginner Beans} June 25, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Thank you for sharing this. A family member is currently in yet another round of treatment for anorexia (I’ve lost count). I researched it in college to attempt to understand, and found that it’s such a deep issue with many causes that even those affected don’t understand. While “fake” women on magazine covers certainly doesn’t help, it’s not THE issue, and that part can easily be talked about. I will be sure my daughter knows the truth about these alterations and understands the importance of health above appearance–and, yet, there will be many more challenges for her that I pray she’ll overcome.


30 Kinga June 26, 2012 at 12:06 am

It is a terrible thing and it always has its reasons. I never was affected but as a child I was a terrible eater. My mom could not breasfeed me and she got so stressed out because of it that food became for us a stress source. She was just afraid that I don’t get enough to eat. And because she pushed me to eat all the time, I just didn’t. I promised myself I will never do this to my kids. I have a three year old with a healhy appetite, who eats everything. But we eat everything, too. We never tell her that something doesn’t taste good, eat everything in moderation: even ice cream, chocolate and co. But we also go running with her and I work out with her. I just hope I can give her the self-confidence that she never thinks being thin is important. For us being strong and healthy is the goal.


31 Sonya June 26, 2012 at 9:06 am

As someone who struggled with this myself the first year of college, it is something I am passionate about and try to teach girls and young women who are in my life (well, let’s say younger women, I am not that old) about moderation. I am really interested in nutrition and education of children from a young age about what is healthy and about making healthy choices. It makes me question why I am not more involved in charities for young girls – off to research and remedy that now!


32 Lindsey June 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Someone in my immediate family has suffered from anorexia for most of her life and since I this person is so close to me (and older), I was forced to grow up far sooner than I was ready. The thing to remember is that it’s an isolating disorder. Sufferers become recluses, nearly agoraphobic and completely petrified about social situations where food is involved (which is pretty much every situation) and it distances loved ones who can’t shake the frustration. I don’t have children so it isn’t a concern in that sense but I have to keep my own occasional food issues in check. I’m lucky enough to have a relatively healthy approach to eating and body image but like most women in the developed world, this balance is constantly threatened (despite my greatest efforts to resist) by the images in the media I see around me. I think communication and education will be key with your family – make sure, when they’re old enough, they watch the Killing Us Softly series and are presented with healthy, positive images of men and women. That’s all you can do!


33 juliagblair June 26, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Thanks for bringing up this difficult subject. I was impressed that Garrison Keillor(Lake Wobegone) had a parody about a daughter coming home for
a visit after a period of time in a re-hab center for an eating disorder. When
the mother greeted her with love and kindness the girl replied (something to the effect of) “Get over it! You’re such a dysfunctional family! I deserved better! etc…” The sad thing is that some re-hab centers don’t work with the
family to help them understand and heal together. I appreciate Mr. Keillor bringing this to public attention. It was funny but pathetic.


34 Julia June 26, 2012 at 10:15 pm

I love the way Mrs.Kilbourne presents the issue and I agree absolutely.

I’m 21 and not so long ago, I was 12 and had my nose in fashion magazines on a daily basis. And then the book series Gossip Girl were wildly popular (where the protagonist makes herself throw up almost in every chapter). Of course I thought I had to be super thin, in order to be “perfect”. Thank God, my boyfriend put me back on track and I now look back at my 13-14 self with shivers.
I don’t know how I’m going to raise girls when I have children in the future (my parents talk about weight day and night), but I know I’ll try really hard to give them a healthy body image.
In today’s world, anorexia and bulimia are growing problems… but so is obesity. Let’s stay healthy :)


35 Cortnie July 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I absolutely love this!



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