When I was 22, I was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) after living with it my whole life. When I finally felt brave enough to tell a GP about my symptoms, I received a diagnosis and my life immediately changed for the better. It was the first step to unlearning a lot of behaviours and beliefs which fed into my anxiety. It took many years to learn to manage my symptoms, but I remember being given the right kind of medication and feeling, for the first time in my life, like a “normal” person.
Now that I have been able to manage my symptoms through what I learned in my cognitive behavioural therapy sessions, I no longer need medication. It took a few different rounds of therapy, mind you, but if I could go back and speak to 14-year-old me, I would tell her to stay strong – life gets so, so much better.
Now, my eldest daughter has turned 10 – double digits – and I am starting to think about what her teenage years will look like. When I was struggling with anxiety, I used to check self-help books out of the library – it was only when I had my own laptop and regular access to the internet that I first learned about OCD. Today, our kids have instant access to any kind of information they might need. They also have access to a lot of potentially unhelpful information. This week, Rebecca Lenehan writes about how to approach the subject of body image with our children (p14). While teenagers of my generation were bombarded with images of perfect models in magazines and on television, the latest generation of teenagers are bombarded with perfection every time they turn on their phone, as well. Influencers and celebrities can put out an image which is unachievable for most teenagers – they have access to teams, personal trainers and expensive products or treatments. It’s difficult to convey to our children that this is not the pinnacle they should be looking to achieve. Bodies, like Rebecca states in her article, are as diverse as humans themselves and should be celebrated regardless of size or shape.
Bodies, like Rebecca states in her article, are as diverse as humans themselves and should be celebrated regardless of size or shape.
Although not currently a recognised diagnosis, anecdotal evidence around disordered eating indicates a growing prevalence of something called Orthorexia – an unhealthy obsession with “pure” food, or health food. If you scroll through Instagram or TikTok, you will see examples of this everywhere. An obsession with “clean eating” and avoiding “nasties” may, according to Bodywhys (the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland), “contribute to significant diet limitations”.
On the other side of the social media spectrum, you have something called “Mukbang” eating shows, which originated in South Korea and comprise of people eating copious amounts of food – often fast food – on camera. Neither of these types of content, in my opinion, show a healthy relationship with food, and they are everywhere.
I am definitely guilty of talking down my own body in front of my children – I try not to say the word “fat”, even though using that word is my funny way of coping with the weight gain most women begin to experience as they approach mid-life. If you can’t laugh, you’ll cry. Though I would love to go back to my pre-children size, last year, after my umpteenth failed attempt to lose weight, I said goodbye to dieting and am now focusing on having a great relationship with food. I don’t want to spend another minute eating sad, tasteless meals – life is too short. This, more than anything, is the message I want my kids to receive.