The Power of Fear
Written by Susan Harris
I am 57 years old, the mother of three grown children and up until 10 years ago, deathly afraid of public speaking. Fear of speaking jeopardized my career in management and so, I finally found the courage to do something about it in the fall of 2002. I enrolled myself in the Dale Carnegie class and anxiously gave weekly speeches to a class of 40, 38 of whom were younger and 25 of whom were young fathers. The anxiety slowly disappeared and in my final speech, I delivered a message to these young parents.
“Did you know that one in every ten high school and college girls have an eating disorder? Did you know that grade school girls are dieting? Have you ever thought about this? (Increasing my volume,) Well, I WANT YOU TO THINK ABOUT IT! There is a famous research doctor, Dr. Walter Kay, MD who offers the possibility that eating disorders may be genetic. He is quoted as saying, “genetics loads the gun and society pulls the trigger.” I’m not a doctor, and I have no initials behind my name, but I am the mother of a daughter recovering from an eating disorder. Our family albums are loaded with happy pictures of our daughter, Jennie…until middle school when she decided she hated herself. Why? She was teased, bullied, and actually found it physically impossible to walk through the doors into her school. She was bigger than most of her classmates, not heavy, but healthy and athletic. By ninth grade she was taking laxatives. By tenth grade she was bulimic and excessively exercising. Before she reached 11th grade she was also starving herself. It was like a runaway train and I couldn’t stop it. I was helpless, and trust me… helpless is not something I am comfortable with.”
“The counseling was not working and Jennie progressed to perfecting the disease. She did it all…actively bulimic, anorexic, and exercising excessively. We’d reached crisis mode and the only option was to admit her to a wonderful facility called Renfrew. Her father and I drove seven hours every week for a month to family counseling. It was difficult, it was expensive, and it was worth it. The Renfrew Center stopped the runaway train, but it’s never really over. Once someone has an eating disorder, they always carry a piece of that self-loathing with them.”
“What is my message to you?” Open your eyes to your daughters. Listen to their conversations with their peers. Observe the messages TV and magazines send to your daughters and SAY NO to those messages that convince them they need to be the perfect size and shape. Read the book, “Reviving Ophelia,” by Mary Pipher. Be strong for your daughters and make it your goal to make your daughters strong. Take advantage of their young years to build their inner strength and prepare them for a world that makes it very tough for girls (and boys) to grow up confident and happy.”
I received an award for this speech, but my biggest reward was when several of the young dads approached me afterward, thanked me for sharing my story, and said they looked forward to reading Mary Pipher’s book. I had made a difference in that classroom on that day.
All these years later, it’s still happening – the teasing, the bullying, the dieting, the eating disorders and worse, suicide. With the advanced social media today, negative messages and poor self images are rampant. My children may be grown now, but our nation’s youth and my future grandchildren will continue to struggle if parents don’t take the steps necessary to instill the inner strength all children need to survive their adolescent years.
As for Jennifer…she is a very successful and popular high school teacher who relates to her students in a way that only someone with her experience can. As for me…I wish I could have saved her from that bad experience, but that experience is what makes her such a great teacher today.
The Power of Fear