Please note: Many of you have responded to Janna's post this year (read all posts here) and some readers locally have asked if it were possible to meet with Janna for therapy. She is now taking clients in a private practice setting. You can learn more about how here.
Today my 13-year-old client lamented, “I want to live in Ghana.” And here’s why. . .
A few years ago I sat talking with Milli, a friend from the neighborhood. She began asking questions about my work with people who struggle with eating disorders. Born and raised in Ghana, Milli moved to Utah as a young adult to attend Utah Valley University. Ten years later, Milli is offering important insight into my own search to understand the quest for the perfect body as well as the intense body hatred that permeates our culture. “What causes eating disorders?” she asked. And as many of my close friends and family know, if you open that door for me I can hardly restrain myself. Out tumbled my many thoughts and beliefs surrounding this devastating addiction including thoughts about dieting and body image problems in our culture.
Milli understood that part. She had never had a problem with body image or desired to have a different body UNTIL she came to the United States. And then the thoughts crept in. For the first time in her life she began criticizing her body and feeling dissatisfied with her appearance. She blamed herself (it was her body after all). She didn’t recognize what was really happening until she returned to Ghana for a visit. The trip home helped her to identify the real problem (which wasn’t her body).
Here in the United States Milli goes to a department store that models adult clothing on mannequins with 12-year-old body types. She shops for clothing with measurements that vary no more than “S, M, L, XL” etc. She is bombarded by images of underweight and airbrushed women who represent happiness and acceptance. In Ghana Milli grew up having a personal tailor. Around here, tailors are all but extinct. I even have to explain to my young clients what a tailor is. But Milli had the blessing of going to a tailor who took her body measurements and then sewed her clothes to fit her body.
Can you imagine how different this experience is from what many of us now dread? How many of us go into a dressing room with 2 or 3 different sizes of the same pants and stare into the mirror blaming our body for not fitting into clothes that were made across the world on an assembly line? How often do we walk away from a trip to the dressing room feeling “fat” or “disgusting” and resolving to begin another weight loss diet? If you had a tailor who continually made clothes that felt too big, too tight, too long, too short . . . would you change your body? Or would you change tailors?
Some days, I want to live in Ghana too.
Janna Dean LCSW is a practicing therapist specializing in treating eating disorders and other addictions. She is the mother of two four-year-olds, loves camping and making cookies for her neighbors. Her neighbors really appreciate it. Cause they are good cookies. Janna can be reached here.
*photo of the women of Ghana from here.