The Impact of Social Praise
by Candice Sand
Originally released in 2018 via the Make Peace with Food blog & Dr. Nina
Hey there, this is Dr. Nina writing to introduce you to my amazing guest blogger, singer-songwriter Candice Sand. As a mom of two daughters, I've noticed that they are constantly complimented on their appearance. I tell my girls, "It's nice to be beautiful, but what really matters is that you're smart, kind and thoughtful."
Friends with sons don't share my experience. Their boys are told things like, "Good job, buddy." "Way to throw the ball, big guy."
Girls are praised for their appearance. Boys are praised for their accomplishments.
How does this impact eating disorders? Candice shares her thoughts about how compliments and social praise influenced the development of her eating disorder. She leaves us with some "food for thought" about the legacy and implications of seemingly-innocuous praise.
Take it away, Candice!
THE IMPACT OF SOCIAL PRAISE
The first thing that crossed my mind when I was asked to be a guest writer for Dr. Nina’s blog was that in the many times I've discussed my eating disorder, in interviews, articles or in private conversations, the focus was usually around the process of recovery. The circumstances that caused and continually fuelled my eating disorder were rarely brought up. Every individual’s triggers and motivations can differ greatly but in an effort to address something new, and which I believe is critically important, I've decided to share one of the conclusions I’ve drawn (after a lot of reflection with my former and trusted psychologist) in what I believe kept my eating disorder alive for 15 years.
I know now that it was all around me my entire life. Constant messages being delivered to me about what my body “should” look like. It wasn’t just media and magazines filling my head with images, although that was a solid foundation for my eating disorder to be built upon. A major factor in developing and keeping my eating disorder thriving was consistent social reinforcement that I should strive to be thin. This reinforcement came from the majority of people around me: everyone from classmates to a number of adults and role models in my life.
Growing up I had a sneaking suspicion that the popular girls in school were popular because they were skinny. Fed up with being pudgy, somewhat friendless, and the target of weight related taunting I decided to test that theory by becoming bulimic during summer break when I was 12 years old. I returned to school that fall 25 pounds lighter (and significantly taller thanks to a well-timed growth spurt) and when everyone suddenly wanted to be my friend my suspicion was proven true. Skinny meant popular and popular girls had it all. All the friends, fun and attention from boys. Skinny meant a better, easier life.
Moving forward from this point, my memory is marked with certain moments when I received direct praise for my size, all the while I was essentially starving myself. That same fall after I first became bulimic, a teacher stopped me in the hall to say “you really stretched out this summer, you look great!” Years later, while working a retail job during which I suffered through a brutal crash diet my district supervisor remarked on how tiny I was, and asserted “if you keep looking like that you can have anything you want in this world.” Fast forward a few more years to a serving job I had when I first moved to Toronto. I was on my strictest diet, barely eating and working out six days a week. I was becoming dangerously underweight when one day my manager complimented me: “Have you lost weight? You look amazing!” Each time the only thoughts I can remember having were “it’s working, keep going.”
There are countless examples and much more that I could comment on. For instance, the way women learn they should want to be wanted by men and how that also feeds into the incessant striving for the body ideal. I could talk about how I fell into commercial modelling and how I can say with complete honesty that the skinnier I was, the more jobs I booked. The truth is, all the while I knew I was hurting myself and that hiding my habits was a clear indication that what I was doing was harmful. However at the same time, the skinnier I was the more social praise I received.
I’m not writing this to place blame or dodge responsibility for my choices and actions. I’m writing this to share what I honestly believed the world was telling me: that my size really did matter, and that I should want to be attractive and the only way to be attractive is to be skinny. There is so much emphasis on how we look and it is so common that we rarely see how very dangerous and all consuming that focus can be. I hope I can bring some awareness to the impact that focus can have, and more importantly I hope for a day where in our everyday interactions with family, friends and even strangers, we can reach for something deeper than each others appearance to strike up conversations with or compliment each other on.
To read Candice’s true story of recovery, go to www.CandiceSand.com/ComingClean