Open Letter to My Local Radio Station

March 4, 2017 • Body Image, Eating Disorder, Health, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, NEDA, Recovery, Self Care • Views: 2186

Dear local family-friendly media station,

I’ve been listening to your station for years – ever since college when I was averaging up to a hundred miles a day in the car between home, jobs, and school.

Your station’s jingle, which I’ve probably now heard more times than even your most popular song and can sing along to is “safe for the whole family!” Initially I found this a reassuring phrase in a world of violence, prejudice, inequalities, and injustice. I do appreciate that neither your hosts nor your music contain profanity – quite refreshing.  

However, I actually find your station to be dangerously unsafe, particularly to families. I now switch stations or turn off the radio altogether when I am driving with kids in the backseat.  It feels toxic to expose them to the deluge of advertisements for weight loss and other body-altering programs, plans, and success stories that I hear in the commercials and even from some of the hosts themselves.

My tipping point for writing this letter came recently when one of the most prominent advertisers on your station started including the phrase, “kids join free with parent enrollment” for a program guaranteeing rapid and lasting weight loss with minimal effort.

Excuse me?

What is safe about instilling in a child the idea that she is not good enough the way she is and that weight loss is a wholesome parent-child bonding experience?

I would rather have a conversation about profanity than body image any day.  The former conversation is simply more straightforward: “Did you hear that word _____ just said? It’s an inappropriate word that is degrading to many people. Why do you think ______ used that word? What could he/she have said instead?  What could you say to a friend if you heard him/her use this word on the playground or on social media?”

That conversation could provide a lot of room for insight and growth. And it would be infinitely easier than having to interject, “Darling, did you hear that commercial just now?  The one about how that lady has lost X pounds while following X specific diet plan? The one about how after losing weight she now has more energy and feels more positive about life? The one about the woman being too embarrassed to wear shorts or a bathing suit in public until she got her body to a socially-acceptable state, whether it be in regards to her weight, her varicose veins, her thinning hair, or any hair on her body, for that matter. Even if you didn’t pay attention to the details, did your brain file those messages of inadequacy away to taunt you when you’re in a more vulnerable state?”

I wish they would talk less about numbers and more about self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence. How can a station play songs with lyrics like, “There could never be a more beautiful you” immediately before offering resources to change the current you into an improved, happier, healthier, more attractive, better you.  

The lyrics of that same song continue: “Don’t buy the lies, disguises and hoops, they make you jump through / You were made to serve a purpose that only you can do / So there could never be a more beautiful you” (“More Beautiful You,” Jonny Diaz).

If we truly are beautiful just as we are, just as we were created, then why do we perpetuate self-loathing and constant physical self-bettering in our society, and especially in our children? Why do we focus as much, if not more, on improving outsides as we do insides? Why does appearance have to carry as much weight as intellect and compassion?

I don’t yet have a daughter, but I’d like to think if I ever do that I would surround her with only positive messages to build her confidence. That I would shield her from all talk of body shame and inadequacy. Or, at the very least, that I would teach her to rise above it.

The truth, though, is that even with the best intentions and even though I’m well into recovery from an eating disorder, there are still days when I feel discouraged and disgusted with myself.  

There are days when I’m just too tired of challenging negative self-talk and trying to ignore the oppressively overwhelming messages that so plague our media.  

There are days I give in. I look up those weight loss programs I hear about on the radio or television. I flip through diet magazines in the checkout line at the store. I blatantly ignore the fine print at the bottom of so many ads—“results not typical.” I’ll even click the sidebar ads on social media and contemplate buying that week’s miracle product so that I can feel attractive enough to walk out of my house in the morning.

The key word is enough.  When struggling with an eating disorder, there is never “enough” weight to lose to feel content and successful.  The goal numbers on the scale are impossible to reach – they keep decreasing so that the sought-after happiness the disorder promises the brain is interminably elusive. Being at a weight low enough for the disorder’s approval means being dead. Only then is the game won.

So yes, on any given day I would much rather explain to a child why it’s not appropriate to call someone a certain name than to have to counter every message society sends her about needing to change her body to be good enough, pretty enough, or loveable enough. Fighting the media-message-battle for myself is already exhausting.

I would feel safer exposing a child to profane language than the profane-yet-subliminal messaging in our media. That is why I turn off your station when I have children in my car.

What happened to being enough, just as you are, serving the purpose you were made to serve? That “purpose that only you can do?”  Find a purpose that lets the world see the beautiful you, the one you already are. It is every bit enough.


Jenny Millkey

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