What it’s like to lose your shit in front of 500 sorority girls

I’m no stranger to embarrassing situations, particularly when Greek life is involved. One of Dan and my favorite stories to recount is the time he attended a formal with me as a last-minute fill-in. I was wearing a sparkly Urban Outfitters black tank dress that could easily double as fancy napkin, and gigantic strappy black platform heels that had me pushing 6’2”. Over the course of the night, I consumed enough, um, Diet Sprite, that I was feeling extremely drunk on life and towards the end of the evening, I definitely remember dancing…and then there’s momentary blackness…and then my eyes are open and I’m looking at the ceiling from a prone, spread-eagle position as the DJ roars, “Leslie Goldman is ON THE FLOOR!!” Hey, ain’t no thang. I brushed myself off, picked my drag queen-looking butt up off the parquet, and dutifully reported to School Bus #3 waiting outside to perform my Sober Monitor Bus Captain duties.

Last week, I had the chance to relive my sorority days just a wee bit (dance floor antics excluded) when the women of Delta Phi Epsilon invited me to keynote their annual conference in Miami. The speech I prepared was a confidence-themed talk in which I deftly managed to use Sex and the City as a metaphor for life. I won’t reveal all my secrets here, but let’s just say I successfully equated Samantha’s first HIV test with my decision to withdraw my med school applications and become a writer.  (The link? Both were about facing your fears.) I also was thrilled to highlight the line, “Jesus honey! Wax much?” on a giant AV screen during my PowerPoint presentation, and apologized in advance if I attempted to sniff any of their heads or nuzzle any of the necks, as this was my first trip away from Evie. (As an aside, I was able to smuggle 60 ounces of breast milk through security without so much as a raised eyebrow…although a man standing at the Starbucks condiment counter holding an empty silver canister of 2% did cast quite the longing glance my way.

After the keynote, I hosted a body image breakout session. Now, I’ve given this particular talk dozens of times, in front of audiences as daunting as 2500 and as intimate as a few dozen. I always begin it by showing the Dove “Onslaught” video - in it, the camera focuses on an innocent little redhead, her self-esteem not yet mangled by mainstream media. Then, the screen fills with a series of rapid-fire images of women as we are portrayed everywhere we look: Half-naked women dancing in music videos, women having their breasts sliced open for implants, women worshipping the scale, women on TV promising this cream will make us younger/firmer/prettier/   thinner, women purging into toilets…you get the drift. (I encourage you to watch it right now,  even if you’ve already seen it. Actually, I wish I had viewed it once again before screening it; you’ll know why in a moment.)

So I clicked on the link and the video started rolling. And as I stood behind the podium, my eyes began to well up and my throat started to constrict as I watched, this being the first time I’ve seen the video as a mother of a little girl. The thought of Eve hating herself, of her comparing her body to anyone else’s and thinking, “I’m not good enough,” the thought of her dieting or sticking her finger down her throat or swallowing an appetite suppressant? It’s heartbreaking. Watching the video in that moment crystallized it all for me. Unfortunately, the crystallization was happening in a room full of strangers. Before I could fully realize how quickly my emotions were going to rush out of me, the 1:19 video was over and I was completely overcome. I stood there, barely shielded by the microphone, full-out sobbing into my hands and I struggled to eek out, “I am so sorry,” but I couldn’t even speak. The meltdown felt like it lasted an hour, but I know it was just 20 seconds or so, and ultimately I regained my composure and went on to tell the group of my own story of hating my body and dieting and sticking my finger down my throat…and now I realize the pain and heartbreak my own unhappiness brought upon my parents, and for that, I am truly sorry.

After my talk, two young women approached me. One was a model, tall and lanky with strikingly big eyes and a pillowy pout. Not even a senior yet, she has been featured on the cover of major women’s magazines – they very ones I write for.

She was crying.

Her mother, she told me, criticizes her for her weight. “She tells me I’m blowing up,” she revealed. I Googled her stats online: She’s 5’9”, a size four. 32-24-34.

Isn’t your mother the one who is supposed to constantly champion you? To encourage you and promise you that you are beautiful, inside and out, no matter what? Maybe I was just fortunate to have that type of experience – my mom never, ever made a cruel comment to me about my body or looks. Sure, she forced me to change a questionable outfit or two, but it was never done in a way to make me feel ashamed or embarrassed about my physique.

And so:

Evie, I will never criticize your body for the way it looks.

I will never call you fat (or “skinny,” or any other weight-based label), and I will never stand for others doing so, either.

I will never ask you to go on a diet.

I will not allow a scale to pollute where we live.

I will do my absolute best to model healthy behaviors in our home, like playing outside, cooking wholesome, yummy foods, keeping misogynistic shows off the TV and cancelling that damn lingerie catalog that arrives, week after week, making me – someone who flat-out knows the airbrushed images are practically cartoons – feel like crap. Still, I know that even these efforts cannot inoculate you.

I will not allow you to feel less-than – not on my watch. And if (and when…I know it is when, not if) you do, I will do my best to help you work through it, to show you the true beauty and exquisiteness I see within you when I gaze at you in your crib at night.

I will back you up as you pursue your passions.

I will compliment you on your strength, your smarts, your kind gestures.

I will fight and claw to give you every possible opportunity to love and embrace yourself, inside and out, so you don’t wind up saddled with the same sort of awful body image issues I, for whatever reasons, wound up with.

I will do my absolute best to ensure that when you look into my eyes, you see the reverence and adoration and acceptance I have for you as your own person reflected back.

Evie, I promise to forever be your champion.

Just please, don’t don a super short dress, drink too much Diet Sprite and wind up lying down on the dance floor. It’s very unbecoming.

 

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27 Responses to What it’s like to lose your shit in front of 500 sorority girls

  1. Jill says:

    This might well be my favorite thing you’ve ever written. Love it!

    My 11 year old daughter will occasionally (rarely, but it happens) say something about her weight – and I always tell her “you are exactly where you should be. You’re weight is perfect for your age and height, so don’t worry about what other girls weigh – they are not you.” I can only hope this makes through to the “knowing” part of her brain and stays there!
    Jill recently posted..It must mean something!

  2. I wish I was there with my sisters to hear you speak. It sounds like a truly missed out. But you’ve got a new follower on your blog! Thanks for writing that inspiring post!
    Megan Lessard recently posted..PhotoADay July 5

  3. Our parents taught us 4 girls (my poor brother was the baby) to be equal rights champions and do our own thing. Unfortunately for the generation we grew up in (the 70s), there really were unwritten rules for girls and we had to learn them quickly and mercilessly in junior high. But we are all confident, strong adults now, so even if Evie has a tough time in school, your teachings will carry her in good stead as an adult. More power to you and your tears of caring!
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted..The Klout Workout: Perks & Circuits

  4. What a great post! I know just how you feel. I’ve never quite broken down sobbing when doing talks like this, but I’ve certainly felt like it on occasion.

    It just makes you more human. And relatable.

    I love your promises to your daughter. Now that mine are 21 and 17, I have a realistic view of what I can and can’t protect them from. I hate what they’re exposed to. But they have to learn to cope. So we can give them that.

    –Harriet Brown
    Author, BRAVE GIRL EATING: A FAMILY’S STRUGGLE WITH ANOREXIA

  5. Trish says:

    I agree with Jill – that might be my favorite out of all your fabulous blogs. How heartfelt and beautiful! I too, lost my shit. Luckily, I’m sitting at my kitchen table with an audience of 1 (sleeping) dog.

  6. Dale says:

    Leslie,

    No wonder Jean loves you so much. This is brilliant!

  7. Marni says:

    Leslie, thank you for writing this! I am immediately sending this to my bff, mom of twin girls. I am terrified of these girls growing up with the same issues bff and her mother still face today. I really do love reading what you write!

    Marni

    PS – Kiss Evie for me!

  8. Sara says:

    I hope I’m on the right track with my two girls who are 8 and 5. I think I am – my older daughter is frequently complimented on her looks (I love your hair! That dress is so cute! You have such beautiful eyes!) and I was so pleased to hear her tell my father after one such compliment, “being cute is just a bonus. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re nice and funny and smart” to which he replied “true enough, good thing you’re all those other things too!”. I have preached to many of the other mothers in her peer group that if you only praise ‘being pretty’ that is what girls learn to value in themselves.

  9. bdaiss says:

    Perfect. Just perfect. Great post as usual my dearest. Motherhood is very becoming on you. : )

    I hear this already about my daughter – my husband comparing her to our super skinny son. Comments about her “cute belly and thigh rolls”. And here’s one other thing I have decided: it’s not enough to empower our girls. We must also educate our sons. And so I tell my son: I run and exercise so I can be strong and chase him and build things and lift him out of the pool. That we eat healthy food so not only are our muscles strong, but our brains are strong too. That if you work hard, no matter who you are, boy or girl, you can do anything you want to. There are no “girl toys” and “boy toys”, or colors for that matter. That people come in all shapes and sizes and colors and that is the way we are supposed to be. How boring would the world be if we were all the same? Because it is not enough for our girls to know this. Our boys must expect our girls to be tough and smart and strong and unique too.

  10. Love love love love this. I don’t have a little girl, but I am a mom, and it breaks my heart to think that not all moms will support their children this way. If you don’t have mom in your corner, who do you have?! I’m so glad you were there to give these girls the support they needed.

  11. This made me weep. Thank you so much for writing it.
    Meredith Bland recently posted..I invented a new game: Garage Scavenger Hunt. Let’s play!

  12. Scott says:

    I don’t follow your writings as assiduously as a next-door neighbor should, I suppose, but I’ve read some, and some I’ve liked and some, frankly, I haven’t.

    This is by far the best short piece you have written, in my experience. I pick up more on the judging and condemning aspect, rather than the body-image aspect, but it’s all of piece. Thank you for it.

  13. Hello Leslie!

    I was in the audience during your speech when you had begun to cry because of the dove video, and i vividly remember us all awe’ing at the fact that you were tearing because of your daughter. It was extremely heartfelt and you could tell right away how passionate you are about this topic. We had all learned a great deal from you that day, and I sincerely appreciate you taking your first trip away from Eve to come to speak to us in Miami. Thank you so much for teaching us to love our bodies, and that the media is basically a lie. (sorry to say).

    It was also a pleasure meeting you, and again – Thank you for telling us your story.
    - Angela Albanese, Epsilon Chi – Delta Phi Epsilon.

  14. Nicole DeFeo says:

    As the Exec of Delta Phi Epsilon, let me say, that our women loved you and your raw emotion. Our motto is Esse Quam Videri- to be rather than seem to be, we can really appreciate the real when we see it. Thank you for joining us and I hope we have an opportunity to work together for the betterment of young women everywhere in the near future.
    Sororally,
    Nicole DeFeo, International Executive Director, Delta Phi Epsilon

  15. Leslie,
    I was one of those girls who never felt good enough and subsequently went on to starve myself, put my fingers down my throat and use laxatives all because I was so afraid of “being fat” (even though I never was). I’m three years sober from bulimia and the major catalyst for me was finding out I was pregnant, that was the “rock bottom” that made me leave it all behind; because I knew that if the baby inside me was a girl I didn’t want her going through what I went through. My Sophia is two years old now and (by the grace of God) her mama no longer struggles with any of the tortuous thoughts and behaviors of an eating disorder. I love your pledge to your daughter, in a way it is the same one I made to my daughter before she was just a few weeks beyond conception. Now I plan on writing down my commitment to be her “champion.” Thanks so much for sharing.
    Love.
    Sarah @RunFarGirl recently posted..Women’s Running Magazine: Running Goddesses

  16. I can only imagine that the honesty of crying made the point hit home harder than anything you could have just said – I loved this post, thank you for sharing with all of us who couldn’t be there for what sounds like an amazing, heartfelt, & empowering talk.
    Maggie @ FatBottomSlim recently posted..Just Keep Going : The Aquaphor New York City Triathlon

  17. Thank you so much for your kind comments, everyone! I admit, I feel a little bit embarrassed, like maybe I’ve promoted myself as being this superwoman with the healthiest body image ever when, in fact, I have plenty of off days just like everyone else and have moments all the time where I’m not happy with something I see in the mirror. But having Eve is helping me feel more compassion for myself because I would NEVER want HER to look at her body and experience even an instant of shame and sadness…so why is it OK for me to do the same? I’m a work in progress and just wrote this to recommit myself – obviously, to her, and I suppose to myself as well.
    Leslie Goldman recently posted..What it’s like to lose your shit in front of 500 sorority girls

  18. MCM Mama says:

    Wonderful post. Even with two sons, I have to be really careful about emphasizing health, rather than thinness. I still struggle with my body image and I can see my older son noticing and reflecting about his body.
    MCM Mama recently posted..Who doesn’t love Disney?

  19. This is so touching Leslie. You made me cry. However, you have a great mom who never ever lower your self-confidence.
    Pamela Oakley recently posted..Male Potency and Natural Ways to Be Sexually Potent Men

  20. Katie S. says:

    Thank you.
    I never had to worry about my daughter’s self-image as she grew up – she was a very healthy, active girl and never had to think about her size – other than being short – which she loved.
    Now as a grown woman with two small boys, I must tell myself to not get onto her about her size. She’s put on weight, but who doesn’t having two children. She praises me enough (having been at 200 pounds when she was a child, to my now 125 – 135 as she is an adult) – I need to return the praise and not say a word about her “baby weight”.
    Thank you for opening my eyes to this!

  21. JJ says:

    This morning, my darling 2.5 year old, all still wrapped up in her feetie jammies and fuzzy bathrobe on the way to grandma’s house, suddenly became agitated and started crying. “I wanted to be pretty for grandma. I wanted to wear a pretty princess dress and be pretty today”.
    Kill me. I nearly pulled the car off the road and freaked the f* out at the Pretty Princess Gods out there who have already brainwashed my child. Instead I said, “Darling, you are beautiful inside and out. In jammies, dresses, shorts, nakey, bath, car, or paper bag”. This seemed to settle her and then I said, “Do you want to sing a song about it?” She nodded. So I sang a few bars from a song I have been making fun of for 10 years: “I am beautiful” by Christina Aguilaria. (That would be the second “kill me” moment of the morning). I’ll be goddamned if she didn’t eat it up.
    What I am saying is I don’t know how this damage gets done so fast. I don’t know what I could have taught/avoided/said/done/not done in her short years already. I know that women can turn this around at any point though, and your vulnerability as a mama AND a speaker probably opened up that space for many of these girls. Blessings!
    JJ recently posted..Explaining Differences

  22. Pingback: Welcome to Miami Convention 2012! « Delta Phi Epsilon – South Florida Alumnae Association

  23. Sasha Moretz says:

    I am not having problem with my little girl even sometimes she loves to freak out when she can’t be able to get something she needs. I just do my best as a mom to her. As long as there is always an explanation afterward everything will be okay.
    Sasha Moretz recently posted..Male Enhancement Supplements: A Guide to Discover the Best

  24. This is so inspiring post. You make me amazed on you. I love the way you become a person.
    Debra Baldwin recently posted..Natural Aphrodisiacs for Men to Boost Their Sexual Desire

  25. Hanna Ross says:

    I wish I was there to hear your speech. For sure you inspire a lot of individuals.
    Hanna Ross recently posted..Boost up you Ejaculation Volume Naturally

  26. Norman Dett says:

    Good morning

    You have an excellent blog, it was fun to read.

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