top of page

6/27/19: You Did Not Fail

That which does not kill us, gives us a really unhealthy set of coping mechanisms and a really dark sense of humor!

Hi! I’m Coach MK and This is The Morning Mantra.

*cue intro music*

Hi, my name is MK Fleming. I'm a run coach based in Denver, Colorado. But this isn't a podcast about running, exactly. Don't tell my clients, but *whispers* we're never really talking about the running. When you know a crap-tastic event is coming it helps to have a mantra to keep you centered and focused as you move through it. You don't have to be an athlete to be hashtag #coachedandloved by coach MK. And if you are here, then you are hashtag #winningatlife.

*music ends*

Today’s mantra is: You Did Not Fail.

Sometimes I hear my daughter use a rough, almost cruel tone when she is correcting her younger siblings. I take her aside and remind her that only Mommy gets to use a Mommy tone....but part of me dies inside, because I know where she learned that voice. It's the hardest part of being a parent- seeing my flaws replicated in their perfect little bodies.

So I can only imagine the pain of the mommas who reached out in the past three weeks asking for mantras. Their children are in varying stages of recovery from eating disorders; all start college in the fall. And, not all, but some of these Mommas have realized that they themselves have disordered eating habits or unhealthy relationships with food. That sound you hear is my heart breaking for all of them.

That hard left I referenced in my previous mantra is in honor of those women who may not realize they are the product of diet culture. That sounds...crazy. I mean, DIET CULTURE what IS that? It's the diet our mothers were always on, eating off of a smaller plate because it would look fuller...the candy hidden in the cabinet behind the cleaning supplies...the new diet that was always coming...the promise that a better life, a better version of yourself was just ten little pounds away and you were WORTH IT!

Diet culture was a distraction- beauty was a currency our mothers and their mothers could trade in a time when many states legally considered wives property, when domestic abuse was considered a private matter no matter how violent, when women had to be not just smarter but better AND flawless AND pretty AND...thin went with pretty by definition. The stakes were high because their agency was low. Before we examine our mothers we have to give them some grace: diet culture was their coping mechanism as well as a survival tool, giving them an illusion of control over an inescapable situation.

For context, my mother graduated college in 1971 and started teaching. That year, she could be fired for getting pregnant (that law wouldn't be passed until 1978), she could not apply for a credit card or co-sign on the mortgage to her home (that law passed in 1974), she couldn't run the Boston Marathon (1972), and she couldn't say no if her husband wanted sex; martial rape wasn't a crime until 1993. Ten years after that, the nanny we brought with us on our vacation was born; she doesn't know a world without affirmative action working in her favor (but acknowledges her privilege in being a white-passing Latina). HRH the baby Violet will never experience the world before #metoo.

Things change rapidly within generations, and a lifetime of conditioning doesn't fall away overnight. Body positivity is not a substitute for true recovery. You've never lived in a world where a woman could truly and openly be okay with her body, or be openly obsessed with improving it.

Our mothers did the best they could, raised in a time when their fears and complaints were routinely dismissed. Beauty was a source of power, and beautiful was thin. It may have been more loving to tell them their weight doesn't matter....but it wouldn't have necessarily been better parenting, better preparation for the World outside their home where they would be hard-pressed to find the support or clout required to challenge the status quo.

Now listen up because this is important: our mothers can't help the mess they were born into, they are a product of it. And so are you. Therapy is the slow, painful picking away at the scars on your soul, examining the reactions and emotions you have in any given situation. Most of the things we examine in therapy are the things we can't talk about elsewhere- notably the very real issues we face and the very real forces working against us and the very real pressures we face. It's the safe space where we use phrases like 'diet culture' and 'rape culture' because until recently no one cared about the pressure only our reactions to it. It's easier to demonize the woman who taught me to vomit to when I was 13 than to look at the culture that produced a kind, loving woman who truly thought she was doing a chubby kid a favor. (Don't worry, in all the ways I would abuse my body later, bulimia wasn't on the list. I actually never made myself vomit again, it hurts to remember that conversation).

I tell you that to tell you this: it's easier to demonize a person than a culture, to pressure one person rather than many. It's easier to demonize our mothers who pass on their disordered habits to our children than to look at ourselves and see our own reflection in those habits. It hurts way more than when I hear my beautiful daughter snarl "RJ". The work you are doing right now is THE hardest work you'll ever do, and I hope it leads to forgiveness and peace. You are not bad parents. You are not failures.

That you are even considering your possible complicity in your children's condition is proof that you are going to be part of the solution. In all likelihood, you are not the demon in the story your child will tell her therapist....but you're a footnote. It's not necessarily a bad thing. loved my mother more than anything, and my mother WORRIED that I wouldn't be smart enough to offset the paltry amount of beauty currency I was born with. I can't control attractive but I can control thin, right? My therapist and I don't talk about my mother except to examine her influence on me, and in doing so we cannot ignore the influence of diet culture, the weight of her actual weight, on her- way above-average beauty, average athletic ability, average grades. Beauty was her trump card, as long as she was thin, too.

I love my mother. Fuck the world that attached her value to her waistline, and fuck the diet culture that told her she was ten pounds away from anything. She was perfect. She still is. I have no doubt your child talks the same way about you. Even if your kid sees your influence, she doesn't blame you. And you shouldn't either.

If you've stuck with this mantra this far, I promise therapy won't make you a card-carrying feminist, you'll just sound like one. Because once you see these forces you cannot unsee them. And THAT is how you recover. THAT is how you change your response. Recognition leads to recovery, and if you can recognize it in yourself, then HELL YES there's nothing but hope for you, nothing but hope for your kid.

SO, the mantra: in those moments when you see yourself reflected in your child, I want you to hear MY VOICE in the back of your head saying: YOU DID NOT FAIL. And you did not. The world failed you, and the work you are doing right now to recognize the unhealthy patterns is how you will break them.

My next mantra will be the mantra you originally requested, to manage your fear as your child prepares to leave home in a few weeks. I'm pulling out the big guns for that one, stay tuned.

The listeners who wrote in and inspired today's mantra all have daughters but diet culture impacts men as well. If you are managing the impact of diet culture on your male teenage athlete son, read anything by Mario Fraoli, link in the shownotes. If you are curious about the impact of diet culture on the homosexual male community, follow Sam Dylan Finch on Twitter. Finally, if you want to learn more about diet culture on your male overachiever or 'quote unquote metrosexuals', check any of the blowback against Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

If you think that you or someone you love has disordered eating habits, don't wait to call NEDA (The National Eating Disorder Association) 1-800-931-2237

Sam Dylan Finch's Twitter is EVERYTHING and everyone should follow it:

Mario Fraoli is very open about his eating disorder as a professional athlete and speaks openly against the "how far can you go/what are you willing to do for your craft?" mindset:

*cue outro music*

You are Coached. You are Loooved, and you ARE winning at life. And you're definitely winning at life if you subscribe to my Nuzzel Newsletter, follow me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram. feel free to do all three!

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page