Parents' Roles in Development of Eating Disorders
Much of the literature that focuses on the parents' role in the development of eating disorders is focused on the mother and the mother-daughter relationship. Studies have shown conclusively that a mother's body image and eating habits are, mirrored in her daughter, and that if she is obsessed with her own body image, it stands likely that her daughter will be the same way both growing up and in her adult life. The father, though, is often left out of the research except for in the basic family profile. Here, we will examine the active role that the father plays in the development of eating disorders in their daughters. First, we will explore why the father's ideas and how they are expressed can lead to an eating disorder. Next, we will discuss how a daughter's feelings are transformed into symptoms of eating disorders, and finally, we will conclude with how the relationship needs to change to help daughters recover from the vice of an eating disorder.
The Ideas of the Father
Since men in our society are "encouraged to achieve but not to feel" (Maine), fathering is often a difficult task for men, especially with their daughters because the relationship requires "more intimacy then most men can handle" (Maine). Men try to bond with their daughters oftentimes with gifts or compliments, but not with interaction into their lives. Daughters look up to their fathers and want to please them, so they look around to see what makes their fathers happy and try to emulate whatever it is. The first place to look is at the relationship the father has with the mother. If a girl has an average weight mother, but constantly hears her father encouraging her to diet or exercise the daughter 'will try to adapt the same standards for herself. Here, the daughter sees the father as "one family member causing another's behavior' (Palazzoli). Men, for the most part, agree with the social norms of beauty. Watching television, reading magazines, or simply walking down the street with their fathers, girls see the appreciation thin, beautiful women receive from men. In turn, the girls believe that if they were thin and beautiful, they would have a better relationship with their father. Fathers though, have a difficult time with dealing with the fact that their daughters are beautiful, even if they are, because of the facts that they do not want their little girls to grow up and also because they cannot relate to what they see as 'premature sexuality' (Palazzoli). When girls begin to express themselves sexually, then, fathers become more distant from the relationship, often seeing the situation as one the mother should deal with. If the father does feel the need to play a role in this stage of his daughter's development, it is mostly to warn her against the evils of boys her age and the threat and consequences of pregnancy and disease. There is rarely a sit down discussion of what it means to be...