I recently had the pleasure of giving a lecture at the 1st Annual Summer School Symposium for the Eating Disorders Network of Maryland. Once my bit was done talking about males with eating disorders and how to better understand the disease and how it affects boys and men in our evermore judgmental society, I expected to sit back and hear the usual presentations about women and the disorder. Oh, but I was so wrong. Instead, I was validated in a way I never expected – by Mr. Fred Rogers.
Yep. That Mr. Rogers, with the cardigan sweater, soft brown loafers, gentle voice and empathic soul. The presenter after me touched on the power of bringing the fight to counter body image and eating disorder thinking in our society through the work of Mr. Rogers and his famed television program. You see, Rogers was a victim once himself.
In the movie Mr. Rogers and Me, Rogers recounted being a chubby kid walking home from school when he found himself being followed by a pack of local bullies. He picked up his pace and they did theirs. He began to run and they ran too while screaming, “keep running Fat Freddie!” Mr. Rogers was a victim of fat shaming and bullying just as I was. Like me, instead of getting the love and support he needed he was told essentially to ignore the taunts, to toughen up, and not feel so anxious and sad about the bullying he suffered. Like me, he went into a state of depression, isolating in his room, and losing himself in the torment of emotional neglect and verbal assaults.
Thankfully, his resiliency won the day, and in time he found his courage to re-enter his neighborhood and eventually change the world. Soon, we were all cocooned in the warmth of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The neighborhood of his imagination helped shape the moral center and emotional intelligence of so many. It taught us to speak kindly, act thoughtfully, and give generously to those around us.
While I may not have the temperate nature of Mr. Rogers – my wife will attest I’m more like a bull in a china closet – I have the same mission. We want to help create a world where everyone, men and women, boys and girls alike, learn the language of emotions, see how our actions impact ourselves and those around us, and see that we are in charge of creating the home, neighborhood, community, and world that we dream of for our loved ones. But it requires effort.
Even the kindly affect of Mr. Rogers belies the anger and sadness he felt that ultimately fueled his efforts to make a better community. In my book Man Up to Eating Disorders, I speak of the anger stemming from the “thin ideal” that so devastated my childhood, and how I learned to muster that for my recovery from my eating disorder. That same anger fuels my effort to revolutionize the perception of eating disorders and body image disturbance as being a human experience, not a female one.
So I encourage you to get angry to, make your voice heard, and let the world know how you feel about the state of our body image obsessed, fat loathing, narrow-minded society. You don’t have to yell or stomp or shout. Mr. Rogers didn’t, and look at what he accomplished. Just be heard.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 443-602-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.