Every morning when I wake up, I repeat my favorite mantra by Dr. Suess, “Congratulations! Today is YOUR DAY!” Depending on the mood, I might go further... “You’re off to GREAT PLACES! You’re off and away!”
This is my daily reminder that I am in control of myself, but I cannot control what comes to me. I can and will, however, control how I respond. It has taken me many years to get to this place and I have lots of scars (both inside and out) to prove it.
My family, mixed in ethnic background and culture, exemplified what strength looked like. My mother, a second generation Italian-American, did it all – she had a full-time job, raised three kids, made dinner for our family every single night and coached my soccer team – while my father, a Black American, worked his way out of poverty and Jim Crow south to earn two degrees and an upper middle-class lifestyle. I had a wealth of inspiration and positive influence from my parents and family.
Despite the messages I was getting at home around being tough, working hard, and having confidence in my abilities as a student and athlete, nothing could prepare me for the systemic social and societal pressure that came through the television, radio, and everything I was being taught in school.
By age 8, I was already taller and bigger than most girls my age. My parents example of diet and weight management mixed with the ideals I saw on TV had me convinced that dieting at 8 was the obvious thing to begin doing. My parents had a scale in their bathroom, so I started to weigh myself regularly.
Taller, bigger, and unsure of whether I was black, white, both or neither, ruled my mind as a young girl. It was confusing, frustrating, and isolating. I didn’t feel like I really fit in with my (mostly) white friends, and I couldn’t relate well to the black kids at school.
Let’s stop here for a quick history lesson: Segregation in America is still very real.
Growing up in the South – where I spent the first half of my childhood before moving to California – meant that because my parents could afford certain standards, we lived in predominantly white neighborhoods. Most of the black kids at my school did not, and therefore I had a hard time relating to many of them, mostly because we simply had access to different things. As a simple example, I always had a pool nearby and could swim from a very young age (and went on to play water polo). This is still not the case for most Blacks in America.
History lesson over for now...
Suffice this all to say that I did not have a need for anything growing up. My parents let me play all the sports and join all the dance teams and go on all the school trips. I went to the best schools because we could live in the best neighborhoods. I had nothing but positive influences from all angles. Five amazing black aunties, several professional and educational mentors. I could go on.
Despite all this, and being a record-setting athlete at a prestigious private school in Pennsylvania, I still found myself consumed with my weight and size and turning to bulimia. Until very recently, I continued to struggle with these body image issues throughout my entire adulthood. What could possibly drive me to treat my body with such disrespect with all the positive influences I had growing up?
I could go on to detail woes about my poor, poor life and how it drove me to find control in binging and purging, but I really have nothing to complain about. Due to the hard work I put into my recovery and my easy access to any and all mental health resources, I have overcome and healed from the effects of this terrible disease.
The real reason I invest my time and money to the Movemeant Foundation is because I know that if I didn’t have the resources I did, I would not be where I am today. Even with all that, I still know the struggle these girls face, and how little we are talking about them in society as a whole.
“Skinny, white, affluent, girls, or SWAG for short, summarizes the stereotype of individuals with eating disorders (EDs) in the United States.” However, with just a few google searches, we can find all sorts of studies where this is not the case. On the contrary, there is no measure of socioeconomic status that has a significant effect on the prevalence of eating disorders. That said, one studies show that:
Students who meet the SWAG stereotype are up to 95% more likely to be diagnosed and treated with an eating disorder.
Women of color are less likely to be diagnosed and/or treated with an ED
Minority girls are less likely to recognize themselves as having an ED because they don’t see themselves reflected in the SWAG stereotype
Black girls are 50% more likely to be bulimic than white girls
Girls from families in the lowest income bracket are significantly more likely to experience bulimia than their wealthier peers
One potential explanation for all of this? Girls with an ED who are Black or Latinx and come from low-income families are much less likely to be diagnosed. Who goes to the doctor regularly? People who have insurance. Who tends to have insurance? Wealthier, higher-educated people. Those people are more likely to also be white.
Every time I visit the impact page on Movemeant’s website, I am reminded of these facts, and many other things that affect brown girls who look like me, and I tear up thinking about how grateful I am that the Movemeant Foundation exists.
The Movemeant Foundation has done so much for these young girls, most of whom have mountains to climb that are much higher than my own. Moreover, in the process of seeing the impact my time and donations have had, it helped me tremendously in the process of my own recovery. The whole time I was sick, the person who was really suffering was that 11-year-old girl whose role model (future self) was not living up to her potential. And for that I remind myself, each and every day: “Today is my day” and it’s up to me to make the most of everything life throws my way, the good and the bad.
Mandy Bynum McLaughlin
Mandy is a long time supporter of Movemeant Foundation and a pillar in our community. She is fierce, determined and an incredible mother to her two kids. She is the definition of a strong female role model as she hustles to balance her professional, family and community goals.
She has even found a way to align one of her greatest passions with her career by championing Inclusion in the workplace to break stereotypes, and reduce marginalization and tokenism. We are in awe of her passion and commitment to positively impacting the world around her.