PODCAST: Hillary McBride on body image, eating disorders, and feminist therapy

In this episode, Meghan Murphy speaks with Hillary McBride about her new book, “Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to Love Ourselves as We Are,” as well as about flawed approaches to eating disorders, loving your body under patriarchy, and what a feminist approach to therapy looks like.

Girls learn, from the time they are young, to hate their bodies. We learn to focus on and work to fix so-called “flaws” — everything from weight to wrinkles to body hair to skin “imperfections.” Once we hit puberty, things often become worse, as men begin to gaze at, comment on, or grope our bodies, now sexualized and deemed available for public consumption. Considering that these messages are so widespread in culture, what can mothers of daughters do to try to counteract this learned self-hatred and self-objectification? What does it mean to love our bodies under patriarchy? Is it even possible?

In her new book, Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to Love Ourselves as We Are, Hillary McBride, a registered clinical counsellor and our resident feminist therapist, looks at these issues and shares her own story of dealing with an eating disorder.

In this episode, I speak with her about all this, as well as about what it means to approach therapy from a feminist perspective.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • FierceMild

    Thank you so much, Dr. McBride, for writing this book! I have a 6 year old daughter and nine nieces and this is something constantly on mind. I want so much for my little girls, and all little girls, to remain comfortable in their bodies. You’re helping me help them. Thanks. And thanks as always, Ms. Murphy, for bringing so many disparate and vital topics together at fC for us.

  • la scapigliata

    This was an excellent podcast, but I have one critical observation. Dr McBride repeats several times “5 extra pounds” or “a little bit of skin hanging over one’s jeans” as examples of a non-problem, and I indeed agree that is true. However, as a consequence of chronic abuse, often since childhood, eating disorders and chronic dieting, a lot of women end up with a lot more weight or extra skin or weight fluctuation than the nominal examples that were used repeatedly. Perhaps by quantifying so precisely and let’s face it, conservatively in relation to what society already tells us, the impression is reinforced that only women who don’t actually deviate from societal expectation to any appreciable degree, should have the luxury of self acceptance, while those who have bigger bodies are omitted from this conversation. It feels like a residual phobia of fat bodies that women who suffered from low body weight inducing EDs often experience.

  • la scapigliata

    Hey Diana, thank you, you made me smile a very wide smile first thing in the morning :)) It’s so wonderful to hear how you raised your children, and I can only wish my own mother could have come somewhere close. She’s an ex ballerina, father a misogynistic doctor, both extremely narcissistic and abusive, so my sisters and I all developed eating disorders as teenagers, and are still recovering from the consequences. I feel that fat activism is deeply tied in with rights of women to occupy space and be free from male gaze, which is, let’s face it, the driving force behind all the abuse hurled toward overweight women (whether it comes from doctors, media, employers, family members or ordinary people on the street) which is the essence of feminist agenda and women’s liberation. It’s the artificial “divide and conquer” division between women, who is fat who isn’t, who is worthy of being liberated, even, while the same scrutinies and discriminations affect us all, whether we are anorexic models auditioning for the job, told by fashion industry we are “fat and needing to lose 5 pounds” or an overweight woman facing a doctor about vague symptoms of autoimmune illness, and instead of being investigated, told that all she is feeling is a consequence of her weight. xx

  • Jani

    An excellent podcast. I was raised by a mother who encouraged a positive body image by making me feel comfortable with the way my body was changing at puberty. She was also someone who placed more emphasis on eating healthily and was never caught up in the diet mentality. That was my grounding. I had no body image issues as a teen and a young adult. It was not until I started to go into the peri menopause that my body image issues began, and it was nothing to do with weight. The truth was so many things in my life were beyond my control — the only thing I could control was what I ate. I wasn’t looking to control my weight, but my health. I had such fucked up ideas about not eating this and not eating that because it was ‘bad’ for me. I saw my body as the cause of all my problems. One day I broke down, wondering WTF had happened to me. I was underweight and I had body dysmorphia. I’ve since learned that women can and do develop eating disorders and BDD in their middle years. I had no previous history of any of these things. I’m very much outside of the common perceptions of these issues. I even told my doctor about my concerns at the time and he more or less laughed me out of the room. Reading Susie Orbach was my turning point, but I’m definitely going to read Hillary’s book. I know that my relationship with my own body is going to be a problem for a long time to come