Compassionate Conversations with Ailsa Robson
Body Confident Kids
Emma Wright from Raising Body Confident Kids in New Zealand, is another one of my Health At Every Size® allies who offers parents who are concerned about their kids, invaluable information, tools and support.
We have a united passion for wanting more for all children; more acceptance, more compassion, and especially more body confidence.
Emma and I discuss how humbling and imperfect the job of parenting really is, and how compassion is key to her work. She speaks of her journey breaking away from disordered eating, diet culture, and body and food shame.
We had a beautiful conversation and reflected on various topics including:
- Disordered Eating
- Diet Culture
Find out more from Emma:
- Website: https://www.emmawright.co.nz/
Links & Resources mentioned in our conversation:
Click here to read transcript of the interview...
Hello, I’m Ailsa Robson, and I love to listen to people’s life stories. I’m a psychotherapist and someone who has recognized that striving for perfection doesn’t make you happy. I now advocate for adding more compassion to your life, while simply doing the best you can. This has brought me far more happiness and ripples out to those I love. I know through conversations with lots of interesting folk, that they’ve also been exploring how perfectionism shows up in their lives. And today, I can’t wait to chat with the lovely Emma Wright. Hello, Emma.
Hi it’s so beautiful to be here today. Thank you.
Thank you so much for joining me and for your time. I just want to let people know that I’m in Australia, and you’re in New Zealand. And Emma and I have been in conversation. I don’t know for the last probably the last year, haven’t we?
I would say it’s more maybe 18 months. Thinking that myself. It’s been a while now.
And, Emma, maybe, can you explain what fills your days?
Thank you for the question. I run a parenting course called raising body confident kids, and I’m a parent of primary school kids. So I have a nine year old and an 11 year old. So my days, very typical of many working mums. I bustle my kids off to school in the morning. I come into this office mainly and I create and manage the course. So that means I have people in a private Facebook group who I’m in conversation with. I do private coaching with them, I run a group coaching course. And then at the end of the day, obviously the kids come home from school, there’s managing the after school activities. And then there’s the evening and I know we know how all that goes. Yeah.
Yeah. But I think that’s probably one of the reasons why we were drawn to each other as well, similarities in our life as mums and as business owners, and really interested in non diet, health at every size, approach. I mean, I have absolutely loved our connection. I think that for me working mainly with adults, but absolutely understanding that the reason why I’m so passionate about this work is because I don’t want to pass it down to my children, and want to help others to stop the generational kind of shame about food and about bodies. And when I stumbled across your work, and Emma is absolutely banging, she’s you know, she’s got it all going on. She’s got this incredible book, and I suppose from my perspective, Emma, I see how easily digestible all of your information is for parents and that is, in itself just very, very helpful because we are busy, we’re busy doing school runs, we’re busy with our work, we’re busy just doing our best and we need some very easily digestible guidance. And I feel that that’s what you give, but at a depth, that is really, you know, following your trail of research is inspirational.
Oh, thank you so much for saying that. It’s beautiful to hear and I really want to speak to that connection because I can relate to that so much of wanting something better for our children, and I think it is been, I mean, I literally, excuse me, am now working with parents, but really, I didn’t set out to have that career, I didn’t, it came from a place of I remember very vividly when my first child was born, looking at her, you know, full of that love that we have for these little beings that come into our lives, and I remember just looking at her and promising with all my heart that I wasn’t going to let her experience her body and food in the same way that I did. I was like, if there’s one thing I give you, or if there’s one thing I want to give you, whether I could do it or not, was another question. But I just really, it was just really deeply important to me, that there for want of a better word shit in our head about how we look and what we eat, was not there. Yeah, and that, you know, like all, when I was when she was born, I was in this place of I had had a diagnosable eating disorder, so I was really deeply distressed about food and my body for many years of my life. And then by the time my daughter was born, I was what I now call in the throes of socially acceptable disordered eating. So I didn’t have a clinical eating disorder at this point, I wasn’t engaging in eating disorder behaviors. However, I still spent a lot of my time thinking about, should I? shouldn’t I? Is that good? Is that bad? Yeah, in the pretense of health under the pretense of, I’ve got to eat there, right healthy stuff, in order to make my body feel acceptable to me, which it never did. I just, I could never quite nutrition my way into feeling good about myself, I just, that was, I think the fundamental lie I had believed was that if I ate a certain way, I’d look a certain way, and then everything would be fine, I wouldn’t think about food anymore, I just kind of get to this place where it would all just kind of be fine. So, so this promise that I made to this little girl was really based on this idea that if I can’t nutrition myself into feeling good about myself, I’ll make sure she can, you know, like, I will feed her healthy, I’ll make sure she exercises I’ll make sure she knows how gorgeous she is. And that will you know, that will make this thing go away for the world, because, if I can’t get it right, I’ll make sure she does. And that very, very quickly went really badly. You know, like really badly like food fight battles. She wasn’t interested in the, you know, the green fritters with vegetables hidden in them. And, you know, she wanted to eat differently to how I wanted her to eat and she had her own choices. She had her own choices. And you know, I had assumed that if I feed her healthy, restricted sugar, did all the things we’re taught to do she would end up slim and that would be the inoculation for feeling bad about and she didn’t end up slim she had her own genetics and her own body that was far more powerful than my desires for her. Which made me even more frightened. Like oh my goodness, I’m doing it all wrong. She’s gonna have a terrible body image because I’m not you know, I’m not doing the right parenting job by giving her slimness Oh my goodness. So, but then I had this real kind of heart stopping moment where ee really had in the house we had sweets in the cupboard, which we didn’t have very often because I was in this you know, sugars bad limit, you know, restrict and I walked into the kitchen and there she was shoving these lollies into her mouth. And she looked up at me and this is a you know, this is a seven year old girl. Yeah. She looked up at me with this look, of intense shame on her face, It just wow, you know, it was so awful but it was such a wake up call to me it was such a wake up call to me she had this shame and this fear, you know, that goes with shame on her face. And I was just like, holy shit, everything. For some reason I’m doing all the things but she’s going down that road even faster than I did. I know many people relate to experiencing shame about their body and food by the age of seven. That was not me I was a bit later in that journey. But it really struck me that oh my goodness, my daughter is already feeling shame about what she eats, and that really was a wake up call to me to go. I made a promise to that girl, do you know what like I promised her and I’m not doing you know, not doing…… So it really was a case of I need to really do something different here and realizing that I had no access to know what to do differently. I just already thought I was doing what you should do, you know, all the healthy food, do all the exercise, praise their beauty, you know, all the things that were taught. I was doing all those things and it was going wrong so I didn’t know what else to do. Yeah, but what I did, I really pulled out the only skill I could think of that I had which was, because I’ve done a master’s degree and I did research papers as an understanding how to read research papers. Yeah, I did have that skill and I went right I’m going to just see if there is information out there that is different to what is in the general world. And honestly, I was really prepared to go back and do a PhD because I really did like there’s probably nothing right because the messages I’ve been given seem so set in stone and so pervasive that I was like they can’t no one could have done anything in this area right. You know, you’ll get this… I was so deeply shocked by the quantity and quality of available information that had a very, very, very different message, I was literally dumbstruck. Like 80 years of data, going, don’t restrict, don’t praise the beauty, you know, give them agency over what they eat, you know, like your body, your child’s body has an incredible ability to eat what it needs, we don’t need to get in there and interfere. So I was so, and that journey was immediately liberating to me personally like honestly, I went from that disordered eating world of managing and controlling and trying to get somewhere with my body so I could enjoy it. To this I didn’t know what it was like I hadn’t remembered what it was like to be a human being who could get out in the morning and not think about food or my body like but think about actually interesting stuff. You know? Like you have space, I could have space,and have thoughts about stuff like how can I contribute to my kids or what am I going to do for work, you know like Yeah, thoughts that aren’t just oh my god, what am I going to eat for breakfast? Am I going to fit in my jeans today? You know, and to all of a sudden think about food in a nice way like what what do I feel like eating.
Yeah. What’s in season? Yeah.
What’s for dinner? What haven’t I had for a while? What should I cook for dinner that would be nice and satisfying and in eating and going, this is not really satisfying me I’m going to leave it and have something else or even if it was the highly nutritious soup that I thought was going to satisfy me, you know that. So that was the first step and then that quickly turned into very, very different parenting tools for me that, you know, that led to suddenly the food battles just kind of disappeared, the conversations we had about bodies were completely different. My fear of her feelings about her body completely disappeared. Like, there’s just a very, very different world. And in that journey, I became quite, I became, I know, we’re talking about this before we got on, you know, before this interview about, I became quite vocal about oh, my God, you got to hear, like, here’s some research. Here’s some data you did. Yeah, I got vocal about that. But what happened then was, I noticed friends started coming to me and saying, Oh, my daughter, you know, is sneaking biscuits or, or she said, She’s hates her fat this or that? Or, you know, how do I handle this? And how do I handle that? And that journey of people asking for information, set me on this track of providing it in a way that because I know not everyone has those research skills. I know, not everyone has the time or ability to do that, presenting it in a way that is helpful and useful for parents who want to do this thing called demonstrate good body confidence. You know.
Yes. And we have to learn and unlearn ourselves. So it’s 100%. Your ability to provide that information is power. It’s, yeah, it’s wonderful. I all the way through that conversation. And I love your story, I could hear that story over and over and over again, because it makes so much sense to me and so much sense, I’m sure to a lot of parents out there. Or there might be some parents saying, What do you mean? Like sugar is okay? What do you mean? You know, because I understand that there’s going to be people out there that haven’t even stepped off the path yet, and so this is an invitation to you, that if you’d like to learn a little bit more, then Emma’s platform, Emma’s book, Emma’s information is really helpful to start off with just inviting you to have a read. I can hear how that perfectionism, you know, of wanting to be in the perfect body and be the perfect mother, and have the perfect children and life, you know, all the way through that and which I know, familiar for me as well. And I wonder, so how, like, when that, you know, you notice that perfectionism obviously, because it smacked you in the face when you when that moment in time, where your daughter was feeling shameful for eating sweets. So how, like, how did you have…?
Yeah, I love that you bring out the topic of perfectionism, because it’s such an ongoing journey isn’t it? it’s like, the perfectionist in me often gets to that point of going, I’ve gotta perfect being imperfect now, you know, like, I’ve gotta, we’ve got to do that perfectly.
All over imperfection.
And it’s really challenging, like, I think it’s a very common trait for people who have had an eating disorder, or even for people who haven’t had a clinical eating disorder who have very disordered eating, yes, control and perfectionism is a very common trait in a very shared experience. I would say, yeah, or I understand, and it’s not something that I think you ever kind of overcome. Or this is my experience, it is more, like you’ll become aware of it and work with it, as opposed to try and fix it.
Which is complete fictionism right? The way it shows up for me that you know, the way it shows up for me in my life now is it’s very it’s now very rare that I get this perfectionistic sense of my food and my body because that has been something that I have spent huge amount of time with therapists like yourself. I mean, we haven’t worked together but yeah, working on that and in my own journey to be comfortable make peace with that, but it really shows up in you know, I have a parenting course. Right. And honest to goodness, it’s like this extra layer of perfectionism has been piled personally, no one’s done it to me. Yeah, piled on to me, because now I feel like I have to display this kind of perfect parent. Because, you know, and it’s like, parenting is never perfect, it’s a journey. I am learning, on the way, as much as everyone else. And I have so much compassion for parents, you know, and as Evelyn, I was interviewing Evelyn Tripoli, who I know, you know, she’s that she was like the founder of intuitive eating for anyone who’s new to this work intuitive eating, Evelyn’s work is so brilliant. And she was and I was talking to her about parenting, and she just was like, it is just the most humbling thing. You know, it’s humbling. It’s just, it’s just the only word that’s for it. And that, to me is the to remember, it’s both humbling and to be humble with it is like, the dance of the perfectionism.
Oh, I like to be humble with it, too. That’s, nice. That’s Yes, I always say that, regardless of where I am in my parenting journey, I’m always green, like, I’m brand new at every step, at every step, because it just shifts and changes. Each of my children are different. And and I have to be open to the lessons that I’m learning from them. And, this is, yeah, it’s, That’s right, It’s such a ride such a ride.
It’s such a ride, isn’t it? And the lessons that I teach, are lessons for me too, you know, they’re not like, they are lessons, I continually have to come back to, you know, to remind myself that my children don’t want my praise, they’re not after my praise, they want encouragement to make mistakes is what they really want. You know, they want to be encouraged in what they do, not the external results. Does that make sense? But, you know, we were talking about before as well, we’re talking about kids using exercise trackers, it seems, on one hand, such a good idea to praise the result of how many steps they’ve done, our kids don’t want that they want to be encouraged to follow their heart, as opposed to… But anyway, we’re going to get, I could talk for hours, and I know, we don’t have hours. But the point is, that I have to keep reminding myself because I live in this culture as well, that our kids have in them the ability to eat what’s right for them, they have in them the ability to fail and do hard things and come back up from it. They have the ability to speak to their friends without us telling them what to say they have, you know, they have, and trust them. We trust in them, trusting them is a continual lesson for me. Even though I have a course on it as much as anyone else. Yeah.
Yes. And I agree. Yes, in my work, too. I learn just as much from my from my clients as I hope they, do from me, it’s an exchange. It’s an exchange. Yeah, and compassion is an antidote to perfectionism. But you’re right, it’s not kind of, it’s not equal parts, you can’t kind of go, you know, one shot of perfectionism, or one shot of compassion,will mark, you know, take away perfection. Yeah, you’ve just got to keep doing this dance, and yes, yeah. And I, think maybe I could ask you a little bit more about compassion? Like, how, how do you use compassion within your life?
Oh, that’s such a great question. I’m going to start, I have, two ways, really spring to mind. So first of all, I have had to learn a huge amount of self compassion, not just for the impact that the behavior I had around food and my body had on me personally, you know, like, it was really, I went to a really dark place, and I have had to learn to be very compassionate with myself, but I wasn’t doing that in order to intentionally hurt myself. Even though it may have looked like it on the outside, it really wasn’t like that. And I have huge compassion for the fact that that was my journey. Yeah, and I still have to have compassion for that. So there’s that self compassion piece, and then I have learnt that compassion is one of the most important things I can bring to my business, like, no parent comes to me, saying, my child hates their fat legs without feeling some level of guilt, vulnerability, shame, because I know, because I was there, I know that I was like, I thought I was doing everything right, and to learn, that’s, and the hard thing is, is to learn that some of the things I was doing, were not, it wasn’t my fault. That she didn’t like your body, I really get there. But I did contribute. And that’s hard. You know, and I did, and I contributed, with all the best intention, with absolutely all the best intention. And we have to have huge compassion for ourselves. But we also need people in our lives who have compassion for us and that too, because that’s missing a little bit in parenting circles, like, oh, my goodness, you go into some parenting forums, and someone puts a Disney sticker on their kids lunchbox, and it’s like, you have just ruined your child forever. You know, like, it’s your fault, that they’re a capitalist, it’s your fault that they’re, you know, it’s like, we need compassion for each other, we do not need a voice that says, You are wrong, you’re bad. You shouldn’t have done that, you know, and it’s very challenging, to learn, like I noticed myself, it was very challenging to learn that some of the things I was doing, were things that have a direct negative impact on my kids ability to have a good relationship with food and to feel good about their body. If I could know that I was always bringing compassion to other people in the way that I want to, I would wish that. I don’t know if I always do it perfectly, but I really, that is really something that’s very important to me.
Yes. And, I hear you and your intentions are so yes, admirable, and honorable. And you are just doing your best, and that’s all we can ever do.
It’s all we can ever do with the information we have. Right? And I have. Yeah, and I have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want the best for their kid. You know, it might sometimes look surprising some of the decisions parents make on the outside from a distance. But when you get up close to those parents, it all becomes obvious, it really does. And that’s what’s important.
Like, it’s just underlying fear.
There’s underlying fear, there’s making decisions based on lack of resources or done in anxiety or frustration or, you know, there’s just, it’s that beautiful thing that I think it was Brene Brown said, you know, it’s really hard to hate someone up close. It’s really hard because you get to know who they are. I see how you got here. And, I think bringing that compassion to parents is really, really important.
Yeah. I have loved this conversation. I think that, you know, of course, we’re just scratching the surface, we could talk for hours. And it’s so wonderful to have another, you know, another person to talk to, I feel very, very grateful for our friendship as well. And, this work, when I do meet other people working within a Health at Every Size space, intuitive eating, non diet approach. I’m, you know, I just feel this kind of energy and connection, we’re working within a space that is, it’s like crossing over, you know, you walk away from the dark side, and you’re in this most compassionate, loving space. There’s feistiness there, there’s fear, there’s all of the above.
There’s humanity, there’s humanity in there
And there’s humility, so much humility, because you do need to understand, you know, where you’ve come from, and learn and unlearn. And I, yeah, I’m so so grateful for, I know that our discussion about perfectionism and compassion, it feels really a little bit clunky, you know, in the context of what we’re doing, but it is at the core of it all.
It’s at the core, absolutely at the core, absolutely, at the core of it yes.
Emma, I will have to finish up today, but I am going to provide all the links, I know that you’re doing one really exciting, you’ve just begun an offer that, I’m so excited for you. Can you tell us a little bit about the schools?
Thank you so much. Yes, I, have a new project, that’s very exciting to me, and as you say, right at the start, so I don’t have any schools that I have actually put this through yet, but that’s the work for this year. And it’s about getting my parenting program into as many schools as I can. And at the same time as doing that, providing an opportunity for schools to raise money. So it’s really about a benefit to the school and to the schools community. For an area that is so needed, in school parents at the moment, you know, body image protection, eating disorder prevention, how to deal with screens, there’s like, so that our kids don’t get sucked down into some of the dangers that are present in screens, and instead use them really powerfully. So it’s got, so the idea is that the schools promote the program to their parents, and then they raise money by doing so.
It’s a win win.
So that’s the idea, it’s so a win win. It’s such a win win, there’s something really powerful in helping the community and there’s something really powerful as you know, about a group of parents and community learning this stuff at the same time. It can feel really lonely, to be the one who knows what’s up in research land, when you’re the only one who’s got access to that but when there’s a group of you it makes it far more bedded in to your community.
I’m, so excited, I just I can, feel, I can intuitively feel that it’s just, you know, we’ll look back on this interview in years to come and say to remember when you first launch that thing, and it’s like, oh my goodness, this is you know, this is.
I know, it’ll be fantastic.
I’m really and I do love all your pieces of information in there as you said it’s not just about, food, and body’s cues, there’s all of the outside influences that come into play. And as parents it gets so confused, and it’s so tricky, and, you know, there’s people telling us to do it this way and this way, and this way, and I know that your book is also, it’s an Invitational approach. So for anyone that is kind of feeling a bit like anxious or nervous that, this is completely outside, of what they hear in the media about what you need to do for your children. And that sugar is bad, and that they need to eat healthy foods. And, you know, I just implore you just to have a look because it is yeah, Invitational, you can take the pieces that make sense to you, you can go at your own pace. There’s lots of people that are out there that you can talk with. So I implore you just to have a look if this is something that you’re interested in.
Yeah, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, so true and it’s absolutely designed to be you know, short lessons to be listened to while you’re at soccer practice or, you know, really designed to fit into parents lives, and so much of the feedback I get is, people come into this course, because they have a body image concern or a food concern that they end up saying, gosh, I’ve stopped fighting so much with my child and getting them to bed is just now easy and getting them to make their own lunch is suddenly just happened, you know, so it’s very, it’s very broad. It’s not just yeah.
I love it. Well, Thank you so much Emma, thanks for entrusting me in this conversation. Being one of my people that I interview I’m so fortunate to, to have you in my life. Yeah.
Well, it’s been such a pleasure. Such a pleasure. Thank you for the invitation. I didn’t even think twice, so fabulous to talk to you.
Thanks. Well, you take care and we’ll see you soon all the links to Emma’s details will be below. Okay, bye.
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Ailsa Robson has a private counselling and psychotherapy practice in Adelaide and consults with clients in Stirling and Glenelg, SA as well as online. She has a Masters Degree in Counselling and Psychotherapy and is the author of Perfectly Imperfect.