My short answer is no, mothers don’t “cause” eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex problems with biological, neurological, behavioral and cultural factors at play.
But I can’t let moms completely off the hook. A mother’s words and actions can certainly fan the flames of eating-disordered behavior. Just look at some of the statistics body image activist Mia Freedman cited last year from an article in the U.K. Daily Mail:
• Almost four out of 10 girls in a poll of more than 500 teenagers said their mother had the biggest influence on how they perceived themselves.
• Two-thirds of those girls heard their mom complaining about her own weight — yet 68 percent of girls described their mom’s weight as “perfectly normal.”
Moms — and how we feel and talk about our own bodies — matter to girls. There is simply no denying the influence. But influence isn’t the same as blame; I’m sure there are many, many mothers who modeled healthy body image and healthy habits, only to end up with a daughter who struggles with an eating disorder.