Emma Wright spent 25 years obsessing about food. Over that long period, she had bouts of binge eating and struggled with bulimia. From the time she woke up until the time she went to bed, Emma thought about what she was going to eat, and obsessed about calories. Her body battle started when she hit puberty at the age of 14, only ending when she turned 40, when she realised the impact her disorder was having on her body and her life.
Emma speaks about her personal journey from the living room of her home in Arrowtown, Central Otago. Today, she is a healthy, attractive 50-year-old mother of two children, aged eight and 10, who shows no signs of her former, secretive habit.
She uses her experience, though, to go around schools and educate parents about raising body confident children. Part of her mission is to encourage parents not to be sucked into the messages pervaded in the media that ‘fat equals bad’, nor to pass those on to their children.
Emma says she talks predominantly in primary schools, and parents ask her questions like: “My child has been bullied for a fat tummy. How do I deal with that?” She looks frustrated, as she shakes her head.
“Messages about our cultural dislike of fatness start young,” explains Emma. “Let’s not tell children that they have failed if they put on weight. “I think our cultural dislike of fatness has worsened since I was young because of all the attention on the ‘obesity epidemic’. There has been a focus on how being obese is the fault of those people and I think that is really damaging.”
Her current obsession with changing the way we think and talk about our bodies stems back to when Emma caught her daughter, now 10, dipping into the biscuit tin. “I walked into the kitchen and my six-year-old had this look of guilt and fear and shame. It stopped me in my tracks. I just thought: I’m not going to let the next generation in my family go down the same route.”
Emma realised she was repeating some of the numerous beauty ideals she had heard from her own mother. Growing up in Wellington, she was one of three children. Her mother and other women she knew raved that being thin was good, and anyone who lost weight ‘looked healthy’.
When Emma struck puberty, she put on weight. “When I put on this weight really quickly, I lost being the thing that was beautiful and attractive. I was letting my family down. The narrative that overweight is unhealthy and unattractive is deeply entrenched in our culture.”
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