I think I should start by telling you that my mother is not a cruel woman. She loves me. Fiercely. I have never doubted that. She tries. Hard. She adores my children, and she does her best for all of us.
She’s not the villain in this story. My mother is just another woman, broken by this culture where thinness is often held as the absolute base standard for beauty.
She’s in her sixties, and the fairly recent movement toward body positivity hasn’t reached her. She still reads paper magazines, and she doesn’t have Instagram. She doesn’t know who Lizzo is and she doesn’t ever, ever feel good as hell.
Even if she knew, I don’t think anyone can get through to her. My mother has been plus size for much of her life. If she wasn’t plus size at any give time, it was only because she was dieting to the point of starvation.
She is proud of herself when she goes to bed with hunger pains. She prides herself on exclaiming before dinner that she hasn’t eaten a thing yet today. Eating is weakness for her. Every morsel, a sin. Hunger is the price she’s willing to pay for beauty. Every day she wakes up in a body that is more Ashley Graham than Cindy Crawford, and she feels like she’s failed to be moral enough, hungry enough.
Maybe because she doesn’t know who Ashley Graham is.
My body is much like my mother’s, only I don’t fight it. I don’t believe that hunger and misery are my lot in life just because my hip bones aren’t visible and my face is round and full. I have a family to raise, and I do it in the body I already have. My size and weight change sometimes as my circumstances do, but for the most part, I have remained fairly steady in my plus-size existence since I’ve reached adulthood.
When my children fall asleep with their heads on the bare skin that peeks out of my V-neck t-shirt, I look down at their chubby faces, stray hair falling into their eyes, and I can’t comprehend ever wishing one cell of their body was any different.
And I mourn.
Because my mother truly hates her body, she cannot wrap her mind around the fact that I am at peace with my own.
She would never say the words, but she is just disappointed that her only daughter is fat.
She always has been.
I’ve always known.
She tries to hide it, but she can’t.
Her mother was critical of her body, putting her on starvation-based diets in elementary school, refusing to buy her larger clothing if she put on weight. Yet, my grandmother was never cruel to me in those same ways, even when my chubby little body was the spitting image of my mother’s 30 years before. It must have been hard for my mom to watch her own mother adore me the way she should have adored her.
I understand that my mother’s body shame has trauma roots that run too deep. It’s not possible for me to ever hope to get her to start again and learn a new way. I know that’s why she says things that hurt me, even though it’s the last thing she would ever want to do.
For the very first time, after multiple uncomplicated pregnancies, I have gestational diabetes. I am able to control it with my diet. As a side effect of caring for my body and my baby properly, I have been losing weight instead of gaining. My doctor is not concerned, and my child looks perfect. There is no reason to think we won’t both be just fine at delivery.
A few days ago, my mom called me and casually suggested that I should consider staying on a diabetic diet after the baby was born since it “obviously works for me.”
When I calmly asked her to explain what she meant by that, she fumbled her way through an awkward explanation. She asserted that it’s “healthy for my kind of body,” ending with her actual, obvious point: It decreases my body weight, therefore it must be my best choice.
It was so disappointing. I am more than willing to count every carbohydrate that crosses my lips for my baby’s health. It’s important for my own body to eat properly and watch my blood sugar levels, too.
But eating properly for gestational diabetes is not like doing the Atkins diet or eating some Paleo recipe I found on Pinterest. Managing a pregnancy-related illness is a lot of work. I am looking forward to eating normally again when my baby is born. I am excited to get a break from poking my fingers five times a day, bringing measuring cups to restaurants, and worrying that if I miscalculate just a little bit, my sweet baby might suffer.
The idea of continuing this rigid, obsessive way of eating sounds like prison to me.
To my mom, it sounds like a swell idea because just maybe, it will make my fat body smaller. She can’t imagine a world where that is not my idea of the ultimate crowning achievement.
It hurts my heart, but I know she will never understand. Never.
She can’t accept that loving herself is an option. She’s already spent more than six decades believing that she only matters when she’s thin. If she agrees that it’s okay to be something else, what was all the starving for?
Why doesn’t she know what my sixth birthday cake tasted like? If she could have been happy in her curvy body, why was she at an aerobics class when my daughter won her second-grade spelling bee?
Why did she order plain roasted chicken when we were on vacation and had dinner at that amazing Italian restaurant in New York City? While the rest of the family raved about the fresh, homemade pasta doused in the most incredible creamy sauce we’ve ever tasted, my mother told herself she was doing the moral, correct thing by choosing to miss it. We still talk about that food to this day. She smiles. I wonder if she wishes she knew what the truffles in that pasta dish tasted like. Is she still proud of herself for the “sacrifice?”
I think she’s sad. But she’s paid too great of a price. She can’t let herself admit there was another way.
Fat positivity online has given me a space to transform my mind and find peace with my body as it is. I know I am not alone. It’s just so disappointing to confront the reality that my own mother will not be able to walk my whole journey with me. I can’t make her, no matter how much I wish she would.
Her question about continuing my diet after my baby was born hurt, but I didn’t make an issue of it. I just told her no, I have not considered eating like I have an illness I don’t have. Instead of being angry, I explained that managing gestational diabetes is not like following the South Beach diet. I joked that I’d like my mother to arrange for a cold cut platter and two black and white cookies to be delivered to my hospital room the minute my kid emerges.
She didn’t push me. I think by now she knows better.
I know that she will bring me those cookies. She will snuggle my baby with the same love her heart feels for me. If I make a comment about how relieved I am to finally eat something without doing math, she will laugh. I know my mother thinks I’m funny and disarming and endearing.
But there’s a lot of hurt here.
I won’t be laughing.