The Women In My Family Shattered My Body Image
“Your mom’s opinion about your body is not a reflection of you,” is a statement I recently came across on Instagram via the Fierce Fat Femme.
I sucked in my breath. I felt like I had been punched in the gut.
This resonated so deeply with me. Like so many others, shame and judgment centered around weight and size is a generational curse in my family.
You see, I haven’t spoken to my mother in over three years, and by all accounts I have a joyous, stable, awesome life.
But, even after birthing four beautiful babies, I still stand in the mirror before getting in the shower and suck in my stomach. I grab the extra skin around my lower tummy, after having given birth only four months ago, and I try to smooth it out. To see what it would look like if I could just cut it all off.
I race by the mirror in our living room as I head out the door to drop the kids off in the morning. I know I don’t have time to go back and change, so I can’t allow myself to stop and look. If I do, my anxiety will go through the roof if I feel that I’m ‘hanging out’ anywhere. I will be distracted as I drive with my children. I will feel vulnerable and exposed as I walk my son down the crowded halls of his preschool.
I have to fight against myself and these emotional demons every single day. Because that’s what happens when your mom, and your grandmother, pass their body dysmorphia, their fat phobia, their own disordered eating patterns on to you.
That’s what happens when you are in high school and your mom clears out the kitchen of all ‘snack foods’ and stocks the bottom shelf of the refrigerator with meal replacement shakes. Telling you that if you drink one for breakfast and lunch, then your tummy won’t ‘spill over the sides of your pants like that’. My grandmother sat there with her, co-signing this new plan.
Those pants she was referring to were a size 4. They were American Eagle bootcut, my favorite pair. It was the Summer before my freshman year in high school.
A week later, I cried hard when I realized the snack foods were hidden away in a bedroom drawer and I was the only one who was unaware of their location. I found them when I was looking for my missing sweater. Crackers, chips, even granola bars and popcorn. All out of my reach, because they didn’t want me to be tempted by anything delicious when I was supposed to be drinking chalky shakes out of a tin can.
After that, I was often hungry in my own home. Ashamed to open the fridge if anyone else was home or awake.
If they thought my body took up too much space and was unworthy of a snack when I was a size 4, I can only imagine how she would feel looking at me now. Assessing my body. Giving me the top to bottom scan. Wondering what size my pants are.
I know this because when I would return home from college for a quick visit, my mom and grandmother would comment on how ‘skinny’ I was. Those size 4 pants were certainly too big now. They would ask what I was doing to stay so thin, and tell me how great I looked.
I was starving myself. I was restricting my calories to a dangerous degree. I was working out at night, after hours on my feet as a waitress, until I was dizzy. I was filling my stomach with water, so that my hunger pains would hopefully subside enough for me to fall asleep.
But, I was skinny. So, they thought I looked beautiful.
I know this is a layered and complex issue. I know that my mom and grandma assumed they were doing what was best for me. They thought they were going to make my life easier and better, if they could somehow make my body smaller. I know they too, obviously, lacked self-confidence and a healthy attitude toward food. They weren’t raised to appreciate their bodies.
They clearly didn’t check in with my doctor, or a therapist, or a nutritionist before accosting me.
I am not absolving them of their actions—they were wrong, and have caused me ongoing pain and trauma, but this is a multi-generational issue, this is a socio-cultural issue. It is ongoing and pervasive and toxic and happening all around us right now.
I don’t have all the answers, clearly. I’m still fighting this battle every day. But, I do have children and I refuse to have them writing an essay like this someday.
I’m a passionate advocate for the body positivity movement and I believe it is one of the best, most powerful uses of social media to date. I love, value, and respect people regardless of their size or shape. I find beauty and sexiness in bodies of all shapes and sizes too. I just wish I could offer the love and fierce protectiveness I feel for others to myself. I wish I could reach through the screen and grab that confidence.
I’m working on it. For me, for my kids, for my future grandkids. I find it empowering that I can break the cycle. Hopefully my daughter will never look in the mirror and feel the need to suck in her stomach or stretch it smooth. Hopefully my sons will never let the number on a scale impact their mental or emotional wellbeing.
Hopefully, the buck stops here.
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