Mothers, daughters and body image – it’s an emotional and sometimes volatile mix. Our parents’ attitudes about eating and how we should look weave their way into our childhood and continue to affect us well into adulthood. A seemingly harmless word here or there from our mother can have an emotional charge whether intended or not.
In the case of my Mom, while she’s a sweetheart and is usually very considerate and thoughtful before she speaks, she sometimes refers to people as fat, balloon, or pig – even when they aren’t really overweight. I’m not entirely sure where this comes from. This is particularly odd and hurtful at times since my sister, brother and I are more on the ample size; not nearly as thin as our mother. My sister is about 5 feet 7 inches tall and plus size (24-26). I’m a size 12-14 these days at 5 feet 2 inches tall. Mom is 5 feet 1 inch and not quite 100 pounds soaking wet; she used to be closer to 115 pounds for most of her adult life. With her weight loss she is a very lean size 0-4 now.
Although infrequent, there are those occasional weight-related comments directed at me. Mom has told me a few times in years past that my face looked full. I took it to mean fat…what else could it mean? I don’t have a very thin face; it’s round even when I’m 10-15 pounds lighter than I am now. I will never look like the pencil-thin supermodels of the day.
Even my brother and sister have at times echoed our Mom’s unkind comments about weight. As siblings, we don’t ever talk about each other’s weight, but larger-sized celebrities or ordinary people out in public often draw unflattering comments. Just recently, while my brother, mother and I were traveling in his car, a classic Aretha Franklin song started playing on the radio. My brother quickly said: “That was before she got to be huge”—meaning in size, not popularity. His comments continued with an observation that she was now about three times bigger than she was early in her career. My brother is 6 feet 2 inches and 220+ pounds so his remarks about Aretha aren’t coming from a guy who is svelte or the model of fitness.
I didn’t say anything but I was thinking the whole time about the hypocrisy of my brother’s comments and wondering if Mom’s unwitting message to us growing up was that being heavy made a person fair game for comment. Also, on some level, I wonder what Mom thinks when I gain weight. Does she judge me as harshly as she does others?