Tag Archive for children

When your mother says she’s fat
…a cross post by Kasey Edwards

Originally appeared on The Daily Life and republished here with permission.

*

Dear Mum,

I was seven when I discovered that you were fat, ugly and horrible. Up until that point I had believed that you were beautiful – in every sense of the word. I remember flicking through old photo albums and staring at pictures of you standing on the deck of a boat. Your white strapless bathing suit looked so glamorous, just like a movie star. Whenever I had the chance I’d pull out that wondrous white bathing suit hidden in your bottom drawer and imagine a time when I’d be big enough to wear it; when I’d be like you.

But all of that changed when, one night, we were dressed up for a party and you said to me, ‘‘Look at you, so thin, beautiful and lovely. And look at me, fat, ugly and horrible.’’
At first I didn’t understand what you meant.

‘‘You’re not fat,’’ I said earnestly and innocently, and you replied, ‘‘Yes I am, darling. I’ve always been fat; even as a child.’’

In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:

1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.
2. Fat is ugly and horrible.
3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly and horrible too.

Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.

With every grimace at your reflection in the mirror, every new wonder diet that was going to change your life, and every guilty spoon of ‘‘Oh-I-really-shouldn’t’’, I learned that women must be thin to be valid and worthy. Girls must go without because their greatest contribution to the world is their physical beauty.

Just like you, I have spent my whole life feeling fat. When did fat become a feeling anyway? And because I believed I was fat, I knew I was no good.

But now that I am older, and a mother myself, I know that blaming you for my body hatred is unhelpful and unfair. I now understand that you too are a product of a long and rich lineage of women who were taught to loathe themselves.

Look at the example Nanna set for you. Despite being what could only be described as famine-victim chic, she dieted every day of her life until the day she died at 79 years of age. She used to put on make-up to walk to the letterbox for fear that somebody might see her unpainted face.

I remember her ‘‘compassionate’’ response when you announced that Dad had left you for another woman. Her first comment was, ‘‘I don’t understand why he’d leave you. You look after yourself, you wear lipstick. You’re overweight – but not that much.’’

Before Dad left, he provided no balm for your body-image torment either.

‘‘Jesus, Jan,’’ I overheard him say to you. ‘‘It’s not that hard. Energy in versus energy out. If you want to lose weight you just have to eat less.’’

That night at dinner I watched you implement Dad’s ‘‘Energy In, Energy Out: Jesus, Jan, Just Eat Less’’ weight-loss cure. You served up chow mein for dinner. (Remember how in 1980s Australian suburbia, a combination of mince, cabbage, and soy sauce was considered the height of exotic gourmet?) Everyone else’s food was on a dinner plate except yours. You served your chow mein on a tiny bread-and-butter plate.

As you sat in front of that pathetic scoop of mince, silent tears streamed down your face. I said nothing. Not even when your shoulders started heaving from your distress. We all ate our dinner in silence. Nobody comforted you. Nobody told you to stop being ridiculous and get a proper plate. Nobody told you that you were already loved and already good enough. Your achievements and your worth – as a teacher of children with special needs and a devoted mother of three of your own – paled into insignificance when compared with the centimetres you couldn’t lose from your waist.

It broke my heart to witness your despair and I’m sorry that I didn’t rush to your defence. I’d already learned that it was your fault that you were fat. I’d even heard Dad describe losing weight as a ‘‘simple’’ process – yet one that you still couldn’t come to grips with. The lesson: you didn’t deserve any food and you certainly didn’t deserve any sympathy.

But I was wrong, Mum. Now I understand what it’s like to grow up in a society that tells women that their beauty matters most, and at the same time defines a standard of beauty that is perpetually out of our reach. I also know the pain of internalising these messages. We have become our own jailors and we inflict our own punishments for failing to measure up. No one is crueller to us than we are to ourselves.

But this madness has to stop, Mum. It stops with you, it stops with me and it stops now. We deserve better – better than to have our days brought to ruin by bad body thoughts, wishing we were otherwise.

And it’s not just about you and me any more. It’s also about Violet. Your granddaughter is only 3 and I do not want body hatred to take root inside her and strangle her happiness, her confidence and her potential. I don’t want Violet to believe that her beauty is her most important asset; that it will define her worth in the world. When Violet looks to us to learn how to be a woman, we need to be the best role models we can. We need to show her with our words and our actions that women are good enough just the way they are. And for her to believe us, we need to believe it ourselves.

The older we get, the more loved ones we lose to accidents and illness. Their passing is always tragic and far too soon. I sometimes think about what these friends – and the people who love them – wouldn’t give for more time in a body that was healthy. A body that would allow them to live just a little longer. The size of that body’s thighs or the lines on its face wouldn’t matter. It would be alive and therefore it would be perfect.

Your body is perfect too. It allows you to disarm a room with your smile and infect everyone with your laugh. It gives you arms to wrap around Violet and squeeze her until she giggles. Every moment we spend worrying about our physical ‘‘flaws’’ is a moment wasted, a precious slice of life that we will never get back.

Let us honour and respect our bodies for what they do instead of despising them for how they appear. Focus on living healthy and active lives, let our weight fall where it may, and consign our body hatred in the past where it belongs. When I looked at that photo of you in the white bathing suit all those years ago, my innocent young eyes saw the truth. I saw unconditional love, beauty and wisdom. I saw my Mum.

Love, Kasey xx

This is an excerpt from Dear Mum: a collection of letters from Australian sporting stars, musicians, models, cooks and authors revealing what they would like to say to their mothers before it’s too late, or would have said if only they’d had the chance. All royalties go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. (Published by Random House and available now.)

 

Kasey Edwards is a writer based in Australia and author of four books including 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and the Clock is Ticking, and OMG! That’s Not My Husband/Child. You can visit her website at kaseyedwards.com and follow her on Twitter here.

An ode to the shorties: why children can sometimes make us feel better than anyone else

This week is spring break for many elementary, middle, and high schools around the country.

That means many things for me… I don’t have boot camp (translation: I feel more sluggish and moody than normal—ask my husband if you don’t believe me), I get to have one of my local friend’s teenage daughters visit my college class (woot!), and—most notably—one of my oldest friends is visiting with her whole family including her husband and two young daughters. (You can see all of us in the picture above.)

Since we don’t have kids ourselves, one of the great joys of our lives is spending time with other people’s children.

I imagine that if we did have our own kids, we wouldn’t appreciate our nieces and nephews and friends’ kids as much as we do. We’d probably want to get away from all of the shorties and have more adult time. But when you’re childless, being around kids is that much more special.

Probably one of the things I love most about hanging with the little people is that they have no guile about them. Even the teenagers—those strange in-between creatures who are enigmatic and overly frustrating to their parents—are still fairly open and honest with other adults.

Sure, kids can be too honest sometimes—and tell you that you’ve worn that shirt too many times or shake their heads disapprovingly when you try to get one more day out of that ’90s pantsuit.

But they are also just as forthcoming about what they love about the way we look—playing with our curly hair as if it is gold, trying on our strappy sandals from Macy’s like they are Jimmy Choos, and gently touching our costume jewelry as if it came from Harry Winston.

And it’s not just the superficial stuff they love either.

They love us for who we are—they love our womanly curves, every last pound of them—and stare at us with so much genuine appreciation sometimes that it almost makes me want to cry. Because, in their eyes, we aren’t the people who used to be twenty or thirty pounds thinner or the person who didn’t always have smile lines and crow’s feet. We are the people who talk to them for hours about their turtle, the people who swim in the hotel pool with them after bedtime, the people who play tic-tac-toe with them even if we can never beat them at their own game.

We are the people they love just the way we are.

Stay glad: advice from Woody Guthrie and a recap

Good news!

I managed to keep exercising while on vacation—apparently Key West is a city made for walkers, so we managed to walk more each day we were there than we do at home, which is really saying something since we normally average an hour a day.

We also had an amazing time and were able to really unwind away from the stresses of work and the internet. I don’t say it in the healthy living section of this blog, but I really should—relaxation is as important a part of being healthy as anything else.

The only bad news (and this isn’t really bad news) is that I’ve fallen a little bit behind on telling you about some stories related to having a healthy mind and body. So rather than discuss any one of them at length, I’m just going to give you a quick rundown . . .

1) After all of the I Will Not Diet contributors posted their non-resolutions here on New Year’s Day, someone sent me a copy of Woody Guthrie’s list of New Year’s resolutions for 1942, which I’ve included above. Some of my favorites include: “Don’t get lonesome,” “Stay glad,” “Have company but don’t waste time,” “Dance better,” and “Love everybody.” I’m sure we’d all do well to take the same advice.

2) I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while about The Real Girl Belly Project, and my friend Alison reminded me about it today. This is a section of online magazine XO Jane (run by Sassy and Jane founder, Jane Pratt) devoted to publishing pictures of real—not Photoshopped—bellies. You’ve honestly got to see these to believe them. They are all flawed and human and wonderful!

3) My cousin Jennifer told me about an article called “The Death of Pretty,” in which the author argues that young girls today no longer want to be “pretty” but rather just “hot.” The article is far from perfect, especially when it veers into the women-should-be-innocent-creatures-men-want-to-protect territory, but it also makes a good point about our commodity-driven culture and the fact that young girls often grown up way too fast in our society because, like the celebrities they see on their screens, they want to be as sexy as possible. I wrote about this problem in my 2010 Halloween post, and, sadly, it’s not something I expect to be resolved any time soon.

4) And last but not least, another friend, Holly, reminded me that Children’s Health Care of Atlanta is currently running a series of anti-obesity ads that are drawing fire. You’ve really got to see the ads, which you can do here, to get the full impact of them, but suffice it to say they’re incredibly dark (like similar anti-meth and anti-smoking ads), and some people think they are hurting more than they’re helping, causing embarrassed kids to avoid exercise rather than embrace it. I have mixed feelings about the ads. I’m certainly glad anti-obesity ads are being disseminated in our society, but I don’t like that the ads seem to lay all the blame at the feet of the parents. At this point, we know that obesity is about the chemicals in our environment as much as it is about diet and exercise. So why not target lawmakers as well as parents? In several of the ads, kids ask their parents questions like “Why am I fat?” and I’d love an ad in which one of the kids said, “Dear Congress–why do you let corporations put so many chemicals in my food?”