I’ll admit that I have my fair share of body image issues; as a woman in America, it’s almost impossible not to. I had always just sort of assumed that my body image issues must have come from my mother, because isn’t that where the blame always goes? (I should know better, I’m a psychologist playing into my own stereotype). But as I get older, I’ve realized more and more that while my mother may have body image issues of her own, after all she is a woman in America just like me, she is not the one to blame.
Recently, a Facebook friend of mine posted this article on how a mother should talk to her daughter about her body and it got me thinking about how I owe my mother a thank you (and perhaps an apology too). So,
I was a child who liked to get dirty, play messy, and hardly ever wear dresses. Thank you for not saying things like “don’t get your clothes dirty,” or “don’t mess up your hair” but for encouraging me to dig in the dirt, to jump down the hill we aptly called the ‘sand pit,’ for allowing me scrape up my knees on my roller blades, and get grass stains on my jeans playing baseball in the front yard. You allowed me to play with Legos, Barbies, and GI Joes (also in the mud), let me play with toy guns, princess crowns, and wrestle with my brothers. And thank you for joining me and my brothers in all these adventures. You not only encouraged me to be a girl who plays in the mud, you modeled what it looked like.
I remember my brother, who had probably been socialized to clue in on a girl’s body as her most vulnerable asset, calling me fat as an insult when we were fighting. This happened once. And that was because of you, Mom. I can still remember the seldom seen wrath that came down upon him as you lectured him on why it was never ok to call me fat or comment on my body in such a way. You knew what it felt like and the effects it had to be called fat by your brothers for years, and you became damn sure that I wouldn’t experience the same thing. Thank you for protecting me. And furthermore, thank you for educating him and not just saying “boys will be boys.”
I remember you exercising in the living room to Jane Fonda before it was cool for women to be fit. And I remember you wearing tattered old t-shirts instead of fancy workout clothes as you did arm dips on the bar Dad made. Never once did I hear you talk about the way that your body looked, rather, you always focused on what it could do. I remember you being proud when you would build strength, not when you would get closer to having a thigh gap. Thank you for showing me what it looked like to be a strong, active woman.
I remember a time when I was sitting in the kitchen with you eating some sort of candy and you said “don’t eat too many of those.” I was immediately angered (I must’ve been a teenager) and I snapped back “I’m not going to get fat, mom!” You just looked at me and said “That’s not what I’m worried about, I’m worried about you getting a stomach ache.” This moment is seared into my memory. Thank you for it.
I cannot recall a time when you called another woman fat, or a time when you commented on wanting some super model’s body. I cannot recall a time when you picked apart your own body and focused on your flaws (apart from your height, I do recall you being frustrated about not being able to reach the top shelf at the supermarket). And the only time I can ever recall you asking me if I had lost weight there was not joy or pride in your eyes. There was concern- concern because you knew that something was not ok with your daughter. You did not rejoice in my ‘victory’ of weight loss, you showed concern for my well-being.
I will always remember you telling me that I needed to make sure I could take care of myself before anything else. To that end, you taught me how to drive a stick, made sure I knew how to change a tire, encouraged me to learn things on my own, let me play or not play sports, allowed me to go on crazy adventures, let me be involved in basketball, OM, and write stories on the computer at home. Instead of commenting on my looks, you called me smart. Instead of telling me I needed to lose weight, you encouraged me in my education. You pushed me to be successful on my own. You taught me that my brain was my greatest asset. I cannot thank you enough for this one.
You have never shamed me for my body or asked “when are you going to get a boyfriend/married/have a baby?” because you know that my worth comes from more than what I look like or what my relationship status is. And today, thank you for asking me about work instead of wanting to gossip. When you visit me now, there are very few comments about my hair, my clothes, or how clean I keep the house, unless they are compliments. And there are never any comments on my weight.
Thank you for still seeing me for who I am and what I can do rather than how I look. Thank you for your support in all things I want to do, whether that be to get a new job, travel overseas, run a half-marathon, move in with my boyfriend, or redecorate my house.
Thank you for being an amazing model and the most amazing mother I could ever ask for.