My Mother's Body
My mother and I share a handful of discernible features. A strong nose. Knocked knees. Hips. Ass. Breasts. An intense stare. But where we differ is in our self-perception.
Early in my childhood, I sat on the floor to scan the bookcase in my parent’s bedroom, taking an inventory of what I saw. I aimed to qualify these observations as fragments of my parents’ identities that I hadn’t yet been exposed to. Among the mess of true crime novels, nude art books, and airport reads – all of which were relatively anonymous – was the Sugar-Busters Handbook. This unmistakably belonged to my mother.
As I continued to grow, traces of my mother's weightloss journey included:
Boxed meals on our front porch from Jenny Craig
A Shake Weight
Miscellaneous exercise equipment
Tae Bo on VHS
8-Minute Abs on VHS
South Beach Diet bookmarks on our shared computer
I never saw my mother as big, and as I’ve grown and developed an objective lens toward those I love, I can safely say that my perception as a child was correct. Her insecurities about her weight stem from a deep-rooted canon she’d been fed by her own mother on how weight loss and fitness were necessary to fit into the mold of womanhood. I carried that same ideology into my own childhood and adolescence, especially while trying to navigate the unrelenting landscape of my changing body.
I've always had hips. I was forced into my first training bra at age 8. I got my first period at age 10. I was rarely ever able to shop at stores designated for children, because I quickly found myself in the “Juniors” section for girls who were too young to dress like sixteen year olds, but too curvy to dress their own age. I fought endlessly to shrink my body of its natural height and weight, to feel as though I measured up – or down – to my female peers. My awkward shell and lack of self-confidence established a bond between my mother and me; a common ground where we could battle our size together. I occasionally ate her Jenny Craig meals with her. We would go to exercise classes together. We would try new diets together.
But what I came to understand as I got older was that my maturing form was holding my premature mind captive, and this was identical to the hand my mother was dealt by her mother. In the same way that our genetics pass on dark hair and detached earlobes, we are given our mother's bodies. But coming to terms with the nature of your body is often balked by the inherited trauma from generations of women prior, who saw those familial features as things to be corrected.
As social media actively preaches body-positivity from a lens of normalcy, I take my mother's self-deprecation with a grain of salt. To her, body positivity is new; that level of self-acceptance is foreign. As our conversations cycle on repeat, how I wish she saw herself through my eyes, I remember that my path to self-acceptance was also punctuated with a healthy dose of body dysmorphia. A struggle which I was only able to overcome through my own pursuit of literature on why we should accept ourselves as we are.
I've come to love the shape of my body. I've come to understand why I am soft, why I am knock-kneed and big-breasted, and I accept my shape as I accept my mother's. I can only sympathize with what my grandmother felt in her 5'9’’ frame in the age of the girdle and the size six shoe. If her body resembled my mother's and my own in a time where an idealized body type was more of a requirement than a suggestion, then I understand how the well-intentioned tenets of weight loss and dieting that she heavy-handedly imposed onto my mom follow a similar genetic lineage as the hips we all share.