11.12.12

Mothers & Daughters

I was recently talking with a dear friend about how "it's mothers that are the problem" when it comes to girls body image and weight issues. She told me of a recent example when her mother told her "If you just lost some weight you could get married." 

This problem with mothers is both accurate, and false at the same time.
It is not mothers that are the problem per say, but the society they are born in that works to tell mothers that it is their duty is to present pretty, perfect, daughters for society.

There is a pressure on mothers to be responsible for for how their daughters turn out. More so than a father's responsibility for their sons, or daughters. Or mothers with their sons.

Women have been conditioned in our society to be a certain thing. To be an object to be looked at, rather than an autonomous person. That they must follow these "unwritten" social rules on how to look, how to be, how to be looked at, in order to be loved. It is not the individual woman, the mother that thinks this, but again, it is the society that tells her to be this way.

One of the best examples of this problem is seen in the brilliant movie Spanglish. (Which i've blogged before).

Katie Makkai speaks to this phenomenon, the anxiety that confounds both mothers and daughters, beautifully in her spoken word piece.



She explains that her mother "was raised to believe the greatest asset she could bestow on her awkward little girl was a marketable facade".


I have had experiences like hers.

My grandparents fostered children when my dad was growing up. Sometimes they'd talk about their experiences over Sunday dinners. There was one story in particular my Grandma told again and again. With gusto, and pride.
There was one girl put in their care, who was 'chubby', to paraphrase my Grandma's words. My Grandmother would talk about how she "whipped that girl into shape". How she cut down her portions, and after dinner, when all the other kids would get cookies, and this girl would ask for one too, my Grandma would tell her "there will be no cookies for you!". She beamed with pride as she explained that, eventually, the girl lost some weight.
I'd be sitting there, listening to her go on and on and on. Whenever she told that story, I felt like that little girl. I felt her shame and her Otherness. I felt my Grandma's disgrace. I would just sit there in silence, relaying the latest Boy Meets World episode in my head and pretend I wasn't there.

When I started to gain weight as a child, my mother would tell me not to worry. That the same thing happened to her. That "it'll get better". She told me that the same thing that happened to her would happen to me. That "when you get to high school, you'll just thin out".
Only I never did. My mom didn't really gain weight until after she had kids. She had some 'chubby' childhood years, but she was tiny when she was the age I am now. Our experiences were really so different, but she couldn't see how drastic things were with me.

She let me go on diet pills when I was 12. She took me to the doctor and let me try them, since they had  worked for her. My parents got me braces, to fix what my father referred to as my "freak mutant teeth".  They took me to the salon to dye my hair blonde. They bought me contacts so I didn't have to be made fun of for wearing glasses anymore.

I'm not blaming her/them at all in listing these examples. They were doing all of these things out of love. They thought it was best for me. They tried to give me everything they could to help me. To make me pretty. To make me fit in, find acceptance, and be loved. I was bullied as a child. For quite a a few reasons, for no reason at all, but mostly, for my looks. They were only doing what they could fathom would help.

My mother used to comfort me by telling me "they'll be sorry one day, when you're a model, walking down the runway with your long legs" after being bullied for my height. In being a model, I would finally be socially accepted as 'pretty'. Only then, would I win.

Only, I'm not a model. I'm still not socially acceptably pretty. I am not desired. I still have not been accepted.

But somehow, I've found self acceptance. Yet all those kids that made fun of me would look at me today and still see the same problems.

However, I don't. I look at myself and see beauty in me, just the way I am.

I have broken the chain of unhappiness. Of never being good enough, passed on by my mother, from my grandmother.

My future daughter will never be given false hope and consolations on how, "one day" she'll be pretty and socially accepted. I'll teach her that no matter what, she is beautiful, for exactly who and what she is.

At least, it is my greatest hope that I will be able to teach her that.

I am trying to teach my mother that right now.

Last time I was home (in August of this year) my mother said to me as I was leaving the house "Erin, I think you need to change your skirt. You can really see the shape of your body in that."

My mother and father both criticized me for having body hair.

Here I am, at twenty three, still being told by my mother (and father) how to change myself to be socially acceptable. I've had this blog for years, which my mother sometimes even reads, but she still hasn't accepted my self acceptance.

So I continue to bring this issue up. I try to make her see that I am just fine exactly the way I am. That I don't need outside validation anymore. Not even from her.

I hope one day I can make her see this. To stop comments on how I should change to find validation from others.

I've given up hope in changing my father, who points out every blemish and imperfection I have the first second he sees me when I return home for a holiday or family celebration. Never "Hi Erin, i've missed you" but, "ugh, did you see that zit on your chin?"

I hope that our society can one day change. That this confrontation between mothers and daughters won't be a problem anymore.

A while ago, Pink came out with this song.



When I first saw this video, I immediately thought "Pink had a daughter." I googled, and discovered, that she in fact had recently had a baby girl, as the end of this video makes pretty clear.

I still cry watching it. It depicts so much of what i've been through, what I know so many other girls have been through.

I can only hope that one day this story won't ring so true.

Even though in my work, I see it's still a problem.

By speaking out about it, I hope to be able to one day see this all changed.
That women will no longer be defined by their worth in how others perceive them.
That mothers will no longer hope for outside validation for their daughters, but to encourage it from within.


9 comments:

  1. Thank you. I feel you so, so much on this. My story's different in that I was skinny until college, where I almost doubled my weight in about 3 years. My dad, to my memory, never criticized my weight gain or other "imperfections" (heavy acne for a while, etc.) - but then, he was extremely accepting of me and my sister. My mom never outright criticized me, but she expressed her "concern" over my weight gain and how it "wasn't healthy" and "wasn't pretty - but you're still beautiful to me!" and all that. After several heart-to-hearts with her, she's now accepting of my self acceptance (mostly), but it hasn't changed her view of fat people in general. So there's still some work to be done there.

    But yes, this so much.

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    1. It's such a powerful thing to find someone to share experiences with, eh?
      I'm glad this could help. Thanks for sharing your story. :)

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  2. In a totally weird way this post was really comforting, to know that regardless of background i suppose theres many out there in the same situation. Im turning 21 in January and ever since i can remember my weight and acne have been the subject of many a family gathering. but seeing as im entering my 20s they seem to have increased and become more of a weekly thing and its hard, almost mental torture i suppose.
    In some weird way my family have good intentions and love me but theyre doing more damage than good. Im slowly trying to build up the confidence and learn to love myself and be content with who i am.If i do happen to lose weight its because i want to be healthy not because so and so's son would find me more attractive and more of a marriageable material!

    hang in there 'sistaa'! :)

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad it was a comfort! Finding other people who go through the same hardships is one of the most powerful ways to find ourselves, and realize we are not alone!
      Family is, of course, so complicated. Especially when they try to police us and our bodies, but it's done out of love. Stay strong! :)

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  3. This is so beautiful! You are inspiring Erin :)

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  4. I love this post and I love your brain.

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  5. I actually just discovered the Katie Makkai piece and the Pink song in the past few months. (And your blog only yesterday. I know, I know--late to the party!) I had a similar experience with my Mom and Grandma as well. I'm 24 and don't live at home anymore, and I've learned to deal with their barbs quite a bit better when I visit, but it still cuts me to the quick to hear them saying all the same sorts of things to my younger sister, who is actually quite a bit skinner than I ever was, not that that's relevant. Anyways...thank you for being beautiful and inspiring. It's so great to know that there are others on this road, 'cause sometimes it feels like I'm walking it all by myself. Much love!

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Thanks for stopping by! Comments are always welcome and very much appreciated. :)

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