This piece first appeared on the author’s blog, Bipolar Spirit, and is reprinted here by permission. You can read more of Katie’s work on her site RevKatieNorris.com.
In When Your Mother Says She’s Fat by Kasey Edwards, the author writes a letter to her mom about what she learned when her mother insulted herself about her weight. What Edwards learned struck a cord for me – and for the many women who have been sharing this article – because these are the same things we learned from our own beautiful mothers who never thought that they were beautiful
What particularly struck me about Edwards’ article is that she looked forward to the day when she would be like her mother – until her mother began to show her self-hatred about her body. That’s when everything shifted:
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.
“Fat” is not in itself a bad word. When we add qualifiers to it like “disgusting,“ or when we use it in a negative way, then it becomes a problem. As the mother of a boy, I thought about what mothers teach their sons when we speak badly about our own weight and appearance. In that article, I heard two voices from my own life.
I heard my own voice, just a few weeks ago, when I was talking to my husband, in front of my son, about going to my husband’s annual Christmas party. I told my husband: “I don’t want to go. I am fat and disgusting, and you deserve someone who looks good like you.”
I heard my son’s voice, who so often has said, “No, Mommy, you are pretty,” after the many times I have made comments about my body like that.
More Radical Reads: Pretty Tired of Pretty
I bet that, almost daily, I say something negative about the way I look, and I know my son hears it. It has become a daily part of my life. It’s as natural for me as it was for the girls in grade school who told me I had to be at the bottom of the pyramid because I was so fat the rest of them could not hold me up. As natural as the people who made fun of me for having fat legs. As natural as the people who told my husband when we were dating that I was not pretty enough for him. It seems totally normal to me to feel required to never let myself forget that I am fat and ugly.
The comment I made to my husband about the Christmas party told my son a lot about me, about himself, about his father, and about women in general. These are the potential lessons I taught my son that day:
Body weight is a sign of beauty.
There is one universal standard of beauty that we all must conform to.
Fat is disgusting.
His idea of beauty is wrong (because he thinks I am pretty and I am telling him I am not).
A wife must look a certain way to be good enough to be seen with her husband.
I am worth less than my husband.
I am not someone anyone would want to be seen with in public, and thus maybe even my son should not be seen in public with me.
Men should not love women who do not fit the cultural ideas of beauty.
A person’s self-worth is based on their weight.
I do not practice what I preach. I preach body acceptance and self-love, but I do not practice it.
Self-loathing is better than self-compassion and love.
It is okay to judge others’ worth by their weight.
It is okay to judge himself by his weight.
Since this type of body hatred is so normal for me, I often do not even realize I am doing it. It was not until I saw this graphic going around Facebook that I realized how often, every day, and every year, I talk about my weight and how much I hate my body. This comes from a Facebook page called Grrrl:
So, rather than resolving to lose weight again this year, I resolve to not talk about weight loss or worth being attached to weight in front of my son. Eventually, I want to never talk about it to anyone again, but I know I am not able to do that yet. However, I can take the step now to not expose my son to seeing his own mother hate herself because of her weight.
More Radical Reads: Eating for Two
P.S. After I wrote this post, I took a break to have dinner with my family and noticed that, in order to follow through on this resolution, I had to stop myself from saying things I typically would have said before – such as, “I can’t believe I ate that much. I should stop eating because I ate too much already today. I feel disgusting that I ate this.”
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[Feature image: The photograph shows a mother and son. The mother is on the left. She is a white woman with long light brown hair. She is wearing a turquoise long-sleeved shirt and a pair of light blue pants. Her head is turned toward her son. The boy is on the right. He is a white child with short light brown hair. He is wearing a long-sleeved dark blue shirt and a pair of light blue pants. He is resting his face on his left hand and looking sad.]