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Mothers, Daughters & Diets | Manolo for the Big Girl

Mothers, Daughters & Diets

I try –admittedly not hard, but I do try– not to go around mother-bashing. First of all, the county sheriff took away my baseball bat after an ugly incident involving varying opinions on sequins for day (IT’S STILL NOT OKAY, HOW DO PEOPLE NOT SEE THAT???) and secondly my own mother is going to make me a very wealthy woman when the tell-all is through and I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

BUT one of the things I’ve noticed, particularly after last week’s fad dieting question is the cycle of either an overweight or an overly weight-conscious mother putting her own daughter (who may or may not be overweight herself) on diets.

Sigh.

Someone please tell me that’s not happening anymore. That our mothers were just uninformed products of their ages. Right?

It’s something I wrestle with regularly. Almost every Especially Fat girl I know has food/body/diet issues that were actively passed down from their female relatives, usually mother. Sometimes grandmother. I got a triple punch of mother, grandmother AND great grandmother –whose last words to me on this earth were “Have you always been so fat?”– and although I’m clearly pretty okay re: food issues and whatnot, I don’t pretend it didn’t affect me and sometimes I get bitter.

But does it do any good?

I don’t think so. I mean sure it lets me work up a righteous huff and Lord knows there are few things in the world I love than a good righteous huff (Hermès is one, that thing with my ankles is another) but since I’m not having any kids of my own I don’t have to worry about inadvertently passing on body image woes.

I’d be interested in hearing from mothers of daughters who are overweight, or who might someday become big girls, on your successes and pitfalls negotiating a way to healthy body image. If you’re unhappy about your weight do you take it out on your daughter? Is your daughter overweight and you want to encourage her to drop some pounds for whatever reasons? I can see the temptation of wanting a girl to have the social advantage of thinness, but does it really work to try to enforce it?

20 Responses to “Mothers, Daughters & Diets”

  1. Kathy September 20, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    My sister-in-law is incredibly weight conscious and her 8 year old daughter is a plump little girl. Can you see where this is going? I myself am a plus-size but both of my daughters are stick thin, always have been. Even if they were larger I wouldn’t say a word. I have lived this life and I see the damage it is doing to my niece.

  2. Anne September 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    Wow – the mother/daughter dynamic could fuel bookshelves full of books – sure you want to take this one on?
    I will try to be brief, but I will say I have two daughters. One (the older) is lithe and petite, the younger looks just like me – taller, bigger bones, “curvy”. My weight has been up and down over my life, and I am happier with at times than at others. It is a powerful urge, when looking at younger version of yourself, to want to prevent the pain/frustration/issues you see coming up. It is something that I have to remind myself that I cannot control, and I can only try to be a good example. But I can see where a mother could convince herself that she was “helping”.
    I could go on (and on and on) but that should get the topic started!

  3. Plumcake September 20, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    @Anne: Yeah, I think most of it comes from a misguided “helping” point of view. And also wanting to have a Do Over. Do I know what I’m talking about from experience? Absolutely not. But it’s a guess!

    @Kathy:
    I bet your niece is lucky she has you to be a positive size-acceptance role model!

  4. Mifty September 20, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    I fear it’s getting no better, and I don’t really know why it would (sigh). Certainly anti-fat propaganda is everywhere — much of it from the U.S. government, which has obsessed over how much people weigh for several administrations now.

    Unsurprisingly, the public perception of fat people seems to be only getting worse over time, what with all the harping about how we’re not only ugly, we’re an unhealthy and expensive burden on society. Also, the notion, or superstition, that fat people are just thin people who stuff their faces is an exceedingly stubborn thing.

    And of course there’s the “childhood obesity epidemic.” Parents (it’s not just mothers who do this) are encouraged to see their fat kids, particularly fat daughters, as unhealthy pariahs. Resisting that would be very difficult indeed, especially leavened, as Anne notes, with the very valid fear of your kid having to deal with all the crap fat people have to deal with.

  5. Evie September 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    I can’t say my mother ever forced me to do any ridiculous diets–thank goodness for small miracles!–but she did pass on a very strong tendency towards emotional eating, combined with absolutely no knowledge of healthy eating and a distaste for exercise. Despite growing up in the eighties and early nineties, my childhood was filled with junk food and Velveeta-based entrees from the seventies. We drove everywhere and ate fast food regularly. Etc. Thank goodness I got my head on straight before college.

    Unfortunately, she does still have a lot of body hatred, it’s just directed at herself. It’s hard for me to go back home, knowing that I’ll have to listen to a pretty constant monologue of I’m-worthless-because-I-let-myself-get-fat from someone I care about.

  6. gigi September 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Ugh. This hits pretty close to home.

    My mother was unbearably beautiful as a girl and is still incredibly attractive at 50. She was the daughter of an equally gorgeous, naturally slim woman who placed undue stock in her child’s physical appearance. All the women in our family are six feet tall, and given my mother’s frame, she should have been at least a size 12 or 14 from adolescence onwards, but she has been actively dieting since the age of about 11 and has been every size from 2 to 16 over the last 30 years. When grandma died, mom went up to a size 20 or so and has been desperately trying to get down to a “normal” size ever since. That means lots and lots of self-imposed starvation, the by-products of which are, naturally, hoarding food and projecting her obsessions on me, the daughter whose figure most closely resembles hers. I’ve been fielding comments like, “you’ll feel better if you don’t eat”, “at least if you’re throwing up you’ll lose weight!”, “you’ll never get a boyfriend if you don’t drop three pants sizes”, and “if you were thin, you could be just as pretty as I used to be” since elementary school, but now that I’m in college, I’m much less angry. My mom was never praised for her mind or her talents. She has always conflated beauty with worth and I don’t think she actually believes she deserves love unless she is thin. Apart from the dieting obsession, she’s an amazing mom, and I have to forgive her for trying to bequeath to me the only kind of power she has ever known, the power of looks. Am I messed up? Yeah. Am I getting over it? Definitely. Hopefully the cycle will end with me.

  7. jfsnyder September 20, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    My mother was bird-thin. I have never been compared to a bird even when I was knee-high to a chicken. Not one time did she ever make feel less because of my size. The only body-size related comment I ever recall her making was that my t-shirts looked better on me once I developed breasts. :) As I only have sons; I can’t comment on body issues with daughters. My boys are all fairly slender. One of my two teenagers could *maybe* stand to lose 5 to 10 pounds; but since the rest of my children look like walking skeletons; he just looks healthy by comparison.

  8. jen209 September 20, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    My whole family is fat and we always have been. When I was growing up, my Mom had issues with food and with body image (I’d say she still has them with body image, not so much with food). The issue with food I think is still damaging to me today. She would say “we’re going on a diet” and throw out all the unhealthy foods – then 3 days later she’d buy a whole new batch at the store and give up on the “diet”. This taught me that food had power over us. That perception is still present in my subconscious, even though I know it’s not true.

    Her body image issues were not as extreme as a lot of people’s. She just thought that if you’re fat, you should hide your body under loose-fitting clothes, and not show your legs, etc. I shook that attitude pretty soon after I left for college – probably in large part due to watching What Not to Wear.

    Anyway, yes my mother passed on some issues to me. But her efforts were not aimed specifically at me as the daughter.

  9. LeighB in ATL September 20, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Ah, this is the one that hits home for me. I’m a fat girl and I’m married to a fat guy. We have a daughter (8yo) who is on the pudgy side, but not what I’d call fat. We both worry because we know that genetically, the deck is stacked against her and that life with a weight problem can be difficult. However, I would NEVER call her fat, tell her she needs to lose weight or put her on some kind of diet. Sometimes I worry that I get a little too controlling about snacks and what she chooses, and when I do that, I try to back off. It can be hard to strike the right balance of encouraging healthy eating while dealing with your own emotional issues about the situation. We are trying to set a good example and do better for ourselves in the process.

    My mom did suggest diets and the like to me a few times when I was younger, but it wasn’t of the “i’ll love you more if you are thin” kind of behavior. She is naturally thinner and tends to watch what she eats pretty carefully. But I have always known that she loves me and thinks me the most wonderful child on earth, no matter my size.

  10. Thea September 20, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    Oh lord this is a red hot button for me. My mom was small and curvy, my dad, 6’4″ and lean. I took after mom who used to show me pictures of herself in a bathing suit with her legs inked out and sigh “I’m sorry you got my legs” – this when I was 7!

    God love my dad who constantly reminded me that he LIKED curvy women. His best line, when I was teased in Jr Hi for em, ‘blossoming’ early was “You tell those girls the only movie stars that don’t have chests are Trigger and Lassie”

    And then there were my Dad’s spindly sisters….but that’s another rant. Let’s just say I doubt I’m going to die from hips that snap like kindling like they all did.

  11. retna September 21, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    My mother loves me at every weight. We have a family history of diabetes so she figured out how to make favorites recipes that still taste great with less carbs and fat. We dealt with it together and it’s been passed down in eating healthy. That said and done, my partner and I are both fat, but our three kids are tall-ish and skinny. I don’t torment them about what they eat but after years of watching me read labels, and buy organic they’ve caught on. We have a low fat, low GI diet because of the diabetes. At 9 my sons are up to shopping for groceries, making healthier choices than most adults. I don’t know how I’ll be with my daughter…but I’ll try to be as accepting as my mother was with me.

  12. Rebekka September 21, 2010 at 3:47 am #

    As a kid I was chubby from 3 or 4 grade and on, but not decidedly “plus size” until the end of high school. My mom was actually a good example for me, I think, at least as far as body issues are concerned (the messiness, not so much). She’s always been more or less normal, and I can only remember her ever dieting once, and that was the baby weight after my youngest sister. That “diet” was just normal food in different proportions and only lasted a few months, until she’d dropped the extra weight. Even now she’s still slim, eats normal food, and goes for walks. Both my sisters are slim and athletic. I’m the only one who has a problem (I’m also definitely the black sheep, as I’m 6 inches taller than both my mom and my sisters and weigh about twice as much, pictures of us together are like an exercise in “which of these does not belong with the rest”), but I think my body problems have more to do with my dad and his “boundary issues”, which I for whatever reason bore the brunt of.

  13. Silvia September 21, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    Very good topic.

    I am the living example of the damages that can be done by loving mothers thinking they are doing their best for their daughters.

    I am 45, overweight (BMI around 29, so since a couple of months officially not obese anymore), and my mum put me on a diet since I was 5… she really screwed up my metabolism by making me try every fad diet and pill (including the dangerous ones – luckily no permanent harm was done) between the age of 5 and 15.

    At 15 I rebelled, what I know now is that I really suffered from bulimia but nobody cared, and my weight exploded up to 130 kg when I was 25.
    Luckily, the rest of my life was good (successful studies, then very good career, plenty of friends and boyfriends), so I slowly picked up the pieces and started loving myself the way I was – I even managed to make peace with my mum before she died, 10 years ago. She was just trying to help me ‘fit in’ in the very hard Italian society (in Milan, the fashion capital!), where looks are everything and if you are fat you are a failure, no matter what else you achieve…

    My metabolism has now recovered, because I am losing weight for the past 6 years, little by little, no diet, just ‘eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full’.

    What still makes me angry is the near-certainty that if I hadn’t been forced to diet I would have never had any severe weight problems…

  14. cedar September 21, 2010 at 7:28 am #

    When I think back on it, we had pretty strict food rules in my house as a kid. Any of the pre-packaged cookie/cupcake/granola bar things were very strictly rationed as “lunchbox treats” 5 per child per week. No sugar cereals, no potato chips, only skim milk, fast food once a month at most. Even flavored yogurt was considered a treat. But it really had nothing to do with weight loss. My mom grew up in a family that grew a lot of their own food and lived on a very strict budget, so the “rules” had everything to do with cost per unit of nutrition. For herself my mom has been careful about portion size worried about her weight for as long as I can remember. But the only “issue” I feel she passed on is a tendency to gaze in disgust at the price of Oreos (and then buy organic blueberries for god knows how much a pound instead).

  15. Cat September 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    I’m not a mother in any sense of the word – but I can tell you it isn’t just mothers. My mother was thin growing up, and gained weight from having babies. My father, and his mother, on the other hand were always fat.

    Mom was bad enough. But Dad and Grandma were worse. Dad’s comments were always prefaced with “I grew up this way, I want something different for you.” And on top of it, he told me repeatedly while growing up that “no man will ever want you unless you lose weight.” Nice comment from a father to a teenage girl already angsting about not ever having a boyfriend, eh?

    Grandma was schizophrenic about it. She was “old school” – so cooking was one of the ways she showed her love, and therefore if you didn’t eat much of it, you didn’t love her. But if I ate it, she’d yell at me for overeating. Basically it was “here, eat this…….no don’t!”

    On one hand, I do blame genetics for my weight – with both Dad and Grandma having been overweight all their lives (and Grandma having to lose weight to even get pregnant – Dad was an only child), it was a 50/50 chance I would be too. But what Grandma didn’t know – and what Dad never experienced due to being male – is that I got caught in the cycle of massive estrogen overdose (chemically in my body).

    Grandma and I were born with far too much estrogen in our bodies. Estrogen is one of the reasons many women have issues losing weight, even the more “skinny” ones. Estrogen production is encouraged by excess fat, and unfortunately, makes it harder to lose the weight. So, the fatter you are, the more estrogen you make. And the more estrogen you make, the less able you are to lose weight.

    And when I hit puberty, the estrogen machine went into overdrive, which means my weight did too.

    Now that I am nearing menopause, and the estrogen machine is slowing down, I am finding it much easier to lose weight. But I am still doing it ONLY to become more healthy – I expect my body will find a new “goal weight” on its own. I eat healthy, I try to exercise a reasonable amount. And that’s all I am aiming for – is health.

    I still get the occasional lecture from my father. But now that I am older, I tell him to either back off — or I point out to him how emotionally damaging his comments are. I still get the “oh, you’re just too sensitive!” comment, but he does back off.

  16. Toby Wollin September 21, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    I grew up as the odd bird in the family nest – mom was extremely tall and thin – older sister ditto. I take after my father and his Ukranian ‘can live on wood chips’ side of thing and am short. My mom did not have body image issues per se, but very much was down on anyone who was not tall or thin. My sister definitely had body image things and has basically spent the past 50 years on one sort of diet or another. Her daughter has been calorie restricted pretty much from the age of 2. What will happen with the kid comes home from college with the freshman 15 is beyond ugly. My kids take after both of us: blocky and not tall, and since we lived close to my parents, they unfortunately got the full dose of my mom’s ‘wisdom’. We took the ‘eat for health’ route because we felt it was more important that they got some loving messages at home because we knew that they’d be getting ‘unloving’ messages at school and outside. Sincerely, all we care about is our kids’ health – but I also know my kids well enough that they would tune us completely out if all I was droning was ‘you are not acceptable to me because you are not tall and thin.”

  17. Harri P. September 21, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    Great, well, I lost a long post.

    To recap: pressure is much worse now than it ever has been, since now the emphasis is on health rather than looks. Now, the implication is that if your child is overweight, you might as well put a loaded gun in their mouth since they’re doomed to a lifetime of miserable health and an early death.

    I was the skinny daughter of a controlling overweight mom, and now I’m the overweight mom of an overweight girl, and I try not to be controlling and always to be positive about my beautiful girl, and I get disapproval from literally everyone. To make things more annoying, my boy is naturally very skinny and he never gets people telling him to eat a better diet, even though my girl’s diet is much more healtful.

    I tell my girl (who’s 13) that she’s beautiful several times a week, buy her pretty much whatever clothes she wants (thank goodness Torrid exists), and praise her formidable brains and talent to the skies. And I hope that’s enough.

  18. ChaChaheels September 22, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    My mother was a beautiful woman who never had trouble with her weight (well, only one time, she gained and gained and gained because she could not breastfeed my brother because of mastitis. Once she put a stop to that, however, it came off super fast). On top of that, she ate constantly, and not little “snacks” either. She was raised on 5 huge meals a day, including everything from soup to nuts–pasta made by hand, cheese, pork, wine, butter, cream, eggs, you name it–and she told me about it all because she and her sisters would prepare all that food five times a day every day to feed not just the family but the people their family hired to work on their farm. They produced and sold food and wine for decades, and not a single one of her family members was ever “big”. She didn’t cook 5 meals a day for us, but she did cook with whole foods all the time. I got my father’s family’s genes: unlike my mother’s family, his people didn’t own land and fished for subsistence. During the war even that little was scarce. You can see the difference there: on his side of the family, everyone struggles with weight gain, and all the family members are chubby or “fat”, and short. I guess my mom’s genes slightly mitigated my dad’s, as I am much taller than most of his side of the family. But I never escaped fat.

    My mother was troubled by the way I looked, but only because it was such a big deal for my father. My mother never imposed the dieting and she would comment only because she knew my father would make an even louder noise–dieting (for me, but never for him!) was my father’s idea, and he was always the one making the comments and corrections, even to my mother, who was accused of feeding me too much. If my father hadn’t been so noisy about it, my mother wouldn’t have given a damn.

    My point is that there will always be someone in the family who thinks they have good intentions but they really can’t get past seeing you as the extension of themselves, so you’d better not fail at being perfect! It’s not always mom, but it is always the one who is most insecure.

  19. Carissa September 23, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    My mom is a little overweight and, even when she was thinner, was bullied about her weight by her parents. I’m very fortunate that she did not continue the cycle. I’m a size 8 or 10, curvy but certainly not unhealthy.

    Throughout my life, my mother has told me I’m beautiful and talented and intelligent and that I only have to be who I want to be. When I become a mother, I hope that I can show my daughter how to live a healthy life but also support and praise her exactly as she is. This shame about our appearance is pervasive and unlikely to end in the near future. But hopefully I can give the world one more girl who realizes that she is so much more than her body.

  20. Carrie September 24, 2010 at 8:05 pm #

    I have a five month old daughter and I am so scared I am going to pass on my overweightness. I’m 36 years old and I have finally started to accept that this is who I am, but it took a long time to get here. I don’t want that misery for my daughter.

    I am also worried because my son takes after my husband’s side of the family–rail thin, petite. She already takes after my side of the family–big in every way. Thankfully they are five years apart so he will always be bigger than her in their youth, but I can see it would be really hard to have a small boy and a big girl when society wants it to be the other way.

    I am hoping I will be able to raise happy, healthy children. So far my son doesn’t have food issues (typical picky preschooler) and I’ve trained him to stop eating when he feels full, even though my husband will come along and try to force him to eat more. I plan to do the same with my daughter and hope it all works out.

    My grandma had food issues (almost anorexic) and my mom had food issues (binge/purge/excercise anorexic). I had issues growing up, but I think I eat a pretty healthy diet now.

    It’s tough to be a mother and know that what you do has such a big impact on your children’s lives.