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A Little Compassion | Manolo for the Big Girl

A Little Compassion

I’ve often wondered whether it’s more difficult to be the overweight daughter of a naturally slim mother or one who is prone to plumpness.

With the thin mother, I could see the struggles that come with obliviousness. Their slim bodies act a certain way when fed and watered normally, why shouldn’t it be the same for their daughter’s young form? I can also imagine a mother whose tiny dress size has always been a point of pride being disappointed or embarrassed at their daughter’s less-than-svelte body.

On the other hand, if you’re a chubby kid and big momma is constantly complaining about her fat thighs and bouncing from cabbage soup this to meal replacement shake that in an effort to drop “the weight”, congratulations:  odds are you’re going to be her de facto diet buddy until you finagle your way to an out-of-state college.

Sometimes it’s difficult to have empathy for these characters.

After all, I’m going to venture onto a very sturdy limb and say many if not most big girls who struggle with disordered eating patterns learned it at the feet of their fad dieting mothers. And let’s not even get into the body hate projection, the screwed up approach to self-worth and all the rest of the stuff that’s put our therapists’ kids through private school.

Still, a little compassion is in order.

Our mothers didn’t have the size-acceptance community we do for support. They might not have even known liking themselves just as they are was even an option, much less have a place where they could rage, share and occasionally get some sense lovingly –if virtually– slapped into them.

Besides, their mothers might’ve been pieces of work themselves, this stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum you know and it wasn’t too long ago that most of the western world was on food rations. I know my grandmother very nearly starved during the Great Depression and she kept a lifelong eating disorder and a raging case of fat hate as unfortunate souvenirs.

I’ve got nothing but sympathy –okay, almost nothing but sympathy– for women whose sense of personal value is so tenuous that a swing of the scale can make a difference between love and shame. I can only imagine how difficult it is not to pass it on to their children.

I do believe most mothers truly want the best for their children. For every Joan Crawford doppelganger, there are hundreds of well-intentioned moms who inflicted harm not out of cruelty, but out of their own human brokenness. They did what they thought was best using the tools they had at the time and although I’m sure we could spend ages comparing ridiculous and painful war stories, the best WE can do is forgive our mothers, learn from them and not make the same mistakes.

What do you think? I know it’s a sensitive subject, but I’m particularly interested in hearing how those of you who’ve struggled over size with your mother have forgiven, moved on and developed a new, healthier relationship…or not.

 

22 Responses to “A Little Compassion”

  1. erylin May 9, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    i finally had to threaten my parents…drop the cajoling, the diet talk, the tips, hints suggestions about dieting, or i would not talk to them anymore. im recovering form an ED i have had for half my life now. part of it was their constant dissatisfaction with my body. now they may still be dissatisfied, but i dont really care. i showed them the REAL information, told them id reather be fat then dead of an ED, and said if you DONT stop this i wont talk to you. funny enough i havent heard a peep, in fact, my mom feels awful now and apologizes whenever i let her. here is me telling my dad off, complete with factual links. http://fiercefatties.com/2012/01/10/dear-dad/

  2. Andrea May 9, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    For a while, my relationship with my very slim, athletic mom was better. However, she recently began commenting on my sons. The son that takes after his father is tall and very skinny. The son that takes after me is chubby. She will pile up the food on the skinny grandson’s plate and limit the food on the chubby grandson’s plate and tell him it’s because the other one is growin up not out. This has damaged my slowly recovering feelings for her.

  3. Jen Anderson May 9, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Oh, Andrea, that breaks my heart. That’s got to affect your son and how do you tell a kid to ignore Grandma’s behavior because she’s being a jerk?

    I have vivid memories of my mom & I taking fiber pills together before dinner to fill us up so we’d eat less. Yet I don’t think she actually put smaller portions on our plates.

    I try hard to remember that my mom gave me all this baggage because she herself was in pain. Last year, when I told her about Fat Acceptance, she was totally in agreement. It was all I could do not to leap across the table and strangle her. Now? Now she agrees with me? The woman who screamed at me when I decided to accept myself as I was in college. The woman who told me after I’d lost some weight that it was like getting her daughter back. Now she’s on board after her screaming helped send me back to another decade+ of disordered eating and yo-yo dieting that caused who knows what damage to my body and took time and energy away from more important goals, like writing a novel.

    I know it’s all because of her own pain. But I have to keep reminding myself of that. And I’m still not sure how much her own baggage excuses her behavior.

  4. Shinobi May 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    My father is actually the major issue in my house. He was a chubby kid, a thinner adult, and now an older guy with a bit of a tummy. My mom on the other hand is decidedly rubenesque. I am built like her only much fatter. For pretty much my whole life Mom has been dieting, and dad has been encouraging her. It’s beyond pathological at this point. She’s had substantial brain damage, a knee replacement and a stroke a few years ago. (She’s only 60.) But everything still revolves around her losing weight.

    Recently she was having some hip pain, and my father said he’d be upset if it was some kind of fracture because then she’d have to go on bed rest and she would gain weight.

    I think it is only my rebelliousness that allowed me to escape that house without an eating disorder. Though I still have to hear about how bad drinking juice is for me, because, y’know there is sugar in it. It would be much healthier to drink chemicals mixed with water.

  5. ZaftigWendy May 9, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Andrea, that’s exactly what my grandmother did and despite her other good qualities I have not been able to really forgive her to this day. I hope you can have a heart-to-heart with her and and get her to quit it! My grandma is now terribly ill and won’t survive much longer and I’m forced to decide whether or not I’ll even go to her funeral. Feel free to tell my story to your mom and ask her if she wants any of her grandsons to feel that way towards her.

    As far as my mom, well, she was slim, but had a teeny pooch on her tummy, so she THOUGHT she was terribly fat. I had the “best” of both worlds, so to speak, but when I grew up and discovered Size Acceptance, she was terribly supportive. She was ALWAYS supportive of anything I did and let me make my own choices.

    Grandma was my only real problem.

  6. Courtney May 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    My mother is 5’9″ and has never weighed over 130 pounds in her entire life. I, on the other hand, never made it past 5’6″ and I passed 130 in eighth grade or so, so we just have fundamentally different body types. I can remember comments even from when I was very little like the one Andrea mentioned, “I hope this is a year where you grow up not out”, and as a teenager, she always supported my dieting.

    I was pretty miserable with my body as a teenager, because my mom was thin and my little sister got her body type, so the only other not-so-thin person in my family was my dad, and he’s a guy, and they get away with it more easily (although he always wants to be thinner than he is and goes on diets regularly). Most of my friends were pretty thin (yet still thought they were fat and tried to diet), and I just felt like the only huge one in the group, which was ridiculous, because I really wasn’t fat then. I was athletic, muscular, and just a more largely-built person than most of my friends. I thought I was huge and hated my body, though.

    So I dieted my way to getting much, much bigger, of course, because that’s how diets eventually end up. They don’t mix well with my perfectionism and lack of self control, and over the years, I ended up getting legitimately fat, at which time I found FA and learned to stop obsessing over what I ate, stop hating myself and my body, and just be at peace with my weight.

    Even now, though, any time I want to work out or change the way I eat, even if it’s for sports or health reasons, I find myself slipping into an obsessive dieting mindset, and it scares me. I feel like I’m still the fifteen year old who wants to be as thin as her mom and sister, who will starve herself to get there. I don’t know how to make working out and running about being stronger and building stamina, and I don’t know how to make eating about taking care of my body and stomach problems. The minute I start noticing that my body has changed even a tiny bit, I start thinking about getting thin.

    I don’t have issues with my mother, because it’s not really her fault, but I definitely internalized her idea that I should be thin as a child, and that thin was better, and I ran with that. She wasn’t trying to be cruel or harmful, and I only have a few memories of her saying anything to me about my weight. I guess she and my sister were just a standard that I compared myself to, and I always fell short. I don’t really anymore, but the mentality I was in is still there the minute I try to do anything other than gorge on whatever I see and never work out or play sports.

    And this is a really long comment. I’m wordy. My apologies.

  7. margie May 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    I have always been overweight. and short. if you were to look at my family you would say that we all look alike. which we do. but we were not always this way. my mom was very slender growing up. her wedding dress was probably a size 6/8. she was also barely over 5ft tall. very petite. after she was married and started having children (3 of us) the weight started adding on and it became a hobby of hers to be on diets. I have always been chubby. as a child i was never fat but always chubby. when I was in 8th grade, wearing a size 16 in women’s and I realized that I would never grow taller than 5’1″, I knew my life would only get worse. I was never told I was fat, but I knew I was because I was not skinny, and if you are not skinny you are fat.

    my mom never suggested that I diet or try to lose weight. she simply would make comments here and there about her “gordita”. To this day that is how I am introduced to certain company. This does not bother me since in the mexican culture it is not meant to be demeaning. however, that is still a “title” I have been given.

    I am ok with me. I like me. Actually, you know how when you look in the mirror you look different than if you saw a picture of yourself? Well, I like the person I see in the mirror. The person I see in pictures I do not like at all. In the mirror I don’t see myself as fat as I really am. And I am perfectly ok with that! However, the fact of matter is, I am the heaviest I have ever been right now. I am not healthy, do not work out, and quite frankly, am not as flexible as I once was. This I am not ok with. I hate that I can’t dress sexy and be ok with pictures of me. (I have seen pictures of me and it is NOT sexy!!!) I hate that clothes in the store that fit me AND that I can afford are either stretchy or have large floral prints on them. I hate that I can’t wear heels for a long period of time like I used to because my knees and feet are bad from the weight. I hate that I have bad knees and feet.

    wow! where was I?!?! Oh, right. I know that comments that my mom makes are because she does not like her own body and it gives her comfort in knowing that she is not alone in her weight struggle. her mentality is that she needs to fix her fat because at one time she was skinny and knows that it’s not impossible to be skinny again. for me, I have never been skinny, so I don’t know what it feels like. I know that I am heavier than I have ever been and I know that I need to make some changes in my life, but I am not into diets and weight loss per se. I just want to be healthy and be able to use the stairs without losing my breath. Wearing a bikini is not a goal of mine. I wish my mom could understand that as much alike as we are, we really are not. I wish that she could be happy with herself too.

  8. Carrie May 9, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    I am very overweight. My mom always used to say she was fat and was constantly on a diet. Like you said, I was her dieting companion. Looking back at pictures I can see she was totally anorexic. Now she is plump and addicted to sugar. I am agog when I see her eating habits. Yet she is still constantly “helping” me by telling me about the latest dieting fads.

    I know this all came down from my grandmother, a super tiny woman who had a serious hatred of all things fat. I had very serious body issues thanks to her (and my mother). I am so thankful that I found the fat acceptance community. I am still a work in progress, but at least I don’t hate myself most days these days.

    The last time I saw my mom I gave her a copy of a book about sugar addicts. She was seriously crying in joy to find that she’s not a bad person and that she has a real addiction. I forget that she is not living in the same world I am living in. I have been able to come to terms with my body, but she is still living with a lot of guilt, fear, disgust and self-hatred.

    I have had to have some harsh talks with her about her language around my children. I have a very slim 6 year old boy and a very hefty 2 year old girl. She may slim down, but she looks just like me so I fear she will also be a big girl. I see another come to Jesus talk about this in our future. She thinks it is helpful to give dieting tips or talk about “such a pretty face.”

    Now I have an issue with my son. What do you do when you are a fat mother and your son is learning about the obesity epidemic at school? It breaks my heart when he says things like “I can’t eat that because it will turn into fat.” I am waiting for the day when he realizes I am really fat and loses respect for me. I hate the war on fat people.

  9. Ali May 9, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    My mom has been skinny, as in underweight, all her life. She told me that she had been bullied as a child for being too skinny. I sometimes wonder if she saw me – her fat child – as one of her childhood tormentors and that’s why she treated me like she did. She always complained about being too skinny and would tell me about all the things she did to gain weight. Only recently, did I realize that my mom has an eating disorder. She never ate normally around me. She never ate three meals. She would eat nothing but bananas for a whole weak – according to her because she had stomach problems. Then she would eat nothing but baby rice cereal for another week. I think she gave all the food that she didn’t allow herself to eat to me. She rewarded me with food, she soothed me with food instead of love, thus creating a life long eating disorder in which I either binge or control (mostly binging though).
    My grandma, who I also grew up with, lived through the first and second world war and was always on a diet. There were always 2 pounds she wanted to lose even though she didn’t really have to lose them. She was obsessed with diet fads and I also remember how, whenever she was invited to a big family dinner, she wouldn’t eat that day at all and sometimes the day before she wouldn’t eat either.
    Both of them were extremely disappointed to have ended up with a fat daughter/granddaughter and would point it out constantly. If I complained they’d say I am too sensitive. They only stopped when I got old enough to defend myself and I started to point out their flaws whenever they started piling on me again.
    Now that I have my own child, I am trying really hard to have her have a good relationship with food, to eat healthy and balanced. It’s hard though because honestly, I don’t really know what is normal.

  10. barbara May 10, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    My mom isn’t really fat (she goes back and forth between about size 10 and size 14/16) but she’s always battled her weight. She has nine siblings; only one doesn’t have weight problems. Several of them are morbidly obese; all of them are trapped in a yo-yo weight loss/ gain thing. I think they talk as much about the fad diet of the day (Madre-san is currently on adkins) as about their kids and they probably talk 3-4 times a week.

    When I was growing up my mom was always on some kind of diet; frequently a fad diet. My sister and I dreaded our father’s long trips away from home in with the military. My dad being gone meant Fad Diet Of The Week! When madre-san was doing the cabbage soup diet we were all on the cabbage soup diet.

    I always assumed I was heavy; with parental encouragement I went on my first official diet at age 12. I recently looked at pictures and and found myself wondering what we were all thinking. I wasn’t remotely fat, just tall and going from childhood to being very curvy.

    I realized a few years ago that I’m unlikely to ever be “skinny”. I like food. I’m just not willing to make the sacrifices that skinny-hood takes. What I can do is focus on being healthy by eating fresh, delicious food and not starving myself then binging on crap. And I feel so much beter when I’m more active. My mom is thrilled not that I’m making heathy choices, but that I’ve lost weight.

    Food issues aside though my mom is pretty awesome.

  11. ChaChaHeels May 10, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    My father was the one with the problem about weight. My mother was not only slim all her life, she was slim-and-ate-rich-food-all-day-long all her life. The women in my family who reflect my mother’s “line” can and do eat minimum 5 course meals every time they sit down to eat (and we’re not talking “salad” meals, either: every meal has meat, butter, cream and cheeses, breads and pastas, and eggs, and the “salad” of greens with oil and vinegar was the “palate cleanser” you ate before fruit and cheese and/or some rich dessert, it was never a meal in itself). These women never gain weight (well, once my mother did, but that was because she couldn’t breast feed my brother after he was born so she ballooned temporarily until she got over mastitis–then, hey, the weight was gone just like that). In my father’s family, everyone was short and prone to gaining weight no matter what was eaten. My father also gained significant amounts of weight and has always had a pot belly that he claimed he could “lose in a month”, “if he wanted to”. He’s 84 and he still has it, despite many months of trying to lose it.

    I’ve always put this down to generations of abundance/poverty in their respective histories. My mother’s people owned a lot of land and produced a lot of food, they were prosperous and well fed even during WWII when so much of their land couldn’t be used to grow food. My father’s family starved for many generations, and the nutritional deficiencies they suffered are visible when you look at the family line. My father was hyper-aware of that history, and he never wanted any one to know that about him, he was terrified he would be judged by that. It wasn’t a “great depression” thing with him, either: where he came from, the great depression made no difference–they’d lived under depression conditions and worse for centuries.

    Because all of us were supposed to be extensions of my father, the way we looked and behaved made us all targets for his disapproval. So: my mother had to be the perfect wife/mother/gardener/homemaker/entertainer/polyglot; my brother was not allowed to wear his glasses when we visited relatives overseas, and I was constantly under scrutiny for what I ate and what I wore because all of it had something to do with the “reason” I was fat. My mother got a lot of his scorn because she was the one who prepared the food, so in my father’s mind I was obviously fat because of my mother’s cooking. It was just dangerous for all of us, all around, because my father was so ashamed of his origins.

    But when you’re a kid and you don’t understand these things, it all just hurts and you take it out on others. I felt really alienated from my mother for decades because of this dynamic, as food really was one of my mother’s great skills. So my dad was aiming for where it hurt when he picked on her for that. Of course, she tried everything to please him and really felt like there must have been something she was doing wrong because I didn’t lose weight unless I starved–and when I starved on crazy diets my dad insisted I live by, she did whatever she could to prepare the idiotic non-meals I was supposed to eat. She must have felt my father had a point about her cooking, and that must have made her miserable too. So that issue was one that stood between me and my mother for a long, long time.

    In hindsight, none of this was something I could piece together when it was going on because I was deeply involved in it and couldn’t “see” it. It took me a long time to finally get enough perspective to understand what happened in a way that is less judgmental, and hopefully a bit more compassionate. My father was brutal to all of us, but that brutality came from a terrified and threatened place in his psyche and experience. It’s never helped to sustain anger against him, there was no rational way he could have acted otherwise. The only thing that’s helped “change” my father has been to try and understand what he was doing and forgive him for it.

  12. Madame Suggia May 10, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    I’ve really been racking my brains to come up with the great, positive ways my Mum has influenced me.

    And don’t get me wrong, my Mum is a good person, her heart’s in the right place (that’s her chest, right? LOL) but the best I can come up with is Plummy’s

    “They did what they thought was best using the tools they had at the time.”

    Which is unbelievably sad & depressing.

  13. wildflower May 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    I’m with Madame Suggia. Every word.

  14. harri p. May 11, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    My fifteen year old daughter informed me this week that she’s sick of the way I try to control every aspect of her appearance. Because I insist that she bathes twice a week, brushes her hair now and then, and takes Accutane so she doesn’t have permanent acne scars. I also buy her every single bit of clothing she asks for and let her steal my clothes that she likes.

    In conclusion, mothers can never win. (I do hope she gains some perspective once she’s not fifteen.)

  15. Miss Plumcake May 11, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    @Harri: I laugh and laugh when I think of the cruel injustice perpetrated upon poor mistreated Daughter Prick. Have you tried beating her more often?

  16. Thea May 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    My mother truly had a childhood that would have made Dickens say “naah, that’s just too much” and serious body issues. This was made more tragic by the fact that my 6’5″ father loooved her curvy figure and she just couldn’t see it.

    However, the things she chose to say and do to a daughter that had her EXACT FIGURE were/are unacceptable. As I became an adult I realized that I would never say or do the things she did to me to any young girl. So forgiveness, not so much.

    I was fortunate to have a father who thought I was gorgeous and beautiful just like my mom and that helped a lot

  17. Jezebella May 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Every post so far has at least one thing (if not many) in it that is piercingly familiar. It’s good to know I’m not alone with this complicated mother-daughter food-fat dynamic. I recently put two and two together and realized that my mother’s insanity about food and diets was the direct result of HER mother’s insanity on the subject. Since her mother is long gone, and I didn’t figure this out until after her death, I have shifted my non-rational blaming moments onto Grandmother (yes, she insisted on the full three syllables) and this has helped me have some sympathy for my mother. It’s perhaps not the most rational move, but it sort of works.

  18. maryann May 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Hmm.. I have the same body type as my mom: Short, curvy (especially the hips & bum), gain weight fairly easily if we’re not careful of it. She never really made me try to change. She always seemed to accept me (and I guess herself?) as I was. Of course, since we experienced a lot of economic hardship while I was growing up, I think she may have just figured she had bigger things to worry about than trying a new fad diet. You know, like paying the rent.
    My grandmother, on the other hand…Never passed up an opportunity to tell me that no man would ever want to marry me if I didn’t “do something” about myself. (She started telling me that by the time I was 10.) I wasn’t particularly heavy, just not what she thought I should be.

  19. Lisa from SoCal May 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Oh, harri p, mothers don’t win *at 15*. They often do win eventually, if by “win” you mean the scads and scads of loving families with kids graduating from my universities yesterday, all big grown up adults who are amazing to their parents (and all of us who nurtured them along in college…what? Is this big, rugged, cool guy the same person who blabbed in my office because he got a C?)

    It does bring up a point: how, exactly, does one try to help a child learn to understand social mores, how to put your best foot forward, how to make the most of what you have, and how to take care of yourself along with “I love you unconditionally” rather than “You’re broken and nobody will love you if you aren’t different than you are.”

    I’m with Plummy. I’d have been a terrible mother, so I didn’t. I nurture my students, my young colleagues, my neighbors, with a good deal more Aunt Bea than Aunt Mame (I am sorry to say; but I am working on it with gin and tonics). But the mom job looks ghastly hard to me.

    And, in reality, you can still love your mother desperately and hate the way she treated you at times. Winning in that sense is over-rated.

  20. Lisa from SoCal May 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Oh, and yeah, and that’s the other reason I learned to feel some mercy for my mother, for the same reason as maryann. My grandmother was a manipulative, acid-tongued harpie who never spared my mother or me a humiliating moment or showed either of us a jot of love. I don’t know what happens to one make one that bitter and hard…but it clearly did. I learned a lot from that woman about how I want to age–surrounded by people who are grateful that they know me, instead…well, that.

  21. Lynn May 15, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    My mother was always struggling with her weight–at least during my lifetime. When she married my dad she couldn’t have been more than a size 2 or 4. I take after her to a point; I was NEVER a two or four. The body she has now is the body I’ve always had. When I was a teenager, I used to try to confide in her about my lack of self confidence, which was always met with: “well I’m sorry you got MY genes,” and always followed by her crying and my apologizing for making her feel bad.
    My dad has always been naturally thin. He would follow me around the kitchen and ask me if I really needed to eat that snack. I suppose that was his way of being subtle, because my mother told me during one of our “chats” about my weight that Dad had once told her he couldn’t love her anymore because she had gotten fat. He apparently got over it because they are still together, but I certainly didn’t. To this day I think he’d love me more if I were the picture perfect daughter he really wanted. Which is not to say he isn’t loving in other ways.
    My husband and I will not be having children, and I must say that these issues are part of the reason why. No one should have to feel this way, and just the thought that I might pass this legacy of self-hatred on is enough to keep the birthcontrol flowing.

  22. Lisa from SoCal May 16, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    ayyyyyy! Lynn.Those are two terrible stories. I am hugging you.