Dr. Deah’s Calmanac – May Memories
My mom hated her body. I knew this at a very young age, but I didn’t understand it.
I loved my mom’s body – not just for all of the reasons that so many of us write about: the enveloping arms and squishy soft pillows of comfort offered for snuggles and consoling. I also loved my mom’s body because I saw it as constant, immortal, forever there, and always accessible. Her size and shape had nothing to do with my love for her body. My love was about attachment. My love was about unconditional availability. My love was without eyes or judgment.
So when I heard my mom complaining about her butt and thighs, I was bothered.
When I heard my mom crying in the bathroom and I’d peek in and see her crying in front of the mirror, I was bewildered.
When I saw her taking the combination of blue and red capsules out of the little white boxes that Dr. Wortman used to give her, I was be…
(Ooh, this is starting to sound like a Rodgers and Hart song … Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered was I!)
Actually, I was scared. I didn’t understand the pills, the tears, or the hatred she clearly had for herself.
It was incongruent with my experience of loving her so much – like a puzzle missing a piece.
My mother wore army boots. Literally … she wore army boots. She wore overalls, army boots, and she was years before her time. She sent my sister and me to school with backpacks way before they were popular. We hated her for it. We wanted pretty little book bags. We got army surplus backpacks. Later on, in the late 1960s, we were the coolest with our symbolic anti-war army jackets and rucksacks, but by then, it was too late. It is hard to feel cool when we had lived so many years feeling just a tad ashamed of Mom’s eccentricities.
When I was 13, my mom died of leukemia. She got sick in October 1969, and died two months later. By then, I had adopted her body hate as my own. I had incorporated her habits of crying over the bathroom scale, wearing big cover-up clothing, and being embarrassed about my body. I, too, was taking pills. No Dr. Wortman for me. These were illegally obtained from some high school kid. They were white and had little crosses on them.
By the age of 15, I had grown to hate my Mom’s body because it became my body. I had inherited some wonderful qualities from my mother, but they were totally eclipsed by the negative genetic legacy she passed on to me. I inherited her shortness, her roundness, and sturdiness. I had not been given any examples of how to love my body. I grew up brainwashed by the message that this was a body to despise: In other words, I was TAUGHT to hate my body.
Years later, I would realize that what I really hated was how abandoned I felt when she died. The betrayal, and the reality that this wonderful, precious, irreplaceable, Mommy Body was gone forever … it was easier to hate my thighs than to really grieve the loss.
Our bodies are so much more than circumference and pounds. They are literally vessels for our spirit, allowing us to hold, hug, support, and love each other in this realm. I am not sure what happens to us after we die, but one thing I know for certain: face to face, eye to eye, hug to hug contact disappears with that person when someone dies.
Ma died when she was 52. When I turned 52, I opened up my Mom-ory Box. It was filled with my mom’s trinkets, cards, and clothing. In the box were the overalls that she used to wear. They had embroidered flowers on the bib, and white lace stitched onto the legs. They were kind of girly girl, in a way. They were, I realized for the first time, a size 14. My mom suffered a lifetime of self-loathing as a size 14. I put them on. They t just right.
I looked in the mirror and grinned. I looked adorable! Like a 52-year-old Pippi Longstocking! I stood there and cry-iled – you know, that crying and smiling at the same time thing we do when both emotions are equally powerful and you have to call it a tie?
I closed my eyes and decided to give myself permission to love my mom’s and my body, for the two of us, as fervently as I could. I wore those overalls most of the day until I went out for my birthday dinner.
(My mom would have worn them into Chez Panisse or French Laundry, but I wasn’t that brave!) Still, I carried my mom to dinner with me that night, in my thighs, my butt, my belly, and my heart.
I remember the first Mother’s Day without my child at home. He was a college freshman 3,000 miles away, yet he dutifully “CAWLED HIS MUTHUH.” Our conversation meandered effortlessly from topic to topic, giggles, tears, politics, and school. We are very close, very chatty, and unashamed to acknowledge how much we love each other.
I inherited that quality from my mom. My son knows that I am constant, forever there, and always accessible. My size and shape have nothing to do with our relationship. He loves me without eyes or judgment. And equally as important, I feel the same way about myself.
May is a very complicated month. It starts off with International No Diet Day on May 6th and ends with Memorial Day on the last Monday. Smack dab in the middle is Mother’s Day. Let’s take them one at a time.
International No Diet Day: On May 6, one week before Mother’s Day, there’s a lesser-known holiday to mark on your calendar. Founded in 1992 by Mary Evans Young, director of Britain’s Diet Breakers, International No Diet Day (INDD) is an annual tribute to body acceptance and body shape diversity. This day is also dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle and raising awareness of the dangers and futility of repeat dieting (a.k.a. weight cycling).
The goals of INDD:
- Question the belief that there is only one “right” body shape.
- Raise public awareness of weight discrimination, size bias, and fatphobia.
- Educate others by providing facts about the diet industry and emphasize the failure of commercial diets.
- Show how diets perpetuate violence against women.
- Honor the victims of eating disorders.
- Declare a day free from restrictive weight loss diets and obsessions with body weight, and try these thoughts on for size:
- TODAY… I will love my body without apologizing or justifying.
- TODAY…I will be more than a number on a scale.
- TODAY… I will enjoy what I am eating without beating myself up.
- TODAY… I will love my thighs for all that they are and not apologize for what they are not.
- TODAY… I will move for the sheer pleasure of moving and will not check to see how many calories I burned.
- TODAY… I will not spend precious time away from my friends and family calculating weight/calorie ratios or purging what I just ate.
- TODAY… I will mindless about my size and mind more about my mind.
- TODAY… I will rest my brain from the judgments, comparisons, and promises about what my body should look like.
In retrospect, I remember how exhausting it was to just carry the weight of my obsession around with me every minute of every day, never believing it was possible to let go of my concerns for just ONE DAY. Not just the food obsession – the thin obsession as well.
Restrictive dieting is designed to be failure oriented, and it shifts our attention away from pleasurable, mindful eating, joyful movement, and acceptance of who we are now. When we are being served the same messages day in and day out, it is easy to forget that we are allowed to order something different off the menu. The diet mentality and its associated self-hatred is a difficult habit to break.
Difficult, but not impossible.
So relax … It’s just ONE DAY. Enjoy it!
Perhaps it is a coincidence, and perhaps it is because I called my mother “Ma,” but the first two letters of “May” remind me that MAy brings us Mother’s Day. Despite the fact that some folks tout this as a shamelessly commercial “Hallmark” opportunity for selling cards and gifts, others experience it as a more poignant day, rife with meaning and fertile ground for insight and growth.
In the realm of food and body image, the connections between mothering, nourishment, nurturing, and the female body are easily accessible during this time. You don’t have to be Freud or even Freudian to understand that looking at our earliest associations with food, love, and self- soothing MAY provide us with valuable information about our current relationship with food and our bodies in the present. Our mothers are frequently the first mirror we have about the importance and meaning of food and our bodies. Powerful role models, we choose to either emulate our mothers or rebel against them, consciously or unconsciously. How we integrate the messages we received from our moms impacts our behaviors and self-image long after we have left the nest.
Whether or not we have any kids of our own, we are all still mothers to ourselves each and every day. As adults, we have the honor and awesome responsibility of taking care of ourselves and must learn how to discern between the positive mothering skills we learned from our mothers and those less beneficial to our physical and emotional health. This MAY be an opportunity to do some spring cleaning and discard some less healthful behaviors, beliefs, or habits while showing gratitude for the ones that are enriching our lives. Once again, I need to point out that this isn’t always easy to do – especially if we’re prone to guilt.
How can I reject my mother???
If I do it differently than my mother, what does that say about how I feel about my mother?
I would like to take three giant steps, please! Ack! I didn’t say, “Mother, may I?” I have to go back to the starting line!
(For those of you too young to remember, “Mother, May I?” is a game similar to “Simon Says.” You had to ask permission to move forward. And if you got almost all the way to the finish line and forgot to ask, “Mother may I?” you had to go all the way back to the starting line. No room for error. All or nothing.)
At a certain point in our lives, however, we are allowed to move forward without obtaining permission from our mother and we can choose from a variety of mothering styles, ranging from overly detached (“othering”) to overly enmeshed (“smothering”). Consciously choosing a different style than our mothers used is not necessarily disrespectful, nor does it diminish the loving intentions that hopefully accompanied their actions. We MAY choose to let go of some aspects of how we were mothered and keep others.
I will resist all temptation to make a pun about being my mother’s keeper and instead propose that it is never too late to learn how to be a good mom to ourselves and take good care of our bodies, minds, and spirits. This means learning how to provide a supportive, nurturing, and accepting environment for growth and sustenance. A stretch? Yes! Complex? You bet! Look at what we are up against!
EMOTIONAL EATING IS ALWAYS A NO NO!
One of the negative outcomes of our diet-obsessed culture is what a bad rap “emotional eating” has gotten from the dieting industry. Under the auspices of health and good parenting, we have deified food restriction. We are told that if we EVER eat when we are NOT hungry or to self-soothe or celebrate, that somehow we have failed in our quest to achieve that coveted prize: a detached and apathetic relationship with food. But we are human. And, from the very start, our experiences with food are intertwined with love and emotions; sad and joyous occasions. To place a completely negative value judgment on eating for emotional reasons is in direct opposition to what we have grown up with. It is a confusing expectation and is why so many of us become yo-yo dieters.
I wish my mom had lived longer. I think I could have helped her; because unlike my mom, I became bilingual in the languages of food and love. I adopted a more mindful relationship with eating that helps me understand the difference between hunger, appetite, and satiety and doesn’t exclude any one category out of fear.
I slowly re-taught myself that self-acceptance, health, and self-worth are NOT based on being thin enough or weighing a certain amount. I no longer use my body as a way to garner acceptance and approval from others.
Am I saying it’s been a cakewalk? Absolutely not! I have had to learn how to trust myself with food instead of adopting punitive, restrictive diet plans and extreme doctrines that call for an all-or-nothing approach. These interventions inevitably set us up for bingeing and self-loathing. Our bodies and brains become the arena for the war between the “loving moms” who give us permission to eat more than our fill, and the nagging, punitive mom hollering,
YOU DIDN’T SAY “MOTHER MAY I!!!!”
I am not sure what my son, would say about my mothering skills. He doesn’t read my blog. (I will guilt trip him about that later.) But I try my best to be a good mom to him and to me, and that means putting my beliefs of what makes a good mom into action. And, when I mess up I continue from where I am. I do not go back to the starting line. I believe that a good mom:
- Accepts their child for who they are. They reinforce their strengths, teach them how to be safe, and try to reshape and dissuade them from self-destructive or hurtful habits and behaviors.
- Teaches and role models tolerance and acceptance of diversity in others, and themselves.
- Realizes that a child must be nurtured, nourished, loved, and taught how to love and nourish themselves in the absence of the mom.
- Realizes that there is a middle ground – that no one is all good or all bad. And if you make a mistake, you don’t have to go all the way back to the starting line.
Important Dates to Remember:
Memorial Day is the last Monday in May and officially heralds the coming of summer. The weekend is often filled with picnics and mixed messages of feasts and celebrations as long as you are bathing-suit-ready for June … which is about a week away. This can cause a great deal of anxiety and may trigger a resurgence of binge eating or restrictive eating in order to cope.
It is helpful to think of Memorial Day as a time to remember: Remember to focus on your personal definition of self-acceptance. Stay mindful that the messages being directed at you are designed to lower your self- worth and that you can hold your course and stay in concert with your body. Remember that every day is a new opportunity to revel in who you are in this moment and NOT who you could be at some weight in the future.
Other important dates in May to consider: