July 11, 2013

Mother-Daughter Rivals: Making Peace with the Body I Was Given. ~ Kimberly Lo

Growing up, I knew that summer had officially begun when my mother started her diet.

It was a bit of a ritual in our house. She would post her daily meal plan on the refrigerator door, and the bright yellow and red Dexatrim tablets would appear on the bathroom cabinet next to the toothpaste and dental floss.

Usually, things got off to a promising start: She would lose some weight those first weeks, but then she would quickly plateau. Well before the end of the summer, she would be off the diet and things would return to normal. Over the years, she tried every next plan imaginable: The Cabbage Soup Diet, Atkins, etc. At one point, she even tried hypnotism in the hopes that it would work. It did not.

As a child, I never understood why my mother had such a hard time losing weight. Unlike her, I never had to watch what I ate in order to remain thin. I also never took part in comfort eating like she did in times of stress. To this day, I tend to lose weight when I am stressed out.

While I may not have inherited her battle with weight, I did inherit issues with body image. My mother and her obsession with her weight taught me at a very young age to equate fatness with failure.

Despite her weight issues, though, my mother was far closer to society’s ideal than I would ever be. Before she turned 35 and her troubles began, she was 5’9″ with long (natural) blond hair, long legs, and naturally large breasts. She looked like a 1950s pin-up from the pages of Playboy magazine. Indeed, she once revealed that she had been approached to work as a Playboy bunny, but turned it down because she thought her father would object to her working there.

To say I looked nothing like her was an understatement. In fact, many still assume that I was adopted and express disbelief when I tell them she is my biological mother.

As a teenager, I had the double whammy of seeing very few women who looked like me on TV or in magazines and living with a mother who was, at least at one time, the ideal for most of society. On top of the usual mother-daughter conflicts that most teenagers experience, I also had to deal with issues of envy and rivalry that affected both of us.

While my mother openly envied my thinness, she also took a certain amount of glee that no matter how skinny I was, I could not do anything about the fact that I was short and had been “cursed” with small breasts, oversized calves and thick ankles courtesy of my father’s side of the family.

What bothered me the most was that she was right: no amount of exercise could change my basic body type. When my ballet teacher confided to my mother that I would never be a professional dancer because of the size of my legs, my mother wasted no time telling me this and saying something along the lines of like, “I could have told you that.”

Likewise, I liked to remind my mother what she once was as opposed to now. I remember one time she shared a story about going to the beach in a bikini and, in her words, “making all the men’s heads turn,” and me sarcastically replying, “If only they could see you now.” As I recall, that marked the beginning of a very nasty and very protracted argument.

It wasn’t until I was living a continent away from my mother that I had an epiphany: I was never going to look like her, and her issues with weight and appearance were hers and not mine. By this point, years of untreated Type 2 diabetes had taken its toll and now her main worry was about her health rather than her appearance. Sadly, even the long lovely legs she took such pride in were no more; she eventually had to have the right one amputated below the knee due to complications from the diabetes. It probably is no coincidence that this was the time when I became interested in my own health and began to practice yoga.

Yoga taught me amongst other things to appreciate what my body could do. My “huge” legs were no longer an issue nor was my height or rather lack there of a disadvantage.

In fact, I saw that having a body like mine had its advantage in certain poses. As it turns out, I was naturally flexible. I took a great deal of pride in the things I could do right. I even shared some of my progress with my mother who appeared sincerely happy for me. However, when I once expressed to her that I felt like I was finally getting over some body issues, she sounded confused and said without any sarcasm whatsoever, “What on earth are you talking about? Where did you get those from?”

For a time, I thought I was well and truly over my body issues until a few months ago when I heard myself telling a friend that I was so glad my daughter inherited her father’s body rather than mine and that same friend pointed out that in all the time he knew me, he had only seen me in shorts twice.

I realized then that I am still not “cured.”

Realistically, I would describe myself as being at peace for the most part, though it is a constant worry that I may unconsciously transmit my own issues of body image to her. I know that as she grows older she will be subjected to unrealistic media portrayal of models and celebrities. I know she may feel a certain amount of peer pressure and societal pressure to look a certain way. However, one thing I can do is not make my daughter into my rival or vice versa. I can also refrain from making disparaging comments about my body or hers.

I may not be able to make her love her body 100 percent, but I can at least try.


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Ed: B. Bemel


{Photo: via Pinterest}

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