This is a first for Saalon Muyo!, which has always been a space for my brain, my ramblings, my desperate need for attention. Today, I break form, because form is meant to be broken.
One of my friends, @sporkening, went on a passionate and insightful tear on Twitter earlier this week, beginning with Vogue’s article about a mom putting her 7 year-old on a diet and moving into the body image issues of her family. She was hitting some really powerful notes, and I asked her to collect her tweets and to post them somewhere lest they vanish into the Twitter Ether before people could read them. That’s when she reminded me that I’m the one with the blog, not her.
I’m just going to let her take it from here. Sporks, thank you for sharing your thoughts, on an important issue which I could never discuss so personally and insightfully.
I got a Kindle Fire a bit ago, and recently made the mistake of signing up for the Vogue (I read it for the pictures!) free trial. The first issue I got had an essay by a mom about putting her seven-year-old on a diet. The article has been discussed here: http://jezebel.com/
I’m the oldest of four kids, and I was always “the fat one,” even when I wasn’t fat. My parents’ weight has ranged from slightly overweight to obese. As far back as I can remember, they were concerned about diet and losing weight. My mom spoke proudly of grapefruit or cabbage soup diets she used to do in college; dieting was a badge of honor, a way to show off one’s willpower. If you were fat you were just putting all your personal failings on display for everyone to see.
One thing you have to understand is that body image pressure in Chile is enormous. When I grew up, the country was like living in Mad Men. But only for women; there’s a popular saying in Chile that a man should be “feo, hediondo, y peludo” (ugly, smelly, and hairy). Women are not allowed such liberty. Flight attendants were made to step on a scale to keep their jobs; classified ads for job openings asked for people with “buena presencia” (“good presence”) which meant “no fat or ugly women.” So my parents’ (and particularly mother’s, a working woman) obsession with weight was largely based on fear of what life would be like for us if we didn’t stay within the lines.
My mom didn’t forbid me to wear things because they were too revealing or trashy; she forbade me to wear things because she thought I was too fat for them. I learned early on about “slimming” colors, the right and wrong direction of stripes, and so on. As soon as I was old enough, I started joining my parents in their dieting. On the one hand, I desperately wanted to lose weight; on the other hand, I was always a rebellious child, so I avoided “diet” foods–I didn’t even taste grapefruit until I was an adult–and organized exercise. But secretly, I would plot to systematically eliminate most foods from my diet: start with starches, maybe; then cut out fats; then meats! And more, and more, until there was nothing left but lettuce. I came to think that anorexic women were lucky. To have such willpower!
So this Vogue essay hits close to home. I understand that as a parent of a young girl you make a lot of the decisions for her, and food is one of those decisions. I understand wanting to protect your child from a harsh world, and wanting to teach her about health. But health is more complicated than just “fat;” I have been fat and healthy, and fat and unhealthy–the difference is staggering. I can’t imagine ever thinking, “I wish my mom had taught me to diet harder.”
What I do wish my mother had taught me was that fat wasn’t the worst thing you could be; to not hate myself, in times both skinny and fat.
I’m 32 now, and I still struggle with all of this. Some days are better than others. I fall down a lot. And my parents? My parents are still fat, and still unhappy about it. This seems like a bad way to spend three decades.
Every time I speak to my mom on the phone, she tells me that this is the fattest she’s ever been. “Elen, but really, I’m so fat right now. I’m going to start working out. And go on a diet. No starches, no fats.”