Guest Post: Sporkening vs. The Body Image

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/5895602/ and here: http://nymag.com/daily/fashion/2012/03/mom-reacts-vogues-fat-7-year-old-girl-story.html . It took me several days to even bring myself to read the article and it’s been in my mind ever since.

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.”

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6 Responses to Guest Post: Sporkening vs. The Body Image

  1. Carissa says:

    My mom tells me every time we talk it’s the fattest she has ever been, too. They’re going to diet. We did the cabbage soup diet. I can remember my dad laughing his ass off when I tried to choke down pickled beets. I think that was 70 pounds ago. And 25 years. We’re way too hard on ourselves. I’ve asked my mom, where are you going to go in a bikini at 72? Who cares? Eat. We enjoy food. Why not just enjoy who we are and realize we don’t need to wear skimpy clothes are out ages to be happy?

    Nicely done you guys.

  2. Mels says:

    my mom is simultaneously convinced she’s fat and envious of my curves (while offering to pay for weight watchers for me, and when I can feel her ribs when I hug her)…I was a super scrawny kid, and it wasn’t until fairly recently that I even started to feel good about my body (coincidentally?, it was when I put on some weight, and also when I wasn’t living with my mother)

  3. Mere says:

    My mom is 4’11”, and she didn’t reach 100 lbs. until she hit her 50’s. Seriously, she had to drink Ensure every day to make sure she kept on the weight she *had*. But still, growing up I heard, “Black is a slimming color,” and “No, I can’t eat that — I’ll blow up like a balloon!” Talk about weight-delusional — my mom had that market cornered… until I hit puberty.

    I was always a skinny kid. Not anorexic skinny, but skinny enough to where no one ever looked at me and thought the word “overweight,” or “chubby,” or even “baby fat.” However, when I was 13, my beloved dad sarcastically — *jokingly*, the way you might say Adele is only a “so-so” singer — called me “Thunder Thighs.”

    It was all downhill from there.

    I was never a dieter. I love food too much.

    What I turned into, however, was an exercise bulimic.

    Though my obsessive working out in my 20’s (2 hours a day, 7 days a week) kept me from becoming the curvy woman I am now (hips! an ass! all those things women are *supposed* to have!), and though I still work out (just not as obsessively), and though I have finally reached a marginal truce with my body — at last! — there are still days when I look at myself naked in the mirror and all I can think is, “Thunder Thighs, Thunder Thighs, Thunder Thighs.”

    It’s sad that one stupid, joking, obviously-untrue and innocuous comment — from someone you love, no less — can prey on an insecurity you didn’t even know you had. An insecurity *given* to you by society, by magazines, by movies — without you even realizing it.

    I guess the only thing we can do is to try to love the bodies we’re in. Love them despite all the influences telling us we’re too fat, that we’re not good enough, that if we just had some God. Damn. Willpower., we’d look like the Photoshopped Skeletors on the cover of Vogue. Fuck those thoughts. And fuck those influences. Fuck Photoshop and its Skeletors. And fuck not having that piece of chocolate cake if we want it. I fucking LOVE chocolate cake.

    The only way we should strive to look is “healthy.” And if that means having some junk in the trunk, some actual hips instead of sticky-outty-bone-things, I’m happy to be healthy.

    Me AND my Thunder Thighs.

  4. Sporks says:

    So I’m childless and I’ve never wanted children, but I sometimes find myself thinking, how would I do trying to raise a child? Because so much of the body image stuff we’re all still dealing with came from our parents–I think I’d be terrified of fucking up my child in the same way.

    I think I’ve generally reached a truce, too, but I don’t know if I’d trust myself to raise someone.

  5. Pingback: Talkin’ ’bout Self Esteem, y’all. « lovelylikebeestings

  6. Mels says:

    Sporks,
    That’s one of the reasons (though not just regarding body image issues) that I have been hesitant to consider procreating. My brother told me that if I don’t want to end up like our mom, I won’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t fuck ’em up some other way.

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