Sticks and Stones aren’t Shit Compared to Words.

A lovely, insightful comment on my last post got the ole noodle crankin’, and you know what happens next: I have to write it or it won’t leave my head.

Growing up, my room was right across from my mom’s and I could hear everything she said. Under the same societal pressures to be “perfect” we all are, she was always frustrated with her weight, a perpetual dieter. She never met an exercise craze she didn’t try, but I do remember the emphasis being more on weight than fitness. When she was getting ready I would hear her mumble (or sometimes yell) things like:

“I’m too fat and ugly to wear this in public.”

“I’m such a fat cow.”

“My ass looks like a bull-dozer in these pants.”

We’ve all done it. It’s just crap you say when you’re frustrated, tossing that third pair of *shrunken* jeans across the room.

Of course, when a young girl hears her mother say things like that, her mother who she thinks is beautiful and perfect, she does one thing:

She adopts that same self-criticism.

Her words became my inner dialogue, and my weight became my measurement of self-worth. It’s vicious and ugly to hear those things in your head. It stops you in your tracks. I had zero awareness of body issues and – in an instant – became so hyper sensitive to them I remember skipping school because I thought my body was unacceptable. I was a size 8. But I was curvy. I hated my curves and saw them as fat. I wanted to look like those no-booby-stick girls that walk the runway, because yeah, on top of everything else, this was the 80’s and I had media pressure to be a waif.

I remember once my mom joking and saying it looked like I had gained 10 pounds over the summer.

BLAM!

That stung. I was twelve, so my zoom lens on a comment like that was about 1,000X. That began the era of giant shirts to hide my body. The takeaway: never make an inference IN ANY WAY to a young girl’s weight.

Between girls being nasty to me in school, and the pressure to find a place, any-freakin-place, to fit in, I didn’t have a chance in hell. Not when I started out-of-the-gate with such negative inner dialogue and a horrible self-image.

*I just wish someone had warned her*

That’s why I wrote this. Because my mom had no idea her words were doing damage. She would never want that.

All of us make mistakes. Hell, I’ll probably make four today. But if this post reaches even one person who might be saying these types of things within earshot of a youngin’, whether it be about their nose, their value on this earth, or their weight….well, that would be everything.

**Happy ending. It took  thirty twenty a handful of years and the Frankenstein of patch jobs, but my self-image is intact and healthy. Oh, I still hear the negative voices. The difference is now, I don’t believe them. I have perspective on what true beauty is. And my diet and exercise goals are based on fitness and feeling comfortable more than a size on a tag. My therapist probably drives a Range Rover to her lake house, but who cares, right? Thank God for therapy.

What about you? Do you remember hearing anyone talk like that when you were little? How did it make you feel? Was weight, beauty, or perfection over-emphasized in your house? Please share. I value and look forward to your comments!

25 comments

  1. Ahhhhh I see what you mean. Sorry you had to go through that *hugs*

    Beauty and perfection weren’t over-emphasized in my house, but rather any aspect (personal or physical) was used to undermine us and bring us down. For years.

    I comfort ate, and it made things no better, but I hadn’t the confidence to get my disgusting body into public and exercise it, so I was trapped.

    Such damage.

    So for the last 10 years I’ve been slowly making the changes and getting better and better at it, yet was thrown when my 3 y/o Niece asked me the other day why I was not eating lunch (I’m doing the 5:2 fasting diet as a lifestyle change) and I was careful to explain to her than I’d eaten too much and not done enough exercise when I was younger, and now I was trying to change my ways and become healthier and stronger. She then asked me if she was too fat, and I reassured her that she’s just the right size for a little girl, that she’s healthy and does lots of running around, which will keep her strong. This is one I’ll watch carefully though.

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    1. I love how you answered your niece. Perfect! But yes, she obviously is already aware of “fat” and most likely the ideals surrounding that, cultural and otherwise. Glad you’re keeping an eye on her, Lizzie. You’re a good Auntie. The negative parts of your past will make you (us) better equipped and more sensitive to others that may be going through similar hardships. That is the silver lining here. I won’t even let my boys say the word Fat in the Phat way!!! And we don’t talk anybody down in our house, for any reason on the planet. No way. No sir. Every Single Person Matters.

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  2. I’m really glad I read this. I am so sorry that you heard your mom saying those things to herself and to you. I am very glad that your therapy has helped you and all we can do now is just try not to repeat, right? My mom used to readily say how none of her 5 kids was smart…We were a PhD, two lawyers, and a Master’s Degree. Thanks for the great post!

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  3. “Was weight, beauty, or perfection over-emphasized in your house?” Hell, yeah! And I built an (un)life around the pressure created by it. Several decades later, I am happy, healthy and addiction-free.

    I enjoyed reading this post, and look forward to checking out more of your writing.

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    1. Karen, so sorry this type of thing affected your life, too. 😦 Sucks-Ass in a big way. I’m thrilled that you’ve found happiness now, though. YAY! We can only hope that in some way we are better, wiser, more empathetic people for it now. I appreciate you hopping over and reading. 🙂

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    1. Hi Natalie! Yeah, I know. I get so pissed when I see the magazine covers because you know even those tiny, 14yo models they airbrush to look even smaller and less *flawed* than a normal human, but then primp up to appear older than they are to imply that’s how I should look at 27 (or whatever). They’re impossible standards to live up to. It’s sick.
      I embraced my athletic, curvy build long ago. I love when I look leaner and my muscles show, but I’m not trying to fit into a certain size anymore, ya know? And you know what I’ve found? Guys like curvy. They don’t idolize sticks like we do. Anyway… I could go on and on…
      Thanks for stopping by and reading! 🙂

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  4. I can’t agree that the subject of a young girl’s weight cannot be discussed. In the course of explaining myself here, my remarks grew so long that realized I should just make it a post on my blog next week.

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    1. Hi Joseph! Thanks for reading! I suppose there are scenarios where it would be appropriate (i.e. if it has become a health issue). If the intent is for the well being of the child (as in health, not parent’s opinion of ideal weight) then absolutely. I’m not sure if this is what you were alluding to, but either way I look forward to reading your post!

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  5. I hear you but….

    There’s a lot of shit that happen to my mother. A lot of things she got wrong and while I didn’t understand her and we didn’t get a long, I didn’t blame her for everything I thought was wrong with me. And the older I got and I began making my own mistakes, I realized, my flawed mother did the best she could. Mothers can only do, give who they are. One of the gifts we give our children is the fact we are flawed. As adults we learn to separate their shit from our shit. Otherwise, you spend more time and money in therapy simply learning to stop dumping on your mother or father and define who you want to be. Now that I have two children who are responsible for themselves and we’ve survived me, I know it doesn’t do them or me any good talking about how I failed them.

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    1. Hi LaTonya! Thanks for reading! I hear you, and agree with you under your circumstances, but….
      I never said my mom was bad, or implied we didn’t get along. I didn’t *blame* (as in imply it was done intentionally) her for anything, much less everything. This was not meant to be a blame post, this was simply a window into my experience in hopes that it would bring to light the fragility of young girl’s self esteem, especially surrounding weight issues.
      I do very much appreciate your viewpoint and I value your opinion. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

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  6. I kind of had the opposite upbringing which has its flaws too…my mom always told my sister and I how wonderful and perfect we were and sugar coated everything. Fat was “angel fluff” How funny is that?! So while my friends were all complaining about their overly critical parents, we thought we were so lucky to have these wonderful, caring ones. But they unknowingly put a lot of pressure on us to be these sweet “perfect” daughters. We hated the thought of ever disappointing them. So I turned out to be the pleaser, never wanting to say no and putting everyone else ahead of me. Talk about exhausting! And it took a while for me to be able to take criticism without being completely crushed. So…I try not to be overly critical with my kids but also not put them in a bubble. It’s a balancing act.

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  7. That’s so interesting! “Angel fluff”….haha! That’s really cute. Your story is a good reminder that either end of the spectrum can potentially affect in a negative way. You sound like you’re balancing it perfectly, my friend. 🙂
    Thanks for reading! We should do lunch one day when C is in school! 🙂

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  8. My mother has made comments about my big stomach over the years. It still hurts. I’m about 10-15 lbs. overweight, and most of it is on what should be my waistline. I never say anything to my kids.

    I want to eat healthier, but blogging is a weight-increasing profession, I’ve found. Sitting in Starbucks this morning, writing, I had two tall mochas plus two samples of cheese danish. Then I split half of a giant cookie with my son in the afternoon.

    I go back and forth between finally getting my sh*t together and eating only healthy foods or just accepting that I have a big tummy and buying bigger pants and skirts (they did actually fit a year or two ago).

    I want both my kids (6yo boy and 3yo girl) to love and accept their bodies. I have to do it first though, right?

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    1. Hi Frankie! Thanks for hopping over here!
      *ouch* the mom comments are so hurtful, sorry!! I say to hell with everyone else: eat better when you can to keep your health and nutrition optimal, but if your clothes are uncomfortable…get new clothes and embrace where you are!!
      Btw, I’m finding the same to be true about blogging! Between blogging and editing I’m online approx. 11/day. Not good.
      It’s actually hard to keep an eating schedule! Seems strange, but it’s true! Working on that….

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      1. The hard part about getting bigger clothes is I actually fool myself into thinking I’ve lost weight, and I indulge even more. It’s crazy.

        I’m starting to crash at my writer friends’ homes to write so I can focus without having the smell of coffee and chocolate croissants wafting all around me.

        There need to be halfway houses during the day for writers who can’t write at home. Where you spend 11 hours per day writing?

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  9. Totally relate to your post, Beth. Mathair always taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and that confidence is much sexier than a size zero. It was my peers that caused the damage. High school was a bitch! And, the constant bullying (which involved a lot of nasty comments and a lot of text books being thrown at my head) caused me to balloon out to a solid 250. Well, high school is over now and I’ve gone from 250 and a size 22, to 125 and a size 5, so poo on them. I still have days where I look in the mirror and think, I could be smaller, my Italian ass is much too wide, my lust for Southern cookin’ is getting outta hand, the Irish roots I so lovingly embrace is making mepick up another beer which has way too many empty calories. But, in the end I lost the weight for myself, not those jerks in high school, or to fit in, or because the media told me to, but because I wanted to be a better Ginger Brooke. Thanks for this post, Beth. Really needed it today. 🙂

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    1. Thank YOU, for sharing your story and for reading mine. I’m beyond grateful. And congrats on the healthier you, no matter what your size! 🙂 you are such a beautiful person inside and out. I cherish your friendship.

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  10. When I was 15 or 16 years old I was walking down the hallway when my father from behind said, “Wow you have a big butt.” I was devastated. I was 5′ 8″ and 130 pounds. In no way was I fat or “big” yet this remark made me feel like I was never skinny enough, ever. It took into my thirties for me to start feeling better about my body and realizing it was just fine.

    There are many more instances from both of my parents but this is one that stands out the most.

    Glad I helped inspire this article, thanks for letting me know. =)

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    1. Thank you for sharing, and yes, for inspiring the post! It was cathartic to write it. And to your point, your memory is exactly why I did it. I’m assuming most parents think they are being cute or funny, but don’t realize the everlasting, devastating affects their comments have. In my case, 99% of the comments weren’t even directed towards me, & were by no means deliberatley malicious. It’s a very sensitive subject to very delicate creatures. I’m happy (and proud) I put it out there. 🙂

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