Guest Post by, Andrea Chisholm
I grew up with a guardian over my refrigerator door. A picture of a mud covered snorting pig with the caption, “ A moment on your lips, forever on your hips.”
For years the pig made me laugh. She was so cute and seemed so happy and playful I don’t think I even noticed the bold yellow print. What I did notice though was the relationship between the piggy and my mother’s moods. If the piggy was smiling down at me, I could expect my mom to be a bit on edge, snappish and crabby. If the piggy was gone, turned face down in the dust on the top of the fridge, I knew lighter days were ahead. There would be giggling and joking, popcorn with T.V. and cookies after school.
Eventually my innocence faded and I came to realize the more sinister role of the pig. Suddenly I didn’t see a cute piggy anymore instead I saw a fat hog behind blazing yellow letters reminding my mother ( and me) to choose the carrot sticks over the cake, or else….
So went my lessons about food. I had a front row seat at the fight, and I absorbed every aspect of my mother’s struggle with yo-yo dieting, her weight, and her body image. Fortunately, genetics has been kind to me. Rather than inheriting my mother’s short, stocky build, I am blessed with my father’s long, lanky one. Unfortunately, my relationship with food and and my body image has been shaped entirely by my close observation and study of my mother’s behavior. ( I hate the “blame mom game” but ….)
Now, bracing for the metabolic challenges midlife has in store for me, I find myself in the precarious position of balancing my struggles with body image and my relationship with food while not passing on the unhealthy behaviors and attitudes to my tween daughter. I have made a silent pact with myself not to pass on the dysfunction and self judgement I acquired from my mom. I refused to have my daughter make choices or to pass up on experiences based on how she feels about her body. I regretfully had done enough of that for ten lifetimes. Instead, I talk about healthy eating habits and enjoying food, all food, in moderation. I NEVER say the word “diet”, but rather talk about “altering intake” during intervals of “training”.
It seemed as though my daughter was developing much healthier attitudes than mine. Viewing food as fuel, not as comfort or control, and her body not as a prison but, a well-tuned vehicle with which to charge headlong into life.
You can imagine my surprise, when she responded to an announcement that I was going to start “training” again by folding her arms in disgust and almost shouting, “Great, there won’t be anything good left in the house to eat and you are going to be so moody!”
I realized at that moment I had created an illusion for myself. I was no different than my mother. Sure there was no fanfare, no image to taunt her, but I was dragging her along just the same.
I opened my eyes and realized that my daughter had changed as well. The innocent who easily swung her way across the monkey bars, bent her arms, kissed her burgeoning biceps and announced, “Call a vet, these pythons are sick,” now grabbed her waist and looked at herself harshly.
Why did the “good” food disappear–wasn’t I always saying “all food in moderation”? My actions were clearly sending a much different message than my words. I was caught, called out on my duplicity. Damage control was necessary.
It wasn’t long after that conversation that my daughter handed me a book, Rock What You’ve Got: Secrets to Loving Your Inner and Outer Beauty by Katherine Schwarzenegger:
Now, mothers, please pay attention to this…it is my hope you will learn something valuable…. Moms, you can’t stop your daughters from growing up. Part of that journey will include the development of their self-image. What you can do is try to create and provide a healthy environment for your daughters to grow up in. This is especially important when it comes to developing healthful habits about food and exercise. Doing this is the best gift that each mom can pass on to her daughter. Start by admitting to yourself and later maybe even to your daughter that you have your own body issues and deal with them….
Such simple advice yet so seemingly impossible to follow….
My mother, who doesn’t apologize, had recently given this book to my daughter. Perhaps the gift is my mom’s way of saying sorry, an offering of wisdom to both heal old wounds and prevent new ones from developing.