Friday, July 14, 2006

Mothers & Daughters

Do our mothers have carte blanche to comment on our bodies?

On a radio morning talk show, a male deejay reported that his mother had told him he looked fat. He reasoned that, of course, his mother was free to share her opinion, and that if she wasn’t truthful with him, who would be? Agree? Would a daughter feel the same way?

And, if that is acceptable, when does a mother cross the line? There are mothers who weigh their daughters, restrict their food, buy them diet pills, comment incessantly on their weight and shape. There are mothers, like writer Pam Houston’s, who, as she ran out to the school bus each morning would shout, “Hold your tummy in!” for all the children to hear. There are mothers who will purchase a new wardrobe for their daughters following a significant weight loss, even if accomplished via an eating disorder.

If a daughter has “a face only a mother could love,” why doesn’t the same unconditional acceptance hold true for her body?

11 comments:

PalmTreeChick said...

I feel very bad for the daughters nd sons that get treated by their mom's that way. It makes me sad. I'm sure, for the most part, the mom's are doing it because they think they are being "helpful," when in reality, they're hurting their children.

I'm thankful that my mom wasn't like that at all.

Teacher lady said...

God, what a compelling post. I can't begin to say enough about this. Personally, I think this subject alone would make a volume of books. I won't be brief, but here's my experience: My mother is tall, has long legs, HUGE breasts (38DD) and has a really large "J-Lo booty." What did I get? Short legs, a 36A chest and the J-Lo booty. Talk about being "genetically ripped off." Although my mom is a teacher/hippie, discouraged me from wearing makeup (hell, discouraged me from trying out for cheerleading because it was a sexist enterprise) and could care less about her own wardrobe, she was never nicer to me than when I was married to my crazy first husband, was losing my mind and was an eating disordered size 4. She came to visit me in Hawaii (where we were living) and couldn't take me shopping enough. When I came home to the Mainland for a visit, she took me shopping again. Just to be clear: She didn't take me shopping to buy clothes when I was in high school. Clothes shopping is one of her least favorite things to do. And yet, in spite of a master's degree (and a 3.9 GPA in grad school) and all the other things I've done, I knew without question that she was most proud of me and most proud to be seen with me when I was skinny. And since she eschews things so appearance-related, I've never quite understood why. Oh, well. That's why you'll always be employed, Dr. Stacey!

Haley-O said...

Oh...that all makes me cringe...! Parents need to be supportive and encourage good health--not weight loss. And, it's very serious. I think ed's have so much to do with environment--how we're brought up, who our friends are....The biggest challenge I'm putting forth for myself is to bring up a daughter (and her future siblings) who feels totally good about her self and her body.

lisa said...

I've had to set very clear boundaries with my mom about this very thing. She feels compelled to talk to me about how I can lose weight each time I see her. Again, just last month, I reiterated that I am slooowly losing weight by working on my disordered binge eating/coe. Nondieting, to be exact. Now, she loves a diet, so that drives her up the wall. LOL. It was tough, but I feel such freedom being out of her shadow.

Beth said...

I wonder what percentage of girls with controlling, ED moms actually develop the same issues. Aside from probably inheriting the genetic predisposition, the environmental exposure to such behavior gives them little chance of being unaffected. I know my mom hardly cares about her looks and never criticized mine, my weight, or food intake. So its sad to know that even with great parenting, people can fall so easily into these illnesses. Insecurities are just as often promted by unaccepting peers, media images, or friends' examples.

Heidi said...

Just dropping in..Great blog..Very informative. I'll be back :)

littlem said...

"the mom's are doing it because they think they are being "helpful," when in reality, they're hurting their children."

PTC, I'm sure you're absolutely right about this. (As a matter of fact, I know you are -- I went with my mom to WW for the first time at 13, lost 17 pounds, ended up with a figure, however briefly, that almost drove my dad to a heart attack -- but that's another (albeit related) issue altogether.)

I suspect that the moms who have their own anorexia/bulimia issues don't even know what kind of dysfunction they're passing on, since that's so frequently tacitly approved in our society these days (doesn't matter what revolting trauma you put your body through as long as you're thin! thin! thin!).

So it sounds like it's a question of doing what Lisa does with her mom, setting boundaries -- once we as their kids develop some awareness of what they're doing.

The moms with overweight kids -- especially if they had/have weight problems themselves -- are probably trying to protect them from social ostracism, however twistedly they're going about it.

So is it a question of telling Mom that you appreciate her motives but she has to figure out a less soul-crushing way of talking about the issue with you?

Or, as Dr. Stacey said in some earlier post, just flat out declaring weight and body as subjects not up for discussion?

drstaceyny said...

PTC--I'm sure a lot of it IS trying to be helpful. Complete acceptance from one's mother, however, can be the most helpful thing of all. . . .

TL--did you ever ask her why she took you shopping those times? It does seem to go against the grain of who she generally is. It's sad that you didn't feel appreciated for your accomplishments (a 3.9 graduate GPA?!?!) or simply who you are.

Haley--anything that you think is important to do/not do toward this goal? Please share! : )

Lisa--sounds like you've arrived at a good place with the eating/mom issue. I enjoy your blog--seems like even her idea of a non-diet. . . is a diet!

Beth--you're right, as with many other things there's a combination of genes & environment (nature/nurture) that can affect EDs. But, add to that some pretty compelling socio-cultural forces, and you have yourself a powerful one-two punch.

Heidi--welcome, thanks for reading. . .

LM--I think it depends on the person and her relationship. I think (of your options) Option 1 has appeal (it promotes dialogue, closeness, etc.), but if it fails (or you know it will fail, based on past experience), it may best to start with Option 2.

Thanks for stoppping by and for your provocative comments. . . .

I look forward to hearing more from all of you. . . .

Jinniyah said...

Wow. That post hit home.
"Look at how beautiful and skinny your friends are"
"You like those pants? Well, when you are skinny enough, I shall buy them for you"
"Don't wear that, it's too tight. You need to hide, not show"
"I'm sick of having a cow as a daughter"
"Hey fat-ass, take out the trash"
and it goes on and on...

Last year I visited my mum having lost 22lbs in a month and she said "You look beautiful" and she meant it.

The 22 lbs are back now, my hip bones are no longer poking out... so I refuse to go see her (haven't in 8 months). I just can't deal with the criticism anymore. When I'm skinny again I shall hop on a plane. And yes, I know it's disturbed.

drstaceyny said...

Jinniyah--those comments are pretty dreadful. I don't think I'd visit, either.

Kelly said...

My main weight commenter was always my grandma. From the time I was very little, she always commented on whether it looked like I had lost weight, or pursed her lips at the sight of my expanding bum. It was reflective of her own weight loss issues - she was on and off of all sorts of weight loss plans like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig for at least the last 25 years of her life.

However, I do remember my mom always telling me to "suck it in." She definitely has her own weight issues though. They run rampant in my family.