I’ve thought about writing this post for a while, but I’ve been hesitant because I know my mother reads my blog and I would never want to hurt her. I also need to say some potentially hurtful things about myself as a mother. But I’ve finally decided that I need to say them regardless.
The first person that called me fat was my mother. I remember it vividly enough, but if I didn’t remember it, she has retold the story enough times that I could never forget. (Every time I hear it I wince.) It was when I got back from visiting my grandparents in Florida for the first time. I think I was about 12 years old (it was either the summer before or the summer after sixth grade). I’m not sure how long I was away. It felt like the whole summer to me, but it was probably just two weeks.
I went with my two cousins. We all had matching green and white sundresses which we wore on the plane down. I felt beautiful when I left. When I came home, my parents picked us up from the airport and the first thing my mother said was, “What happened to you? It looks like you got filled with air?” I had no idea what she meant, but I felt like I got hit in the face. Eventually I figured it out. I had obviously gained weight while I was away. Enough to make a noticeable difference in my appearance. Enough to make my mother comment on it. Enough for me to realize that I was fat. And I have been fat ever since.
I don’t know how much I had actually gained that summer. I know my grandparents let me eat whatever I wanted to. We went to fast food restaurants and had dessert every night (things I never got at home). But really, how much could it have been? But there I was. Fat. Because my mother said so. Regardless of how much I weigh or what size I am, I know inside that I’m a fat girl.
I bring this up because I really, really didn’t want to do that to my own daughter. I knew before she was born that she would have two strikes against her in the weight department: She would have my genetics and me as a role model.
Of course, she takes after me. She has a smile that lights up the room, never wants to hurt someone’s feelings, and is so creative. She also eats portions that are a bit too big, enjoys food more than exercise, and uses food to deal with emotions. Where could she have learned all that from? I always tell her how beautiful she is (she is, too!) and how she doesn’t need to diet. Other people may have called her fat, but I never did. When my mother or other relatives tried to get her to go on diets or watch what she ate, I always intervened. I didn’t want her to feel the way I had as a kid. My philosophy was she would be healthier just being who she is.
And then one day I blew it. I don’t remember clearly how we got into the conversation (I’m sure she remembers it very clearly), but she was upset that some guys had blown her off. Many, many people dismiss, bully, or blow her off. A lot of the times it is related to her autism. She doesn’t know how to connect to people. But somehow, in the conversation, amidst the tears, I said something equivalent to “not all guys are attracted to big girls.” And because she can never leave anything alone we had to pick that statement apart until it was clear that when I said “big girls” I meant she was overweight. I had called her fat.
In that very moment she completely crumpled. And she hasn’t really fully recovered. Because while many people had called her fat before, when her very own mother did it, it actually meant something. We’ve had lots and lots of discussions since that time. We’ve talked about how you can be both fat and beautiful. How fat isn’t a bad thing. How healthy is more important than weight. And things have gotten better, mostly, but it doesn’t change the fact that she now, and probably forever, will see herself as fat. And that I’m the one who did that to her.