A Game of Chicken with Weight

I have obsessed about weight. In college I abused laxatives. I’ve battled with disordered eating. I said hateful things to myself. I compared myself to women in magazine, classmates, strangers, and, quite possibly, people who didn’t even exist. The lengths I took to keep the bar of how I was supposed to look and what I should weigh just out of reach was staggering. I made it impossible to succeed.

As I raise three daughters I feel terror because of all the very real threats in the world, hating ourselves can be the most devastating. I watch them grow, their shapes changing constantly, and each new contour and curve makes me fall more intensely in love with who they are. They have never had a blemish, freckle, or roll that I have seen as anything short of magnificent, and yet that is still not a way that I can respond to changes in my own appearance.

I’ve largely quieted the voice in my head. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still in there, but she no longer possesses the mic around the clock. I don’t writhe to get out of my own skin like I once did. I donate clothes that don’t make me feel good, I move my body to remind myself of its strength, and I try to lean into the things that I used to hate. I work at loving myself.

I used to have no-touch zones on my body, worried that someone feeling my stomach would think it was too soft, I worried about the size of my butt, the width of my calves, I once came to think that my index fingers were hideously shaped. I had self-loathing super powers, but I couldn’t possibly tell you where they came from. I can’t blame my mom, I don’t remember a pivotal moment in time when I heard or saw something that specifically said I was the wrong shape. This is what terrifies me. How do I help the girls or is it simply inevitable that they will hate parts of themselves?

I want to believe we can do this. I let them see me. I tell them that sometimes we feel sad for no reason or that things can go bad, but that these are moments in time, not concrete definitions. We talk openly about changes, puberty, peer pressure. Tight skirts, skimpy tops, make-up or no make-up. I tell them that it is all ok. I don’t know if that’s enough.

Sisters conquering the mountain.

Taking Action

Today we are going to see Embrace—the documentary. It is one woman’s journey to understand why we apply so much pressure to ourselves and what is at the root of the relentless sense of being less than. I realize that there is a good chance we’ll be exposing the girls to sentiments that they haven’t entertained. They don’t look at each other’s body with envy; they very plainly understand that each of them has her own shape, speed, height, weight, you name it.

The comparisons I hear them make to classmates and celebrities has nothing to do with weight or beauty. Yet. I want to do this with them so that we can all be reminded of perception. I think sometimes we are more receptive to seeing the flaws in self-loathing logic when it isn’t our own voice. “Of course she shouldn’t feel like that” unless of course, the she is me. Right?

“Darling girl, don’t waste a single moment of your life being at war with your body, just embrace it.”

I want to work toward that, and so in a couple of hours, our entire family will go see the movie. I’m looking forward to hearing from the girls on the other side of it.

 

 

 

I'm not kidding when I ask you to tell me what you think.

  1. This is going to be a long comment, so bear with me.

    Before I clicked through and read this essay, I felt a flash of annoyance. Amanda, I thought, has the most gorgeous, sculpted body. I have been working so hard over this past year to lose some of the 50 pounds I needed to lose to stave off Type 2 diabetes, and coupled with menopause it has been a challenge. With daily exercise, no sugar/no carbs, and total discipline, I have managed to lose only half of what I’d hoped to. And Type 2 diabetes is still coming for me. Welcome to life at nearly 50 years old. :/

    But my annoyance evaporated when I read your admirably honest admission of life with eating-disordered thinking. You are gorgeous, but don’t know it. Or don’t believe it. Or don’t feel it. And that makes me sad, and ashamed for that initial rise of annoyance I felt at you, which had more to do with my own self-image than anything else.

    You may recall that I am the child of a woman with a lifelong eating disorder who refused to admit that she had a problem. That’s correct, even when she weighed 75 pounds she denied the fact of her eating disorder. All her children wanted was for her to own it. If nothing else it would have made us appreciate her honesty and faith in our ability to handle the news. We knew it anyway.

    The fact that she never admitted it made us feel as if she did not love us enough to be truthful with us, and that hurts more than anything.

    So listen, Amanda: you are doing everything right as a parent. You are the parent I wish I had had, one who opens uncomfortable issues up for discussion with your children, issues that need to be aired, that on some level they are probably already aware of.

    In short, I am so proud to know you.

    All my love.

    • Oh, Sarah with an h, you have been a constant n my life as a mother. I am so glad the internet brought us together and that we can share these jagged edges and offer cushion. We are on the other side of the movie now and it was intense. I have many layers yet to remove in order to be truly honest with the girls. Ave and I are already talking, Sean too. Tragic how hard we work to get the hang of things when loving ourselves would fix so much of it. Thank you for having the patience to read through this. Love you.

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  3. It’s so tough navigating these waters with young girls. I, too, like so many, suffer from negative (self) fat talk and not loving myself the way I am. I can totally relate to Sarah’s comments about trying to lose weight on top of the menopause “thing,” its a really difficult road and all uphill. But, I plug along and continue to take care of myself and workout with the big picture in mind, (i.e., long-term health for the sake of my twelve y.o. daughter). I’m healthy, really healthy for my age despite caring around an extra thirty-five pounds and I want to stay this way (healthy) for as long as possible. My daughter has no idea how much I loathe my body because I’ve never said a peep out-loud, what she does hear my say is how strong I am which I do believe so there’s no lie or deceit. I just wish I could say out loud, “Wow, I’m so strong AND I look great!” ;~) I Googled the documentary and was pleased to discover there’s a screening in my area coming up. Amanda, do you recommend my daughter and I see it? I read your follow-up comments but couldn’t gauge if you & Sean thought it was good exposure for the girls or if the film raised more questions and concerns for them. Thanks for your insight, on everything, always!

    P.S. You’re an awesome mom and a great inspiration for the rest of us! ~ Janet

    • I am so sorry that I didn’t respond sooner. First, I will say this, as much as it pains me, I think they all know way more about our relationship with our bodies than we know. However, I think it’s important to let them know that a feeling we have once, or from time to time, doesn’t have to be something we keep forever. As to seeing it with your twelve-year-old. I say yes, but with fair warning that seeing a surgeon tell a woman what is wrong and how he can fix it is jarring. Like it takes away all the impersonalness of photoshop and really drives home the scrutiny. We endured some awkward moments as it went on, but the bubbles of reflection have been amazing. Thank you so much for this comment. xo