Holidays and Body Image

I just got back from visiting my parents for Christmas. It’s over seven hours’ drive between our place and theirs, so we don’t see them nearly as much as I’d like. I had a fantastic Christmas in pretty much every respect except the fact that I didn’t go to church. (Yes, I am a slacker. Yes, I have one excellent idea for a New Year’s Resolution, not that I ever actually keep those.)

My dad always makes a ton of food, because he loves feeding people. And there were no comments about this or that food being “bad” or judgment about who was eating what. Well, we did give my brother a little grief over his love of stuffing, but not in a “You shouldn’t eat that” kind of way. More in a “pass the stuffing to him *last* so the rest of us get some” way. And I ate what I wanted, not to the point of feeling gross or overfull afterwards.

And my mom, when she asked what size I wear for clothing gifts, didn’t say anything negative about the fact that I need a plus size. She just went out and bought me a gorgeous sweater (which I love).

I feel really blessed that my holidays weren’t a weight-related minefield, like so many people’s are.

It made me a little wistful to look at all the old family photos and see myself five, or ten, or twenty years ago. I thought of myself as a fat girl in high school, but when I look at my homecoming pictures, I see someone who’s a pretty average size. Kind of chubby arms, and a round face, but not what you would call fat. Probably wearing a size 14 at the time, so very average. And the pictures of me in college, I’d actually call thin, although I never felt that way at the time.

It’s strange to look at pictures that don’t reflect what felt like reality. But then, it’s not like I manufactured that feeling of “too fat” in my own head. That was what bullies said to me (among other insults, of course) all through later elementary and junior high school. I got called a whale, and all the usual insults. And my parents tried to help me with my “weight problem” and encouraged me when I dieted, and when I lost weight. So even when I wasn’t fat, I was viewed that way. But when I look back at actual pictures, I see a slender child become a chubby young teenager, then an average teen and a slender young woman (who then became an average, then chubby, then fat woman, helped by both regain after dieting and my thyroid throwing in the towel).

It seems like the negative messages are always louder and more prevalent than the positive ones. I’m sure I heard, implicitly or explicitly, that I was fat, or ugly, or weird, or gross, much more often than I heard that I was beautiful, or special, or loveable. Which is not to say that my parents messed up my self-esteem. Heck, my mom always had plenty of positive, encouraging things to say to me–they were just drowned out by the overwhelming onslaught of negative. The fact that I emphasized and magnified the negative and took it to heart, while discarding most of the positive, didn’t help.

I also think this ties into sexism. Our culture spends so much time teaching girls that their only value is a very narrow sort of beauty and that they can never be pretty enough, so of course when you’re told you don’t meet the standard, it hurts worse, and it sticks with you.

I didn’t mean for this to be such a depressing post, because I had a wonderful Christmas and am still having a fantastic vacation. But remembering how much I used to hate myself for not looking the way I thought I was supposed to look, well, it just seems sad. So much wasted time, so much needless pain. And I think that if we could figure out how to build a culture that doesn’t teach people, particularly girls, to hate themselves, that would be pretty awesome.

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4 thoughts on “Holidays and Body Image

  1. O.C. says:

    Absolutely. Yes.

    Thinking of old photos, and holidays, while I was visiting with my mother over Christmas she started a brief litany of concern trolling my body. “I just think of that picture of you when you were in high school. You were so pretty.”

    “Mom, that was when you were telling me I had ‘such a pretty face’ and needed to lose weight. That was when I never ate lunch. You bought me those stupid fiber pills to swallow instead. You made me feel like I was fat then, when I wasn’t. Don’t you remember?”

    “I never did that.”

    I’m both ashamed and amused that the conversation ended with me yelling “I know more about the topic of weight than anyone you know!”

    Ah… family… and Christmas. :-/

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