Writes René L. Todd in Self, "I've always taken a certain comfort in having a mom who is not thin. Unlike my friend Kelly and her tiny-skinny mother...my mom and I were never in competition with each other." Until!
Todd and her mother have always bonded over food: her mom's a comfort eater, and this becomes something they share. However, as the author grows up, she begins a cycle of comfort eating and yo-yo dieting that, oddly enough, strains their relationship.
Whenever I managed to lose weight, my mother said she was happy for me. But I detected a certain tightness in her voice, or maybe it was simply that I felt guilty about abandoning her: Now that I was a thin person, we no longer shared the extra large buckets of popcorn together. It was as if I'd gotten up from the kitchen table where we'd snacked and talked intimately and left her sitting across from an empty chair. I suspect she believed that my efforts to be thin were a rejection of her, and in a way, she was right. As much as I relished the smaller sizes and all the compliments from friends, every time I refused dessert or went for a run or lifted weights, I was warding off the specter of my mother's body, fighting the fear that I'd wake up one day and discover that somehow I'd become her.
Of course, this isn't really about food. It's about love, projection, acceptance, and female relationships in microcosm. Each relationship is obviously different, but we get so much of our sense of self from our mothers that it's inevitable that it should effect our perceptions - even if it's just the example of someone completely comfortable with herself, or blessedly disinclined to mention such things. These relationships can be famously damaging, or a source of bonding and mutual support - Beyoncé and her mom recently embarked on a joint diet. And the projection goes both ways; I know I've been quick to perceived criticism in comments of my mother's that I think, in retrospect, were just reflections of my own insecurities. A mother may not influence the way you present yourself to the world sexually, but she sure does effect the pattern of your interactions with other women. And, as women, we often couch things in terms of appearance that really have nothing to do with it. "I love your dress," we may use as a mode of introduction in a social situation - something men would never do. We feel we need to comment on the physical, for whatever reason, and a lot of times, this is probablt mirrored in the family. Hortense made a really smart point:
I think mothers and daughters use weight as a means to address, perhaps, the underlying issues behind a gain or a loss. It's easier to make a comment, I guess, about your child's physical appearance ("Are you eating enough? Are you dieting again?") than to ask, "Is something bothering you?" "Are you sad?" "Are you stressed out?"
In Todd's case, the balance of emotional power shifts with their weights. When she puts on some weight and her mother loses some - leaving them the same size - her initial reaction is resentment:
Let's start with the fact that my mother now had what I did not: time to exercise and make healthy meals. I'd be able to lose weight, too, I told myself, if I were a semiretired librarian with a free nutritionist. But it was more than that. For years, I'd blamed my mother for my yo-yoing weight, or, more specifically, for teaching me to associate food with comfort.
But the fact that her mother's thrilled with the new weight, and the author is distraught, ultimately provides a "teachable moment": for the first time, Todd realizes that it's not the food that's really at issue. "After all, thinness isn't the same thing as happiness and solace isn't the same as food." Of course, she only sort of believes that - as does Self, one can't help think nowadays. The piece is still predicated on the assumption that heavy = bad, and that bad habits and depression are the same thing as "weight" when in many ways it seems like two separate issues. The two end up bonding over healthy weight loss, and in a way food - unhealthy food - is still a demon and a villain, albeit one they're vanquishing together. (After all, bonding over food is not in itself bad: it can be wonderful and natural.) But the overall point is well taken: mothers and daughters and weight are a fraught issue. It makes sense: our relationship begins with feeding; we literally derive our nourishment from our mothers. Later, they form our habits, and later still a large part of our sense of self. The operative word is just that - self. (And that's with a small "S," by the way.)