Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mixed Messages

My mother liked to say, "it's what's inside that counts." She said this sometimes because she wanted me to feel better about myself and to focus on my character rather than on my physicality. I'm sure all parents who have children who are not considered beautiful by society console their despondent children with this "sage" advice.

At the same time that she said my personality was more meaningful than my body, she'd pick at me to lose weight, but often (but not always) pretend it was in the interest of something else. She'd say I should lose weight so I could move more easily when I really didn't have any problems moving. In fact, as a kid, despite my weight, I could do yoga-like twisting poses that other kids could not, stand on my head, and I was fairly active. When I told her I had no problems moving, she'd find other things like talking about how I'd be popular if I lost weight or that I'd be prettier if I didn't hide my beauty under all that weight.

By the time I reached high school, my mother started to resort to out and out humiliation to get her points across. Once while she was folding laundry in front of one of her visiting friends, she made it a point to hold up a pair of my oldest underpants with a stretched out waistband (as elastic tends to do when it gets old) and held it up to her friend and after making a derogatory comment about my weight said something like, 'look at these underpants!' The friend, who was more sensitive than my mother said, "they look like the waistband is old and stretched out."

The irony is that my mother weighed more than me during most of the time that she was trying to cajole, coerce and embarrass me into losing weight. She also seemed to completely fail to comprehend that she was responsible for my weight through her shopping and cooking habits. Finally, she didn't seem to see that she was sending me wildly mixed messages by telling me that it was what was on the inside that counted while focusing so frequently on what was on the outside.