I’m not a skinny person, and though the implications behind that word today are better understood, I grew up in a time before “body shaming” was a phrase, before we at least attempted to make human beings of all sizes feel like they belong here. But I always knew I was not “skinny,” even as I shied away from the word “fat” — partially because it felt harsh and cruel to me (though this is not how I feel about the word now), and partially because I just didn’t identify as fat. My identity resided somewhere in between “skinny,” which, in my young mind, was defined as “anyone smaller than me” —and “fat,” which I didn’t quite feel like I was allowed to claim either.
I have plenty of girlfriends — all of them? — that struggled with weight and identity growing up.
And with that struggle often comes stories of how their mothers or grandmothers or aunts made them feel badly about their bodies.
When you grow up “bigger” than your mother, it can be a tricky balance of acceptance, envy, and confusion. In my particular case, my mother and I could not be more different when it comes to our bodies. My mother is short, coming in around 5’4″, whereas I’m flirting with 5’9″. Though my mother claims to have big feet, I wear a size 11 while she fits comfortably into an 8-9. My hands are larger than her hands. My hair is brown and huge and curly, while hers has always been sleek and blonde — cute thrown up into a ponytail or chopped into a pixie.
Her stomach has always been flat, even after four children, while my stomach has never and will never be flat — and I have claim over zero biological children, though I do take some credit over my baby brother’s upbringing.
There were an incredible amount of opportunities for my mother to make me feel bad about my body, intentionally or unintentionally — but unlike my aforementioned friends and their mothers — I never ran into it.
My mother never so much as uttered the word “diet” in my entire life — not to me, and not about her own lifestyle. We never owned a scale. In fact, the first time I ever stepped foot on a scale (besides doctor’s appointments I attended as a child) was in college.
I bought myself a scale when I noticed I had lost some weight after spending a lot of time at my university’s rec center. I briefly wondered why we never owned a scale, until I realized my mother did some pretty excellent parenting — whether or not she meant to accomplish such a challenging feat.
I am my mother’s only daughter. I spent my life surrounded by boys — yes, my three brothers — but also all of their friends and (almost) every partner my mom had.
I have come to the conclusion that my mother did such an excellent job raising me sans insecurities because of her mother.
My grandmother, though not extremely present in my life, always had something to say about my body, even as a young child.
My mother is fierce, and fiery, and openly had her issues with her mother.
Though I have admittedly never inquired about how my grandmother made my mother or aunt feel about their bodies, my mom made it very clear that Grandma was not allowed to weigh in on my eating habits, my weight, or anything else about my appearance.
The truth is, my grandmother is not a very nice woman, and she never had nice things to say about me. My mother, though not a person I would describe as particularly nice, did a fantastic job of not only blocking me from the potential damage my grandmother’s comments might have inflicted — but she did an even better job of building me up.
I have been called confident my entire life. I take issue with some of the implications behind the word “confident” when applied to women, particularly curvy or fat women, but I fully thank my mother for that confidence.
I grew up being told I was beautiful, and though some of those comments were the subtle kind that chubby people hear — “You have such a pretty face” — I was never led to feel like anything less than lovely. I never felt that I didn’t belong. I never felt that I should apologize for who I was, or for the space I took up in any given room.
I’d like to thank my mother for not dieting to lose weight, for not owning a scale, for allowing me to indulge in the same treats that the boys ate after dinner, and for not commenting when I started to order salads from McDonald’s instead of my typical Quarter Pounder with cheese.
I’d like to thank her for not stressing out when my feet never stopped growing, and for never making me feel like an outsider — even though every woman on her side of the family is under 5’5″. I would like to thank my mother for encouraging me to sport my naturally curly hair — my lion’s mane — and for letting me dress however I want, never commenting about the size I was reaching for.
She’s a flawed mama, but who isn’t? For everything I am today, I thank her.