Sunday, 28 September 2008

eating is not moral deviance

I have of late been talking to my sister about the question of fat acceptance - not in so many words, but we've had quite a long email discussion about privilege and fat stereotypes and all that kind of thing. And I'm fascinated to discover that she has, completely independently of me and my own experiences, and without any body image issues of her own, come to the conclusion that my mother has some issues with body image:

Mum has a terrible problem with acceptance of different body types. What’s interesting is that for a not particularly material person, she places a terrible emphasis on appearance. Dad’s, yours, mine, her own. She has this terrible habit of gushing over the way I look. Don’t get me wrong, I like to look good but I never, never want to be SEEN for what I look like, if that makes sense. My face and body is not ME – not who I am. And you’re right, the nagging has the exact opposite effect than the one she wants. Dad, I think, has a binge/secret eating habit as well, actually – so you’re not alone with having had that impulse. I will definitely mention that statistic [note: I told her about the 95-98% failure rate for diets] next it comes up. It really bothers me actually, as she honestly has no idea how to feed a diabetic anyway and HE rebels against her and eats even worse things. Plus, it’s not doing anyone any good. It makes her mad and him withdrawn and ashamed. Not healthy.

Then this morning, I had a conversation with my mother, and in amongst all the other things we talked about, she started going on about how she and Dad had eaten a lot at some event, so now they were trying to lose some extra pounds (she thinks all my dad's pounds are extra, but hey) so they could go to Fiji and eat. But she's been told that in Fiji, they give you lots of salads and things, so you can eat a lot and still be "good".

I told her I couldn't talk to her about dieting or the supposed morality of food, for my own peace of mind, and she was a bit non-plussed.

"I was just telling you what was going on for me," she said.

And that's fair enough, I suppose. But God, I just do not want to have conversations with anyone, however much I care about them, in which eating features as morally deviant, or something you need to suffer for doing. I can't do it. I hate it. I hate the smugness in my mother's voice when she talks like this, because she has no freaking clue how hard it is for me or, apparently, my father, to treat food in a healthy way. I hate how she can't even grasp what I'm trying to say to her when I say that I can't talk about food in moral terms. I hate that she thinks that talking about HER weight losing diet is okay with me, even though we can't talk about mine. I hate that she thinks that her eating disordered daughter should be supporting her in "losing a few pounds" because, all eating disorders to the contrary, losing weight is a fundamental moral good.

I mean, Jesus H. Christ, lady, the result of your attitudes was that you fucked up my relationship with food, possibly for life. What am I supposed to say? "That's fantastic, you've achieved the only thing in life that matters"? This is a harsh reaction, I know, and it wasn't one that I shared with my mother. But it's so frustrating, when I see myself coming such a distance, to realise that, despite knowing what her attitudes have cost me, she is still in exactly the same place mentally that she was twenty two years ago on the subject of "excess" weight. If she suddenly found herself in charge of a slightly chubby eleven year old, she would probably take exactly the same path of trying to make her thinner. I wish she could just enjoy her food in Fiji without needing to lose a few compensatory pounds beforehand, and without justifying the kind of food that is available in Fiji. I wish she didn't seem to feel that enjoying eating a lot could only be morally acceptable if she made herself (and her husband) suffer beforehand.

I suppose, though, this is another sign of recovery. I'm genuinely feeling increasingly detached from the goal of weight loss. Oh, I'm keener than ever on being healthy - not least because we have decided that we'll start trying for a baby in a year or two and I want to make sure I'm up to that physically - but the message that exercise is good for its own sake, and that it's okay to do a bunch of work for your health and never lose a pound is finally starting to sink in so that I believe it. And that has taken some doing, let me tell you.

There is still, I'll admit, a strong temptation to think about my efforts to be healthier as a way to fool myself into thinking that I'm just trying to be healthy, but SECRETLY I'll be trying to lose weight. I have the most tortuous, circuitous mind in the world. But I'm cutting that off at the pass more often, and I think I'm finally starting to understand it emotionally as well as intellectually.

I just wish my mother was on the same page.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for defining a thing I also hate: when people make a big deal over how good I look when I am in an exercise binge (I sporadically train). I do not want to be "seen for how I look" either. I find copious, awed complimenting over weight loss infuriating and insulting, not encouraging. One neutral comment is sufficient if weight loss must be acknowledged.

sara said...

The whole body image thing is deep rooted, when thin people are treated different from day #1 is it a wonder that those that dont fall into that feel left out?

Maddie said...

Anonymous - Actually, it's my sister you have to thank for that one! It's very interesting to me that she's pretty much on the other side of my mother's feelings about the way her children look - my sister is thin, sophisticated and very attractive - but she still objects to the way that my mother overemphasises it. I'm with you, though. I hate it when people go on about how I look great if it's just that I've lost a pound or two - or, worse, they don't even say I look great, just that I look like I've lost weight, and then expect me to dance with joy, because weight loss is the only reasonable goal of all fatty fat women everywhere.

Sara - it is very deep rooted, though I don't know how it got rooted in my mother, really. She has always been thin, and in that sense was never left out. It is quite puzzling.