Ritual Confessions

January 23, 2008

Conversation with my mother

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 4:59 am

We were sitting in a bagel shop Sunday morning when a very heavy man walked in with a trim, pretty blonde. And from the expression on my mother’s face, I could read her thoughts as clearly as if she had spoken them: What on earth is she doing with him?

When she noticed me watching her, she confessed. “There is so much prejudice against obesity,” she said, “and I’m the worst.”

My mother, it must be said here, is very nearly the personification of graciousness, compassion and integrity. Moreover, her own mother — whom she adored — was obese, and she herself was overweight for more than 30 years. So her feelings on this subject are deeply mystifying.

“What the hell is that about?” I asked, and she shook her head as if to say she had no idea.

“You know, I wasn’t going to tell you this, because I didn’t want you to feel bad,” I said, “but now that you bring it up… my most recurring nightmare these days is that you’re telling me I’m fat.”

This was true. I have this dream on a regular basis, and the frequency increases whenever a visit from her is imminent. There have only been a handful of times in my life that my mother has told me that I should lose weight, but each time I have taken it very hard. The last occasion on which she said this was this past summer. It had been eight months since I’d given birth, and I was still ten or fifteen pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight. And somehow, despite a long history of obsession with my body (during which my mother often complained that I had a “distorted body image” — that is, that I believed I was overweight when I really wasn’t), I was feeling okay about it. We were hiking in Portland’s arboretum when I mentioned this to her.

“I know I don’t have the same body that I did before,” I told her, “but you know what? I’m actually at peace with it.”

She didn’t say anything.

“I mean, I feel like I look good enough, you know? I feel like it’s fine.”

Her continued silence was now impossible to misinterpret.

“I guess you don’t think that it’s fine,” I ventured.

“I’m guessing you think it’s fine because so far, you haven’t had to get dressed up to go anywhere,” she said. “I think that the next time you do, you’ll be unhappy.”

I was momentarily speechless with surprise and hurt.

“And I think it’s a dangerous mentality,” she went on. “Your baseline used to be 130, so now you’ll have a new baseline of 145. And when you get pregnant again, and knock off all but the last 15 pounds again, you’ll start thinking you actually look okay at 160.”

These remarks went deep with me, but apparently not deep enough to do anything about it, because six months later I remain the same weight as I was during this conversation.

Hearing about my nightmare, my mother looked at me with sorrow.

“I have that dream a few times a week,” I told her. “I don’t know why. I guess I feel judged by you, this past year.”

My mother continued to gaze at me with sorrow, but she made no attempt to deny it.



  1. This post troubled me, reminding me as it did how insidious and rampant this prejudice is, and how profoundly unfair. As you know, my mother is significantly overweight. I know that some people judge her character and even her intelligence based on this fact. An assumption tends to be made that people who are overweight are lazy and self-indulgent. I know my mother very well, and neither of these things is true; her metabolism was shot to hell by birth control pills. Her cholesterol is lower than mine, her blood pressure is 120/70, and her blood sugar is in the low normal range. She’s very healthy. Nature screwed her over.

    This isn’t something she should ever have to explain in order to avoid negative judgments. And yet … we judge by what we think we see. I do it too, just not about that particular aspect of people’s appearance.

    Comment by Baron von Rochester — January 23, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

  2. Ouch!

    My dad’s always saying I’m to heavy, which I am, but he also said I looked my best when visiting from Florida. I was seven months along with my son and weighed 114 lbs. Being almost six foot tall I looked like a skeleton.

    Even parents can have distorted view of things.

    Comment by Shawn W — January 24, 2008 @ 4:35 am

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