Much of my life has been spent struggling with my weight. It’s only been the last couple years that this has changed. Though I continue to work towards better health, the real challenge has become one of forgiveness: the struggle to forgive myself, and perhaps most importantly, to forgive my mother.
It sounds ridiculous, even accusatory saying I need to forgive her for my weight problems—like I’m trying to avoid responsibility. It is my body after all; I am responsible for how I treat it, the foods I consume, the exercise I do. I can’t say my mother was force-feeding me that extra serving, or telling me to stay indoors reading and writing stories while my friends were outside running around playing soccer.
No, in that sense it has nothing to do with her. But in a way, I realize now, she is partly responsible, and I know that all I can do is forgive and move forward.
For me, the problem started when my mom moved out of state for work and my dad took care of me by himself for several months. My father, who’s eating habits were never particularly healthy, didn’t put much care into what he gave his six-year-old daughter. Pizza, French fries, soda and candy—by the time I reunited with my mom I was significantly larger than I’d been when she’d left.
I’ll never forget the way she looked at me after that several month separation—her eyes darkening, her smile fading. In my mind, I didn’t understand what caused this change, this cold expression, but I knew it was something I had done. The look couldn’t have lasted more than several seconds though, and then she was all smiles and hugs. Still her reaction stayed with me.
After that, my parents had trouble reversing the baby fat I’d acquired. By the age of 9, I was fairly pudgy, and my mother decided to take matters into her own hands. I can’t remember how it even came up, but between the two of us, we decided I needed to go on a diet. This was the beginning of a trend that would shape the rest of my life.
Dieting at this age had an enormous effect on me. I was too young physically, but more importantly—emotionally—to really understand what dieting even meant. I began to believe there was something wrong with me that desperately needed fixing. Though my mother was kind and supportive, she fed this belief by encouraging me. But nothing seemed to work; the harder she pushed, the harder my body resisted.
By the time I was 14, I had already been dieting off and on for five years and was starting to develop serious body image issues as well as a borderline case of anorexia. I knew something was wrong with me, I knew I wasn’t good enough—I was constantly reminded of this by my mother’s never ending push to change, to get into shape, to be thinner and prettier. In her mind thin=happy, and so that’s what I believed too.
I’d had personal trainers, dieticians, therapists, doctors, and plain old weight loss clinics try to help me shed pounds. My mother would even share fad diets that she used when she was young, ways of starving yourself to lose small amounts of weight—three pounds here, five there. I was still a girl and I’d already been through it all, but still nothing worked. My struggles only made me hate myself more; and the more I hated myself, the more I ate. The more I resisted. The unhappier and unhealthier I became.
The same habits continued throughout my teenage years and into early adulthood. I was going up and down with my weight, crash dieting, crash exercising, constantly insecure, constantly unhappy. All the while, my mother was by my side, but for some reason I never found her support comforting. She wanted me to lose weight; she wanted me to be happy. But something was missing.
Years later, after deciding to give up on my obsession with weight loss, I had an epiphany. With the help of a phenomenal therapist, I realized something so simple, so clear—it was hard to understand why I hadn’t always seen the truth. My struggles with weight were not simply physical—at least 60% of my difficulties were emotional and psychological.
The reason I had never been able to fully drop my excess weight was because of my mental block, my emotional struggle, and that led back to my mother—that first look of disapproval, those years and years of pushing me to diet and exercise. Two important points became painfully clear:
1) If my mother had simply fed me better food without making an ordeal of it, I most likely would have outgrown the baby fat on my own. It happens to many children, and as they grow they shed their extra weight. But because it had become such an issue, it created an emotional handicap. Because I was shown time and time again that there was something wrong with me, that I had to change to be normal, it made it almost impossible to fight.
2) My mother did not intend to do this to me. She was trying to help and support me, but because she had her own insecurities from the past, since her mother had given her a “complex” as well, she could not help but do the same to me. We do what we know, and what she knew she learned from her own mother.
These truths were pivotal for my growth and healing. Since then, I’ve been working hard to shift the negative self-view I developed over the past twenty-odd years. I want to embrace who I am, love who I am for all that I am, because my weight and emotional scars are not all there is to me.
These past years of work have been slow, sometimes painful, yet ultimately rewarding. Though it’s hard to shed 20 years of negative thought (much harder than shedding 20 pounds), the dark fog of self-disgust is lifting. Love and forgiveness are taking its place. I have more work to do, but self-awareness is the first step, and my revelations and reflections have been incredibly healing.
So is it really my mom who made me fat? There is a kernel of truth to that, but I am choosing to forgive her now for things she did not know and did not mean. I am choosing to keep looking forward and take responsibility for myself. Wounds from the past need to heal, but the future holds endless possibility.
So Mom, I forgive you. I love you for wanting the best for me, and I hope you can share in my joy of self-discovery.