Archive | August, 2013

Mums, Food, Body Image

4 Aug

So, I just read this Jezebel piece on whether or not parents should force their kids to finish the food on their plates or whether that might push them into an eating disorder. Don’t ask me why I read it, I don’t even have kids I could force feed, it is called P.R.O.C.R.A.S.T.I.N.A.T.I.O.N.

Anyway, comments to the article involved all sort of discussions of fucked up relationships with food that people were taught when they were little, either directly, by being told to eat more or less (usually less, when it comes to girls) or indirectly, by watching how their parents behaved around food, how their parents talked about the food they were eating or avoiding and how parents talked about their own bodies. The thoughts that were voiced tie in nicely with this post that was passed around the internet last month, in which a woman describes how her mum’s own distorted body image influenced her when growing up.

I see a lot of people around me, friends, family members, colleagues, making food into a big deal. I mean, it is a big deal. It is necessary and, with the exception of anything involving bread crumbs, potentially delicious. But many women I know (and a few guys) seem to feel the need to constantly comment on the food they and others are eating (or not). There is the constant need of justification of why specific food is eaten now (‘Yeah, I know I shouldn’t’; ‘Ahh, it is delicious, but I will have to not eat xyz for the next week now’; ‘Yeah, I know it is a sin but I worked out this morning’) or a constant commentary on other people’s eating behavior (very rarely I hear ‘Oh, you really are hungry today’, more often it is wrapped as a compliment which, simultaneously self-reprimands its originator: ‘Oh, yes, have a piece of cake, YOU can afford it’ [disclosure: I have an average body weight for my height, I haven’t been on scales for the last 14 years, many of my friends are more slender than I am] ).

Thing is: I don’t mind such talk much. I don’t say these sorts of things about my own eating habits (I think) and pretty definitely not about other’s eating habits (as, in my opinion, they are a. none of my business and b. not overly exciting conversation topics). Sure, when I was a teenager, I had a phase were I was dieting and weighing myself every morning, letting the number decide the mood for the rest of the day and a short phase of not being happy in my body. It is a sad fact that I don’t know anyone who didn’t have such a phase. And sure, there are days when I like the way I look less and short intervals of ahhhhhhhh this and that is too thick, too broad, too whatever. But these are very short phases and generally, I am happy with the way I look and eat what I want and don’t think about it much.

I was wondering why my body image and my relationship towards food are so relatively trouble-free. Now, this is obviously a complex thing and there are many different factors in it. As I said, I would say my body type is somewhat average and while it is another sad fact of life that, as a woman, you will never escape public scrutiny and commentary on the way you look, I suppose that when you are exceptionally thin or obese, even more people feel entitled to comment on your body. So that is one thing. And I can think of others which I am not discussing here. But one thing I am sure was a massive influence in this was my mum. I can honestly not remember her ever commenting on my body in a negative way nor on her own body (it was also not like she was commenting a lot about my body in a positive way. It was just: a body. It was there. Therefore it was good. Move on). I have never experienced her dieting. When I was little, it was a family joke that my mum could eat a whole box of praline when she was in the mood for it, something that she wouldn’t deny and, when any of us wanted to make her happy, boxes of chocolate were always safe and would be welcomed. Generally, she taught us that one should eat healthy, that one cannot eat boxes of chocolate every day because that brings you tooth ache. It is possible that she also mentioned that too much sugar and fat might make you unhealthily overweight but if she mentioned it in that context at all, it apparently wasn’t in any obsessive or hysteric way, proven by the fact that I do not even remember her saying this at all.

Photo courtesy of Daniela Ramos Arias

Photo courtesy of Daniela Ramos Arias

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have my fair share of fat phobia in my family. My dad and my aunt (his sister) are the ones in our family who are more obsessed with dieting, doing sports to lose weight, making the occasional less than charming comment about my changing teenage body. But even though I guess most people, definitely most women, hear these sorts of comments during their youth, I dare to say it didn’t influence me much beyond my teenage years. My mum being so decidedly non-dramatic, unapologetic and matter-of-factly about her body and about the food that went into it must have been one of the greatest measures of upbringing, to instill self-worth which is somewhat independent of what you see in the mirror, to see the consumption of food or the lack thereof not as a measure failure or success but rather as both a necessity and an enjoyable thing without much fuzz. All this must have seeped into the corners of my own me-ness somehow. Thinking about it, being so uncomplicated about these issues is such an immensely big deal for which I am tremendously grateful. It is one of the things that I, should I have kids of my own, will definitely try to pass on.

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