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March 27, 2011

Nature Vs. Nurture

I am naturally on the heavy side when it comes to stature and body type.  I grew up believing I was fat.  Looking back on it, I probably wasn't.  I was probably built a lot like my daughter, Helen, nice and solid through the legs and hips with strong, slightly broad shoulders.  But, I never believed as a child that I was cute or strong or pretty.

I remember being told I had been "sneaking food" and I remember having a large appetite, even as young as four or five, and having my mother scorn me for eating too much.  My mother often told me that the "doctor" put me on a diet when I was two years old because I was so fat.  And I remember that my mother loved to tell me how cute and "petite" my sister was...(well, she was a tiny little thing as a child) but I think the nature in which she expressed this to me, often felt like a "why can't you stop eating so much so you can be more like your sister?"

It got worse when my parents divorced.  In the third grade in the spring, my mom told me she was putting me on the swim team because I was "getting too chunky." Maybe a year later, my cousin (who is two-and-a-half years older than I) sent me some clothes she'd grown out of.  I remember when the box arrived...my mom quickly began pulling things out to try on me...and she gave me a pair of pants...I put them on and buttoned them and tried to zip them only to hear my mother say (in her disappointed/exasperated voice), "Oh..you look like a sausage!  You are so fat!  Take those off."  And as I tried to remove them, the zipper wouldn't unzip, the snap or button broke and the pants were somehow ruined and this was cause for a major punishment for me.  

My mom restricted the food I ate and I know part of it was due to finances, but she often referred to my unacceptable state of fat-ness.  She lumped me and my older brother together...we had our "father's metabolism," or "we really had to watch it" and we "would be really fat if it weren't for her."  She was saving us from ourselves.  All that jazz.

The summer after my fifth grade year, my mom got home from the grocery store one night and we were on our way out to help bring things in.  She got to my brother first and basically punched him square in the gut without saying a word to him.  I only saw him double over in front of me and didn't know what was coming.  She came to me next and she punched me, but left her hand in my stomach and pinched it so hard, I bruised.  Apparently, she was upset.  She had checked ice cream and milk before she'd gone to the store and she was convinced my brother and I had eaten all of the ice cream and drank all of the milk and caused her to have to purchase more when she wasn't expecting to.  As soon as we were inside we were lambasted with her yelling about what filthy pigs we were and don't we know we are so fat and it's all because we sneak all the food? 

By the end of the summer after my 6th grade (with benefit of 2-a-day swim practices and major growth spurt), I was tall and skinny.  My mom couldn't be happier.  Or could she?  She constantly reminded me that I needed to swim or do something active to keep the weight off.  I quit swimming year-round in 7th grade, and naturally, began to fill out like most 13 and 14-year-olds do.  My mother was constantly harping on me about my weight and she filled the refrigerator and cupboards with "low-fat" this and "diet" that.  It was a constant focus around our house.

High school was more of the same.  My mom continued to comment about my weight.  Rarely was she showering me with compliments, either.  She would make unkind comments about other girls and how they looked and then compare us to them (of course we were worse...although every once in awhile we'd get, "well, at least you're not as bad as ________"). 

My mother grew up in a dysfunctional family environment.  She was the oldest of the four children and she often described for us how embarrassed she was of her sister, who was severely obese.  My mother spoke of days when people would say to her, "You're the only normal sized one in your family...what happened after you?"  So, her resentment of heavy people was deeply rooted and difficult to expel.  And she was acutely aware and nervous that any of her children might end up like any of her other siblings.

As an adult, I've recognized the impact of my upbringing.  It's a fact:  I'm someone who constantly struggles with weight.  When I gain weight when pregnant, it really wears me down.  If I don't lose it quickly after I have the baby, it really wears me down.  My weight fluctuates in such a way that's probably not the most healthy.  I've never settled into a regular healthy-eating pattern where my weight stayed within a 5-7 pound range.  I'm not sure how much of it is my nature and how much is because of the way I was raised.  I'll never know that.

As a mom, it's been difficult to feel comfortable as I attempt to manage my children.  I am hell-bent on NOT repeating the behavior and treatment my mother gave to me, but then, I wonder if I am doing a disservice to my children who might not be making the best choices.  I try to present food and dietary considerations as "healthy" vs. "unhealthy" choices and the balance that's required.  But so often I wonder if I am failing somewhere else where this is concerned.  I want my children to be active, but I want them to WANT to do what they do.  

I'm thankful at this juncture that I haven't witnessed unkind comments about appearance between my children, and I pray I never will.  I have heard stories of problems in schools at the ages my children are reaching, though, and I begin to panic.  What if someone undoes all my hard work with one unkind comment or gesture directed toward one of my kids?  No matter how hard I have worked to build my children up to see that they are beautiful and wonderfully made in the Lord's eyes...one mean comment from a classmate, or an acquaintance can undo it all.

My biggest focus has become to help us all view each other and ourselves as images of God.  God, our Heavenly Father, created us.  We need to maintain and care for our bodies.  We need to keep them healthy and strong.  We must yearn to see what God sees within and without. 




3 comments:

  1. I worry about signals kids can get in school about weight too. But I then I remember that it can come just as easily from home. My mom was very thin, and my dad has an aversion to "fat people". So I grew up with alot of "encouragement" to lose weight and exercise and be "healthy", and criticism for the amount I ate. I still struggle with hating my body, and I have never had a consistant weight either. I think you are doing well, I think that kids mostly self-regulate, and they will have enough outside pressures to be thin. My sister looked alot like Helen when she was a child and had the same pressures as I did as a child and she struggles with an eating disorder, it's painful to watch.
    Sorry about the long comment, you triggered some memories with this post. :)

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  2. I'm so sorry your mom was so mean to you growing up. :( I can't imagine how difficult that was for you!

    I really like the last paragraph of your post. :)

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  3. Wow, what a story. I'm sorry your mother treated you like this. I had an eating disorder in college and still struggle with my self-image. Fortunately for me, my parents were very supportive while I got professional help for this. Now that I have 2 kids, I work hard to make sure they focus on "healthy" rather than weight and tell them frequently how beautiful they are inside and out.

    Your last paragraph is wonderful. Recently, I've been hearing so much about how we are all images of God. As such, we have to not only respect ourselves but others, and when we see others whose images-of-God have been broken, we need to actively work to help restore them, being both image bearers and image restorers. Every time you affirm your children, you are helping them to see themselves as an image of God.

    Thanks for sharing.

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Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)