Guest Post: The Language of Love
by Sarah S.
“MOMMY’S HOME!” I cried, as I bounded down the stairs to the front door, while my parents quickly shuffled into the house from a date night. “Hi Sweetie!” she cried, scooping me up into her arms. Her dark coat smelled like deep autumn in New York, and her red lipstick left a faint mark on my cheek. In that moment, I remember thinking that my mother was the most beautiful mother in the world. I envied that her skin was so much darker than mine and that her freckled face was a sky of constellations waiting to be plotted. She was passionate, vivacious, and every smile was warm and authentic. Her figure was pleasingly plump, and fit her Caribbean upbringing – full hips, full bust, full lips.
But as I became older, it became apparent to me that my beautiful mother sometimes didn’t think that she was beautiful, and this had an effect on how I grew to see my own body – a body that grew to look just like hers. I remember once, I overheard her comments as she chatted with a group of women at a local mommy meet-up. While talking, my mom mentioned a suggestion about a dieting tip, and then quickly retracted it and declared, “But I’m fat, so what do I know.” The women laughed, and one of them slapped her arm playfully and said, ‘Oh Beth*, stop it!” while they continued to giggle. Even though it was said in passing, she’d said it: FAT. My mom was fat. And as an insecure 10-year old, I wondered if my developing body would also receive the “FAT” title one day. With time, I became afraid of my growing chest and felt ashamed of each new development of what I believed to be an increasingly ‘fat’ body.
My mom worked hard to stay involved in the local farmers’ markets (something she never had access to while growing up in low-income housing). One time at the market, Mom left our puppy in the car with the AC on while she picked up vegetables. She chatted with other growers about the brussel sprout crop and her favorite new string bean recipe. While this was happening, an older gentleman noticed our puppy in the car, and publicly yelled at my mom for being so stupid as to leave a dog in a car that he believed to be deathly hot. My mom, mortified, snatched her veggies and rushed us into the gray minivan. Before we could leave the dusty lot, her tears started to flow, and her internal monologue was thrust into the physical world: “They probably think I hate animals. I can’t believe it… AND I’M THE FATTEST ONE HERE!” After she said that, the tears didn’t stop until we got home. The car, full of her daughters, was silent except for the sound of her sniffles. We never went back.
These comments affected me greatly. In photos of my childhood, I see a very healthy, very nervous young woman, holding her arm across her stomach to cover any potential imperfections – the ones mom would comment on when I wore my Sunday dress. Or if I ran to meet her and my bosom bounced. Or if I wanted more pizza. I feared being considered ‘fat’ – as if being fat meant life would be somehow worse, and that my quality of life would be lowered, as my mother so thoroughly believed hers was.
As I entered BYU, I wore slim-fitting outfits so that no one would mistake baggy shirts for any additional weight. I’d constantly fidget with my clothes and suck in my gut when I walked. With time, however, I realized that my body fit me. This body reflected my heritage, and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw not just my mother, but my grandmother and my great-grandmother; I saw myself as the latest edition in a line of beautiful, full-bodied, strong women. I began to highlight my curves with cinched-waist dresses and full skirts, and I learned to accept compliments and create a positive internal dialogue. While there were still daily struggles and multiple outfit changes each morning, I began to feel genuinely comfortable in the shapely, freckle-y body I owned. Yet, when I returned home for Christmas, my eating habits were questioned, and my thighs were analyzed and put on display for public debate.
I tried hard to brush off my mom’s comments and to be the healthier, happier self that I was growing to love. One morning during my sophomore year, I Skyped my mom to show her my new apartment. As soon as the camera turned on, I heard, “Wow, you’ve really filled out!” Something in me cracked. I launched into a tirade of comments on how she should have kept her thoughts to herself… I know I’m getting fat… I don’t need you to point it out… I think I look fine. My face turned bright red and felt hot with anger. My mom took a moment to compose herself before she spoke, and we glared at each other, through tears, 2,500 miles apart. She carefully explained that she started getting fat when she was my age, and no one in her family ‘loved her’ enough to tell her to watch herself and take control of her body. And now here she was: 55, ‘fat’ for her entire adult life, and trying to ‘help’ me avoid her fate. I told her that I was aware of myself and that I didn’t want to ever hear her discussing my body again. I hung up.
The next day, she called to apologize. We talked it through. I told her that her comments about my body affect me and that I’m painfully aware of every pound I gain. My mom was trying to show me love by protecting me, but the way in which she did it was one that I perceived as judgmental and critical, and it hurt me more than it helped. We agreed that I’d be in charge of commentary on my body from now on, and she hasn’t commented on my thighs ever since.
Today, we talk about New Year’s resolutions. We help each other with our websites and resumes. We spend hours on the phone talking about current events and amazing baking recipes. She was proud of me when I made a perfect Texas Sheet Cake, and I was proud of her when she stopped dying her hair and let it turn an ethereal shade of silver. We talk about the life we live in our bodies, not about our bodies themselves. Through this, we’ve learned to show love through language, but this time, that language is healthy and helpful to both of us.
*Names have been changed
Sarah S. is a senior at BYU studying design. She is passionate about mentoring the rising generation of women in tech and overcoming gender discrimination in technology.