Reuniting with my mom after a year of isolating (and after we were both vaccinated) was a lot of things. It was pure joy to be able to hug her again, to be able to cook her a meal in my home and sit together to eat it. It brought tears to my eyes to watch her play with my sons, to cuddle up with them on the couch as they rattled on about whatever video game they were obsessed with.
Just being able to do normal things with my mom after a year of only talking to her on the phone, or seeing her outside, six feet apart, with a mask … all of it felt like a miracle.
I expected the joy, the gratitude, the relief of finally getting to see her, knowing that we’d basically survived this disaster of a year. I expected that and savored all the emotions it brought. But what I didn’t expect is that being reunited with my mom meant being inundated with diet culture and internalized fatphobia.
I don’t know that my mom has any more hang-ups about this stuff than most people her age. She’s in her 70s, and was born in a time when almost everyone expected women to either already be thin or be on a diet to get thin. Her own mother attended some of the first Weight Watchers meetings, and I remember my mom always being on some sort of diet or other while I was growing up. At one point in the ‘80s, she sold Herbalife (an early pioneer of the MLM-type dieting scams).
So my mom’s obsession with her weight and her food intake should not have surprised me. I’ve been around it all my life! But something about being away from it all for a year—and frankly, having much more serious things to concentrate on with her (like, uhhhh, making sure she didn’t catch a virus that was killing hundreds of thousands of people her age)—just brought the whole thing into more glaring focus.
And I think it was me, too. This past year, I’ve been kinda distracted by the whole “surviving the pandemic thing.” Any thoughts I might have had about eating or my own weight were on the backburner. Dealing with my own disordered eating patterns (I literally don’t know one woman who doesn’t have some history with this) is something I’ve worked on for years, and I’ve been in a good place with it. But the distraction of the pandemic sure knocked any unhealthy thoughts out of my head. Plus, I’d been more steeped in body positivity/intuitive eating/dismantling diet culture/the patriarchy, etc., this past year.
So maybe I was just more aware of it all?
Whatever the case, when I sat down with my mom to feed her that first post-pandemic home-cooked meal, I almost lost my shit on her. More than once, she mentioned how delicious the food I’d made was—and in that same breath, she mentioned that she better not eat too much of it. Seriously, this happened multiple times.
Then—and this is where I really freaking lost it—when I took out a small cake that my kids had picked out for the occasion, she took two bites, then pushed it away and said, “Get this away from me! I’ll get fat!”
Now, I know that she means well, and isn’t actively trying to inflict some kind of harm on my kids. But this is not at all what I want my kids exposed to. This type of thing doesn’t happen in our house, period.
First of all, I hate the idea of certain foods being branded “good” or “bad.” Yes, of course my kids know that broccoli is healthier than cake, and that overall they should eat more broccoli than cake, but we don’t demonize food. We want them to feel happy about whatever they are eating, and not feel as though certain foods are evil or off limits. I know from experience that that only makes the foods more tempting, and creates unnecessary stress and anxiety around eating.
I also just hate, hate, hate when people make disparaging comments about their bodies in front of my kids. That’s just not something my husband and I would ever do. Nor do we make any sorts of comments about the appearance of our kids’ bodies. Again, I know this is just my mom making these comments about her own body, but this is a close family member of my kids, and kids tend to internalize what the grownups around them say.
I probably should have waited till after dinner to say something, but I couldn’t keep it together—I was so angry. So I basically told her point blank that I didn’t want her to talk about “being fat” in front of my kids. We have a close and mostly trusting relationship, and although I don’t think she fully understood, she didn’t freak out or anything. “Okay, sorry,” she said, and quickly changed the subject.
But then—you guessed it—it happened again, the next time we saw her. She made comments about her pandemic weight gain, how she was on a diet, how she would only eat a salad when we ordered in food, how she really needed to watch her weight, etc., etc., etc.
I honestly was shocked about how many weight-related comments she made in just one visit! Maybe it’s all those months cooped inside that made her hyper-focus on her weight? Maybe I just had never noticed this as much before?
Whatever the case, it’s definitely becoming a problem, and I think I’m going to need to have a discussion with her about it all. I don’t know if you can wash the diet culture mentality out of a 70-year-old grandma. But I’d like to try to educate her a little about how harmful these kinds of thoughts are for her. I want her to know that she is beautiful just the way she is, and that she should be grateful for her general good health, especially after this past year.
I mean, isn’t this a good time to recognize what really matters in life and start to free oneself from the chains of diet culture and the patriarchy?
Either way, there is no freaking way she is going to be allowed to spew that nonsense in front of my kids. That’s a line in the sand for me. If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that my kids’ mental health is everything. Oh, my tolerance for bullshit is at an all-time low, so there’s that.
I hope that these realizations about my mom’s fatphobia can serve as a learning opportunity for us both. I’d really love her to take what I tell her to heart, and maybe start to learn to love her body, and form a healthier relationship with food.
But either way, she’s gonna have to shut up about that crap when she’s in my house. That shit just won’t be tolerated around here.
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