“I blame my parents.”
I’ve been talking with a few people in real life about body image and struggles with weight. The above sentiment seems to be a common thread. While the specific connection varies, at least a few people I know link their current body size to their parents.
In some cases, this link involves genetic disposition, which I think makes sense. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see:
- the blue eyes of my father’s father
- the broad shoulders and wide hips of my paternal grandmother and her daughter
- my dad’s nose
- my maternal grandmother’s jawline and cheeks
- the dimple in my chin that came from my mother’s father
- my mom’s hands
(I grew up being told that I didn’t look like anyone in the family — at least compared to my brother and sister, who more clearly take after my dad’s appearance — so these recognitions are important to me.) It makes sense that some of the traits I inherited — like bone structure — might correlate to a higher body mass for my height. Similarly, I can see where other traits — like full cheeks and a strong jawline — might lead to a fatter appearance, regardless of their negligible affect on my weight.
And if that’s true for me, it’s likely true for at least some others. Some of the blueprints in our genetic codes influence the body shape we present to ourselves and the world. At this point in life — when we don’t get to choose our parents and as we already exist in the world — it might be a matter of playing the hand we’re dealt.
In other situations, folks I talked to spoke of blaming their parents for childhood eating habits. In the interests of full disclosure, these are people who — as adults — have settled on a basically whole foods diet (not restricting or counting calories or other nutrients but basically trying to avoid processed foods as much as possible) and basically have the access (money, time, and proximity to quality grocery stores) to sustain it. So — particularly assuming that they grew up with a socioeconomic status equal to what they have now, which I don’t know to be true — it’s maybe more understandable that they’re critical of parental choices to prepare, pack, and serve more processed foods.
I will say this: For a number of years, I was functionally the oldest child living in the house. I learned to cook pretty early on, and a good number of the meals I was expected to prepare included macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, Spaghettios (with franks!), and — if I was imbued with an extraordinary amount of trust on any given day — canned tomato soup and grilled cheese. In the whole foods scheme of things, none of these meals was particularly nutritious, but all of them shared two redeeming qualities: 1) they were simple to prepare, mostly only requiring the ability to warm ingredients; 2) each had a shelf life of approximately forever, meaning that my parents could purchase them in quantity each payday without fear of them turning rancid before we ate them.
But mostly, in terms of parents and body size, what I remember is my mother. Not that I remember her as a fat woman or a thin woman because over the years, she’s been pretty much all the sizes. The vast majority of who she is — her friendliness, her enthusiasm, her intelligence, her compassion, her sociability, and most importantly her worth as a person — hasn’t changed the whole time. Just the color of her hair and the shapes of her body.
However, when I think of my mom and her attitudes about bodies — specifically her body, my body, and my sister’s body — I don’t remember what she looked like at any given point in time. I just remember the actions and reactions. The months, perhaps post-New Year’s resolution, when all artificial sugar was banned from our diets. The mixed messages of being told to “go out and play;” told that we should exercise because it was good for us, where “good for us” implied achieving or maintaining a “skinny” weight but never being joined in activity for the fun of it; the inability of my body to meet her approval.
I remember one time, I was in middle school, and my mom was helping me find a themed outfit for some type of school spirit day. She dug through her closet and trunks and found some kind of maroon jumpsuit. (I don’t remember what the spirit day was, so I have no idea if it was at all appropriate for that.) I tried it on; it didn’t fit, too snug in the shoulders, ribcage, and butt.
Mom frowned. “I don’t know why you can’t wear that. It fit me in college; I can’t believe it doesn’t fit you now.”
I’m not sure if she intended it maliciously. Probably not. But the message that statement sent was that my body was fatter than it should be.
I want to be clear here. While I do think that my mother’s attitude was likely a causative factor in my own developing relationships with food and my body, I don’t think either of my parents are to blame for my current size. Because, quite simply, I don’t see my weight as anything deserving of blame.