Put It To Rest
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Put It To Rest

The Generational Weight We Carry

Being in the belly of the familial beast

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

“I wish you could be as thin as your sister.”

What a thing to hear uttered from my grandmother’s mouth to my mom’s ears. Out loud, unashamed, and ignorant to its implications. Throughout my life, this has been the biggest and most prominent Damocles sword hanging over everything, especially the women in my family.

Sometimes as explicit as this, and sometimes much more insidious. A sword that didn’t just, proverbially hang but often stabbed through the securities of us all just as much.

It doesn’t take a lot to see body shame echo throughout just about any facet of life. Just now, as I was looking for something in my pantry my eyes caught a glimpse of an old Weight Watchers food scale. Not your normal, shitty human scale, but one for what you were going to eat. Every point that popped up was one taken away from your self-worth.

Body image is a hot topic these days, and the way our media and culture perpetuate the worst habits and behaviors in the hopes of being skinny, therefore being seen as beautiful, and then repackaged as the pinnacle of health. All of this is problematic, of course, but what I don’t see discussed in conjunction with it is how much that conditioning seeps not only into one’s identity but the identity of a whole family.

The mountain of riches I could have amassed by now if I were able to cash in on every snide suggestion disguised as a concern with my appearance, size, what clothing I could and could not wear, and diet pushing would rival that of Scrooge McDuck. Shimmery coins of gold were pillaged and plundered by exploiting every insecurity anyone could think of. Ah, yes, the dream. If by a dream you mean nightmare, and if by a nightmare, you mean a constant waking one.

How many times do I have to hear my mother disparage her body? Telling herself her thighs are all wrong, scrunching up the rolls of her belly as if she’s the main freak at a circus, showcasing to everyone how disgusting she is. How many times do I have to see her forego getting a sleeveless top she likes because she believes her arms are too huge and wobbly, thus never daring to feel good in her own skin? When did I realize I, too, was internalizing this, and falling into all the same self-hating traps? Probably around the same time I heard my grandmother blurt out that awful question.

The stark exemplar of generational trauma, beliefs, and treating thinness as a virtue was all there. Lit up like the biggest Christmas tree, outdoing all firework displays, and dumping our respect in the bin the next day all the same. I was always telegraphed that my size was bad, that I was somehow different from those around me, and I would never be as desirable as my skinny friends. This only got worse when I started my first diet at the ripe, old age of eleven.

It took me far too many years to catch up to the fact that putting a child on a diet (unless absolutely medically necessary that is) is a completely atrocious thing to do. Although, it was the only thing a lot of parents knew to do, egged on by everyone around them including professionals. I never thought twice about being put on this diet, nor did I realize the potential ramifications it would have later in life.

Right then, it validated something I had only begun to suspect — my value as a human is directly tied to how much I weigh. That I could not expect to live a happy, healthy, and full life if I did not belong to the highest echelon of beauty standards and acceptance. I dreamt of the day those doors would swing open for me, and I’d be transported to the nirvana all pretty people must go to when they’re finally able to arrive at the correct number on a scale.

My heart has broken so many times hearing cousins, aunts, and nieces chastising their bodies, looking up at me with tears in their eyes not asking why they’re like this, but not knowing anything different other than their body is not a “good,” one. The same things I used to think and say, repeating through the stinging words of my younger family members. An ouroboros of body hate, expect this snake would never eat its tail, think of the calories!

Shopping was an unholy terror of activity for me. I still dislike it, but back in the day, it strung my anxiety up on a hook letting it relentlessly hang there in fright with every item I would try on. It got to the point that the only person I would go with was my mother because she had passed down enough of her tummy shame, that we could bully ourselves in peace together. If I was with friends I wouldn’t touch a single piece of clothing, just relegating myself to the corner, away from the mirrors (always away from mirrors) awaiting to be their thinspiration cheerleader.

Nowadays, I try. That is the best I can do, for the moment, but it’s a lot better than continually dragging myself and the body I was given, through the mud every day. I’m not totally on board with the positivity part of body positivity. That would be nice, but I attempt body tolerance and accepting it for what it is. Here is where I’d feel inclined to prove to you, dear reader, that I do take care of myself with veggies, fruits, and exercise, but I also know that the skinny I was fed is not the skinny I could ever be…and that’s okay.

My body doesn’t want to be that, I’m not even sure my biology would allow for that to exist in nature. The one I have right now is what exists, and it does its job, and most of the time it does it well. Shifting my focus from wanting something unattainable to appreciating how it functions has been a game-changer. I finally have started to calculate away from thin equals valuable and am trying to do the work around my value is only equal to my character.

I wish the world could be free of body shame, image hate, and the endless cycling through those two until they eat away at you before you can nourish yourself against it. We are so much more than cellulite, rolls, back fat, and stretch marks, but that is not a disregardful part of our journey either, nor should it be. Let them see the light of day, and remind yourself it is not everything.

I much rather would have heard, “I’m so proud of myself,” or, “look at what my body did for me today,” maybe even a, “I could totally rock that shirt,” from my family instead of all the toxic diet and body talk I was inundated with instead. I know I am not alone in this, and hope kids today are not receiving those same signals from their loved ones as I did. Maybe it would help keep another eleven-year-old from entering into the dangerous world of fad diets that I ended up in for a time.

The way we talk within our trusted bubbles of people should be carefully considered. It is not enough to hope those hearing it do not internalize it, because they will. We must flip the script, and change the language, and the only way to do that is to change the way we talk and view ourselves. No biggie, right? Doing so will be a monumental task for many of us, but it’s something worth doing.

Fast-forwarding into the future, I picture a scene with a family sitting at a table. Bellies are full and satisfied, and there are no comments about how piggish they were. They’re solely content with the deliciously home-cooked meal they just had, and they’re reveling in being able to see one another for the first time in a while. The matriarch looks over at her daughter, lovingly, and softly remarks, “You’re enough just the way you are.”

Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

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Do you have a story to tell that you need to put to rest? Put It To Rest. Then Let it Go!

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Charlie Cole

Charlie Cole

Writer • Photographer • Editor • Champion Overthinker • She/Her • Twitter: @CharlieTheCole

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