Back in the day, my mother went to Weight Watchers with Oprah Winfrey, who was then a local TV talk show host and somewhat of a celebrity in Baltimore. Given that my mom was constantly alternating between Weight Watchers, Diet Workshop, and Overeaters Anonymous, she must have crossed paths with many other women striving to achieve weight loss, but none were as memorable or as noteworthy as Oprah.
As a kid, I have many memories of waiting in the car while my mom just “ran in” to get weighed. She was always on one weight loss program or another. However, to her credit, I have to say that while weight loss was a part of her life, she never made it a part of mine. I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about that. When she came back to the car after weigh-ins, she never discussed whether she lost weight or not. I don’t remember where we kept the scale in our house — it wasn’t prominently featured. There was no element of obsession to my mother’s dieting. She went to work, she went to the store, she went to get weighed in. It was just part of her lifestyle.
Despite her endless diet programs, my mom never spoke in a derogatory way about food or appearance, either her own or others. She never preached about dieting or talked about her diet practices with me. She didn’t eat weird diet fad food, though we ate fresh salmon way before it was fashionable. She did teach me how to read labels and calculate calorie counts because she wanted me to be educated and aware, but it was never done in a way that felt degrading or shameful. We used to take a walk together in the early morning before I left for school, but she never made it about weight loss, it was just about spending time together.
As someone in a higher weight body, I know that I should have a negative body image, but I don’t. I have two theories about that. One is that I think that I have a somewhat distorted body image, the flip side of severely underweight people with anorexia nervosa who look at themselves in the mirror and think that they are fat. I have no illusions of being thin, but I think that my brain and body are not fully in synch. I have come to the non-scientific conclusion that the brain should get a lot more credit than it is given when it comes to obesity.
My other theory about why I lack the negative body image associated with higher weight people has to do with my mother and the way that she treated me. My mother always made me feel good about myself as a person. I know that many others do not have this experience. I read so many posts online written by women who suffer with mothers (and fathers) who hurtfully comment on their weight, their eating habits, their bodies, etc. and I see how that can cause pain and anguish that can damage a person for a lifetime. It becomes the toxin that poisons a person’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth.
While I feel fortunate to have been blessed with a mother who never associated my self-worth with my weight or made me feel like less of a person because I weighed more, part of me wonders whether I would weigh less today if my mother had made comments about my body or sang the praises of weight loss back when I was a teen. Obviously, I don’t have an answer for that. But consider this — if I was healthier physically, but less healthy emotionally, would there be any gain?
The bottom line is, that in retrospect, I am glad that my mother didn’t try to take me with her to Weight Watchers, though I wouldn’t have minded being able to brag that I got weighed in with Oprah. I wasn’t all that overweight as a teen, but the genetic writing was definitely on the wall, and I am sure that my mother saw it. I would have felt that there was something “wrong” with me that needed to be fixed, and that would not have led to anywhere positive. I would have seen it as implied disapproval of how I looked, and it definitely would have compromised my self-esteem and my self-image. And at the end of the day, it may not have had any impact at all on my weight.
I would be lying if I said that I was happy with my current weight, but I deeply appreciate that I have the ability to accept myself as I am. I know that this is a blessing, and I know that I have my mother in part to thank for that. While she is no longer in this world, her gift of fostering positivity without criticism or judgement still has a profound effect on my life. I hope that when my own kids look back at some point down the line, they will know that I love them inside and out, and they will feel as accepted, validated and valued by their mother as I did by mine.