The Stuff My Mother Didn’t Say
I inherited a few things from my mother.
Her sweet tooth, her love of baking. Her good skin. Her very thick, abundant black her. When I was 17 I grew it out to a long, curly mane that almost touched my waist. She would run her fingers through it and lament; “Oh, I had this hair once...then I got pregnant with you and you took it from me!”
The other thing I inherited from my mother was her insecurity. And the older I got, the more I realised that my mother’s relationship with her own body affected my relationship with my own.
It’s important to remember that what women think and feel about their own bodies, starts when they are very small, from listening to and observing their mothers. According to Dr. Leslie Sim, Clinical Director of Mayo Clinic’s eating disorder’s program and child psychologist, if a mother gives her child positive praise but puts herself down in front of her child; it can be damaging to that child’s own self-esteem.
What you say matters and not just the things you say about yourself;
Commenting on other women’s bodies, celebrities’ before and after photos, “pre and post-baby bodies”, extensive talks about dieting and demonising food – all of these things contribute.
Clinical psychologist Stacey Rosenfeld suggests that focusing on what a body can do versus how they appear – a shift from the body as an object to the body as subject – is a better way to help daughters develop healthier self-esteem.
It’s always so refreshing when a mother affirms her daughter’s body and personal taste by allowing her to dress it comfortably, in beautiful things that make her feel good, whatever size or shape she is.
As a bra fitter, it always makes for an uncomfortable fitting, when any of my customers, starts putting herself down in front of a mirror and even more so, in the presence of a child or a daughter getting her own fitting.
I’m not a mother, but I was a child with a self-conscious mother and I can tell you for sure - the words stick. Even when my mother didn’t say a word; every despondent sigh in a change room mirror, every time she tried to avoid the camera, every time she caught a glance of her reflection and made a face. Any time we went clothes shopping and she’d buy nothing because “nothing worked for me”.
I saw all of it.
I was giving a fitting to a mother who was coming out of maternity bras. I tiptoed around the change room, careful to avoid stepping on the toys her tiny toddler was playing with on the floor.
I adjusted the straps on her shoulders and stood back.
“There,” I said, “What do you think?”
She sighed and made a face. “Well...” she replied and then she paused and took a deep breath.
“You know what,” she said quietly” ...I’m not going to say anything...I’m not going to say anything bad about myself...not in front of her” she said, looking down at her daughter.
I’ve heard girls lean out of change rooms to chastise their mums, “is she saying bad things about herself again?” They’ll ask, before shamelessly and firmly reminding their mums that they’re beautiful and they shouldn’t put themselves down.
We fret about social media, about photoshopped bodies that couldn’t possibly hold themselves up in reality, about teenage girls wanting plastic surgery and implants and to be skinnier. We’re surrounded by it and every once in a while we think; “I should totally delete my Instagram account...”
But it starts way before then. It starts with those tiny children, playing on the floor of your bedroom, watching you get dressed, watching you eat... listening to how you talk to yourself.