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> Back to Self-Care Excerpts List

Self-Care Excerpt from Don't Weight

The Compliment That Hurts

My mother wore the same suit to every one of her class reunions. I don't mean the same style suit. I mean the same suit. I remember that she always looked so pretty when she got dressed and went to the party. She was very proud to fit into the same suit every five years for each reunion. She did not stay the same size between reunions though. In real life, she fluctuated between a size twelve and a size twenty. Months before each reunion she would "buckle down", lose "the weight" until she "looked good", and fit into her black suit again. She was proud of her accomplishment. After all, so many of the "girls" really "let themselves go" over the years.

My mother had four daughters. We heard her friend's reactions to her many weight loss "successes". "Oh, Jeannie, you look wonderful!" "You look much better now." "You were really starting to look awful there for a while." As young girls listening to these conversations of the women around us, we learned these hurtful lessons that caused problems for all of us later in life: When someone loses weight, that is always a good thing. Thinner people look better. Anyone can, with enough willpower, lose weight anytime they want to. These were hurtful lessons. And these lessons were untrue.

Two of Jeannie's daughters were short and chubby. We learned that our bodies were unacceptable when we heard the grown-ups talk. Two other daughters were tall and lean. They also learned to criticize and measure their bodies. We were all in training for a lifetime of body loathing. Our teachers were the adult women in our lives. They did not mean to hurt us. These women were just doing what they were taught. Still, listening to these hurtful compliments wounded each of Jeannie's daughters.

Mom was wounded too. Every compliment about her brief thinness was also a criticism of her usual plumpness. Every compliment would come back to haunt her when her weight returned, as it always did.

No, I am wrong. Eventually, my mother did lose weight and keep it off. She did finally get off the diet and weight gain merry-go-round. When she was fifty-two years old, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. As the cancer ravaged her body she got thinner and thinner. One day, when I was visiting during her illness, we went to the corner shopping center. We ran into one of mom's old friends. I remember her friend saying, "Jeannie, you look great. You are so nice and thin!" A few weeks later, we all went to my sister's opera performance. Mom wore a beautiful gray slinky dress. I remember her saying, "One nice thing about having cancer is that I don't have to worry about my weight. I finally look good in these fitted clothes." A few months later she looked good in her casket too. All her friends said so.

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