My mom says I have a habit of reminding her of her parenting failures. The conversation often starts with a “Mom, remember when…” and ends with something she did that in hindsight she perceives as not good parenting. Like, remember when I was six and I asked you if Santa was real and you said no? Or, remember when you used to wake us up to the song Rise and Shine, but instead of ending it with “Children of the Lord” you ended it with “Children of the Corn”? Remember when I was eight and you read us The Giver and the father killed that baby in it and said “Bye bye little guy!” as he put him in the garbage chute? My mom hears these stories and thinks of her failures, but I don’t see them that way at all. I keep telling the stories because I think they’re funny, they make my childhood colorful, and they’re part of what makes me who I am today. The Santa story taught me that I don’t need a fantastical, magical figure to enjoy Christmas and it made me appreciate what my parents went through to get gifts for me. I still sing the “Children of the Corn” song and chuckle, but when I was little I didn’t get the reference, I just thought that was how the song ended. It’s one of those quirky family traditions. And although The Giver was a little intense, having my mom read to me and my brother as children fostered my love of reading both fiction and nonfiction.
None of these stories hurt me, none of them haunt me or make me feel like I had a bad childhood. All things considered, I had a pretty great childhood. I was fed, I was clothed, I was loved and I was happy. But every parent knows (even the really good ones) that they fuck their kids up in some way, despite the best of intentions. And I remember those moments too, those moments when the adults around me inadvertently cemented in me this idea that my worth is connected to my body. Since I’ve been fat since I was child, I have had plenty of adults in my life tell me in different ways that my body is too much. I was not often offered any fixes– I’ve heard lots of stories of women who were put on diets when they were children, and my parents never did that to me. I don’t really remember them helping me with my weight at all. It was made pretty clear to me that it was my problem.
Mom, remember when you confronted me about my weight in the 5th grade and asked me (in regards to being a fat adult), “Do you want to grow up to be disabled?” Dad, do you remember when I was 15 and you dragged me onto a scale and berated me for my weight, and then promised me a cell phone if I lost weight? I remember those moments clearly, as if they just happened. And those are just two examples of how my family has over the years told me over and over that I am too big, I take up to much space. Your body is not right, you need to fix it, Ndeya! Be better! Be less! Those ideas stick with me even today.
I want to be clear, I am at the point in my life where I can no longer blame my parents for everything in my life– they did the best they could, and it’s up to me to find my own way in the world and heal my own wounds. I’m not trying to hold my parents responsible for how I relate to my body anymore,because all of this is old news, really. But I still remember, and when I think about these moments I still feel shame and guilt about not being a better daughter, not looking the part. And the truth is even as my parents have stopped commenting on their bodies, I’ve taken up that torch for them. I no longer need my father to berate me when I’m on the scale, I do that just fine on my own. I don’t need my mom to compare my fat body to a disabled body because I already conceive my body as such. My body is “broken”. It’s not good enough. It’s too fat. And instead of promising myself a cell phone if I lose weight, I promise myself love. I will love myself WHEN I’ve lost all the weight.