This is highly personal and all words are meant with love.
My mother was a critic of my body from a very young age. When I was a pre-teen, she bought me a bikini I insisted on getting for a trip to Biloxi. It was a string bikini and designed for young girls, but my mother thought it revealed too much of my undeveloped chest, so she sewed the front two triangles together so that it was one piece that ended at my neck. She also gave me pamphlets printed in the 1950s (this was in the late 1970s) about modesty, likely distributed to her through her church.
Later, when I was a teenager, I took some of my allowance and bought a piece of tasteful lingerie at a high end department store. I wore it once to sleep in and the next day when I came home from school I found it cut in rags.
Moving forward to my early adulthood, when I started gaining weight, the criticism was more pointed at my belly and my arms. Mom always reminded me to pull my shirt down to cover my large stomach. If I wore a top that had capped sleeves or no sleeves she would make her disapproval clear.
I clearly recall one day that really hurt me when she made comments that my arms looked like over-stuffed sausages, when I was wearing a new t-shirt I loved. Yes, she actually said that. She herself would never wear a sleeveless top because she was self-conscious about her upper arms. The loose skin and fat made her uncomfortable. It is only now, after her death, that I realize she was projecting onto me her own body-issues. Maybe, she thought shaming me would make me change my dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle. It didn’t, but since her death, I made the commitment to myself to focus on my health and wellness, thank God.
When I decided to take up swimming for exercise, I worried how I was going to be able to go in public with my perceived flaws. I froze up trying on bathing suits, not worried about my thighs, hips, stomach, but about my upper arms. That negative comment, spoken in some twisted way of trying to motivate me, haunted me. I considered wearing a t-shirt over my bathing suit, but because I was going to be swimming for exercise, I didn’t want to be encumbered by clothing over a suit.
I found a great athletic swimsuit that I love and a pair of light gym shorts that match well with the suit (for my own personal comfort). I mentally prepared myself to be in public in my swim suit. I wanted to swim with the purpose of gaining strength and overall toning and to strengthen my heart. The first time wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and the joy of being in a pool again soothed away all of my anxiety.
It has now been a couple of months that I have been swimming. This spring I have also done something that I had never done in my adult life: wear sleeveless tops in public. I have tank tops, camis, and sleeveless dresses that I wear regularly now and it fills me with pride. It’s enthralling to me. One day it will be less so; it will be ordinary. For now it is liberation and another step into my own self-actualization.
My hurt was so deep, and my grief over the loss of my mother has been too. Not a day goes by without me thinking of my loving and wonderful mother, who wasn’t perfect but very near so. I am in a strange way free from her *well-meaning* but antagonizing body-criticisms that shamed me for so long. I don’t say this with any spite. Just a bit of sadness because we could have had a constructive conversation about this before her death.
I believe in the spirit world, and I mean no harm in relating this story. I hope my mother sees how empowering it is for me to dress the way I want to and be confident in my body. I hope my mother sees that this is not an escape from her rules for me, but a healthy release from something that caused me great pain and unnecessary shame for so long.
My arms are flappy. My arms are fat. But I have more muscle mass than I ever had in my whole adult life. My journey is not just about losing fat to look good. I look beautiful now. My heart is in this game for life, for health and wellness: mind, body and spirit.