Ten years ago today, my mother died.
It turns out the time after a parent dies takes on the same pace as the time from when a child is born. That is, as a parent, I am always saying, “how did my daughter get to be 11 already?” or “how did my kid get to be 16 already?” And now I’m thinking: How is it possible that I’ve lived for ten years without my mother? How is it possible that it has been THAT long?
When my mother died, I was 35 years old and I resolved to stop hating my body. I resolved to stop dieting and tracking every food I put into my mouth, as she did more often than not. I resolved to stop wasting time worrying about my body and instead I resolved to live my life. I did not keep any of these resolutions for long. Just as it had during my mother’s life, Diet Culture stepped in hard on those plans and forced me back into body hatred, back into the incessant tracking, back into being so obsessed about my body that life went on without me – because I was somewhere, always in the back, counting calories or macros or fat grams.
A couple of years ago, my obsession with thinness and my old belief that thinness is synonymous with health became intolerable. In the pursuit of thinness and “health,” I had become mentally ill, mired in disordered eating and I could eventually no longer keep going down that road. And so, gratefully, I tell you that I have found a certain freedom from all of that bullshit; a freedom that, to my knowledge, my mother was never able to find. And on this tenth anniversary of her death, I am ready to reestablish my commitment to self acceptance and body liberation.
In our culture, all people are herded as soon as possible after birth, into the prison of Diet Culture (which is now sneakily masquerading as “Health Culture”). There are at least two tiers to this prison and the lower, more punishing, tier is reserved for those of us who identify as female. This is the place my mother lived in all of her life. It is the place I have lived in for most of my life. This is not the place I want my daughters to live.
In this prison of Diet Culture, my mother and I learned that the only thing that makes a woman valuable, worthy of love, or acceptable in this world is how much her physical appearance complies with contemporary ideals of beauty. We learned that my mother’s body was unacceptable and disgusting. We learned that my body was unacceptable and disgusting. And these lessons forced both of us into a lifelong pursuit of trying to make ourselves acceptable and lovable to the world.
But here are some of the things I’ve heard people say about my mother in the last 10 years:
“She was so kind.”
“She always had room in her home, in her life, at her table for another person in need.”
“She was always volunteering to help in the community.”
“She was always so good with kids.”
“She could always make me smile!”
“She loved children.”
“She was so creative.”
“Her gardens were so gorgeous. She had such a green thumb.”
“Oh my god! Her cooking! I loved her cooking!”
“Her beautiful smile! I miss her beautiful smile!”
“She loved being a part of the choir at church!”
“She was such a beautiful person.”
“She had such a beautiful soul.”
“She was so beautiful.”
People who knew my mother – family members, friends, and acquaintances alike – have said these things about her. Only ONE time, in TEN years, has any person expressed any sentiment about my mother’s weight and that was a family member that was extremely close to her who said, “Yep, she struggled with that a lot. It’s too bad that she struggled so much with that.”
It IS. It is really TOO BAD that she struggled so much with her weight and her body and the vast difference between what Diet Culture told her her body SHOULD be and what it actually was BECAUSE… her body was a gift given to her by the universe, the vessel through which she touched all these lives that remember her as “beautiful” and the lies that Diet Culture told her, it told her just to make a buck. Diet Culture isn’t even REAL! My mother’s life, my mother’s beautiful smile, my mother’s ability to grow thriving gorgeous plants from seed, my mother’s kindness to children and elders and everyone, my mother’s compassion, my mother’s cooking, my mother’s soul was REAL. And she wasted (we all waste every day) PRECIOUS TIME in the bullshit prison of Diet Culture worrying about how our bodies refuse to comply with invented (for profit) contemporary beauty ideals. And that is really TOO. BAD. It’s bad.
In the ten years since my mother’s death, I have realized that so much of who I have always been come from the lessons that she was always teaching me by example.Be kind. Have compassion. Help out. Help things grow. Do those things that make your heart sing. Keep your heart open. But I have also learned that really living in these lessons with all of my heart requires escaping the prison of Diet Culture, requires believing that these lessons and these attributes of human existence are far more important and worth paying attention to than whether my – or anyone else’s – bodies comply with contemporary beauty ideals. I have learned to value what is REAL in this life and to question and ultimately, defy, those things (like Diet Culture and its capitalist, ableist, racist, misogynist, fatphobic, transphobic beauty norms) that are not real.
After ten years, my mother is still REAL and here with me and with every person her life touched. I believe the impact she made on my life and everyone else’s will still be REAL even 1,000 years from now because that’s how the world really works – one person touching a life that touches a life that touches a life that touches a life and so on. And I WILL honor my mother and the life she gave me, by continuing on this journey of Body Liberation for myself and for every person that MY life touches.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.