Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Our Bodies? Ourselves?

Seeing Eye Chick over at Apocalyptics Anonymous wrote an excellent, poignant post that got me thinking about how our culture judges people based on their appearance while teaching us how to think about ourselves in damaging ways.

I come from thick German stock on my dad's side. My mom's family were fair, teeny eastern European. All five of us kids got a weird mix of genes.

Great skin, cheekbones and hair from mom; body image issues from dad.

Don't get me wrong. I love my dad. But his unhealthy body issues definitely influenced all four of his daughters.

Here's why it haunts me to this day (and I speak only for myself and none of my sibs):

After my parents got divorced and we (mom, bro, me) moved away, part of the divorce decree was that I spend some time during the holidays and summers with my dad.

My very first visit I was ten. My brother and I took the train down to our old hometown and the very first thing dad said after not seeing me for months was: "Wow, you've gotten heavy."

I. was. ten.

I had never even considered my body really before then and frankly, have not been able to stop since.

One night, the last summer I spent there, dad made a bet with me while eating dinner.

He said: "I'll give you two bucks for every pound you lose in the next three months."

I took that bet and I have to say I am glad I did. But perhaps not for the reasons you may think.

Dad wanted a weigh in for the baseline.

I was thirteen. I weighed 109 pounds and was five-six.

109 pounds and my dad was calling me fat.

As summer passed I rode my bike (sometimes twelve miles at a time), swam, and just spent time outside. Dad literally counted every slice of cheese, every cracker, every bite of food I took and made me feel guilty for every. single. one.

Then came the end of summer.

And with that came the weigh in.

I weighed 107 pounds. I lost two whole pounds that summer (despite growing half an inch) and dad promptly paid me four bucks of cold, hard cash.

I am turning 38 next month and despite evidence to the contrary in this post, I don't blame my parents for any of my psychological issues.

Women feel pressure from everywhere to look a certain way. We are praised (or punished) for our looks and rewarded (or demeaned) for them. I know. I modeled for a while (and boy, that's about the worst business for trying to develop a healthy self-image as a girl).

I still have an unhealthy relationship with food and struggle with body image issues from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. It doesn't control me the way it used to, but I know that my dad's critical voice will always be there in my mind as an echo. Always.

I even get nervous before I see him. My own dad.

I can't help but think: Will he love me a little bit less if I am over-weight?

Would he love me more if I dropped ten pounds?

I forgave him a long time ago for his shortcomings as a father. He had a poor role model for his own dad for a while in his teenage years. I understand why he is how he is.

I don't want you to leave this post thinking my father is a monster, a jerk or a bad person. Nor do I want you to feel one moment of sorry for me.

His cynicism toward just about everything has driven my own ambition in ways I never thought possible. For that I am grateful.

Almost as much as for those moments when he told me I was beautiful. In the parking lot before my brother's wedding. While we danced at my niece's wedding six years ago. Three summers ago while we sat out on his deck.

This is one of the hardest blog posts I have ever written and I know it would hurt my dad terribly if he knew I had written about this online. For any family visiting, please don't ever tell him I wrote this. He knows how I feel. Believe me. He knows.

Hope you all are well.

I miss my daily interactions with you all and my temp job is nearing the end.

I'll post something more relevant ( and less depressing) soon.

I promise.

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