I just finished cleaning my closet and I have a black sequin dress on the brain.
It sits on the top shelf of my closet. She only wore it once, and I’ve never worn it, but I can’t part with it. The black sequin dress is a full length, sleeveless sheath dress with thin straps. The dress is lovely, and it represents many things about the relationship between my mother and I and our collective body image issues.
My mom was 69 years old when she died from injuries sustained in a bizarre accident ( a gut-wrenching tale for another day). At the time of her death, she weighed about 118 pounds. Her weight ranged from 115 -135 at her heaviest when she was full term pregnant with each of her three children. Mom liked to share that she walked out the hospital in pants she wore before she was pregnant. She couldn’t understand how women of my generation would gain so much weight when they were pregnant.
At 5’7”, my height too, she had what appeared to be a healthy relationship with food. She believed that you could eat what you wanted in moderation. The key was self-control. In fact almost every night she had a tiny bowl of ice cream a small handful of peanuts and 3 pretzels. Oh, did I mention that she smoked? Every day since she was 15 years old. I think that may have had something to do with her fabulous metabolism.
Despite her enviable figure she never saw herself as pretty enough, thin enough or suitable to be wearing anything that was remotely revealing or sexy. That point of view seems contrary to photos of her as a young woman in the 1950s dressed beautifully, coifed and sporting matching red lips and nails. Time changes all of us but the insecurities that she had as a girl of 10 who learned, by chance, that the father she knew was not her biological father and the mystery around her father of origin was never fully revealed. The scars of not knowing were ones she refused to look at or explore – they were to be ignored and stuffed away and she focused on what she could control.
- Mom and Dad glam even at the beach
Speaking of control, both my mother and her mother were a little weight obsessed when it came to my sister and I. Being thin meant being disciplined. My grandmother, who was about 4 feet 10 inches, a former nurse with a quick intellect and sharp tongue liked to remark when my sister or I were “getting broad in the beam” . Her version of calling us fat asses. What was to be the last remark my mom made about my weight came about a year before she died. At the time I was pissed, but I can laugh today because she really was such a good person, awesome mom but a human being who could be a ball buster. I met her at the train station and I just cut my hair from the middle of my back to super short. I had been gaining weight steadily for the year previously and I was up to about 180 pounds. We were together for about an hour and I asked her why she hadn’t commented on my hair. She replied, “I was so distracted by how bloated your face looked I didn’t notice your hair!”. Well, that certainly explained it!
My weight has swung dramatically since I was in high school. Once after a car accident at the age of 17, I ended up with a broken femur, wicked concussion and 5 months of out high school recovering. My weight went down to about 102 pounds. I would weigh myself several times a day and eating or rather, not eating, was a game. But in our world we didn’t go to therapy to discuss, we ignored it and stuffed it away and focused on what we could control.
Recently I found a picture of my 21-year-old self, on my way out the door on a new year’s eve circa 1986 and my dress was knee length, black velvet with a corset front. I am in awe of the tiny waist I had. (not to mention how BIG my hair was). But more than that I am struck by two things. First, there is not one ounce of joy on my face. Probably because I hadn’t eaten a full meal in about 5 years. I think I was about 115 pounds at the time. The second striking thing is that at the time I was full of not’nough’s. Not thin enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough. All of that was self-imposed. I feel so sorry for that cranky, skinny girl.
I remember the night mom wore the black sequin dress to a formal affair with my dad. She looked beautiful, but she insisted on wearing a shawl to cover her arms. The woman had not an ounce of fat on her. I was so frustrated with her for not seeing how pretty she looked. But I wonder what she thought when she saw pictures of herself from that evening. Or from any earlier time like the pictures here. Did she look back and appreciate how lovely she looked at the time?
Or was she filled with not’noughs?