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All In The Family

(Aunt, Me, Mother, Brother, Father, Grandmother, Grandfather at my brother's Bar Mitzvah 1965)

“Women are trying to change the shape of their lives by changing the shape of their bodies”, wrote Susie Orbach, author of the seminal book "Fat Is A Feminist Issue".


I come from a line of working women. My grandmother was the Executive Secretary to the head honcho at Paramount Pictures in New York City in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. She took three months off to have my mother and returned to work – nearly unheard of in those days. My grandmother – until she died at 95 – was always impeccably dressed, watched her weight and jumped rope double dutch (with two ropes going at once) in spike heels when I was a kid. Not only was she concerned about her appearance (at every age), but was obsessed with my mother’s and my weight – particularly as she felt it was a reflection on her. She attributed her looks and charm to how she got ahead in a corporate world. Not to the fact that she was supremely qualified and smart. Managing the shape of her body, her blonde hair piled on top of her head and her perfect makeup was her way of making it in a man’s domain. Sexy Sadie is what everyone called her.

As Sadie aged, she continued to be consumed with looks and continued to be flirtatious. She felt that by being seductive, looking feminine and watching what she ate, she would continue to attract men – and she did. She even returned to her old job in Florida as an Executive Secretary to a law group in her early 80s, but the new technologies eluded her. However, as she got into her mid 80s, she was having trouble living alone and moved to New York from Miami to live with my parents. She was unhappy with being in New York and was restricted in what she could do – other than when she went out with my parents. She became increasingly focused on her weight, her clothes and her overall appearance as an attempt to control a very different life from the one she had always lived as an independent woman. She increasingly focused on my mother’s and my weight, talking to me about my mother’s weight and to my mother about mine. She repeatedly said that she had lived too long. She talked about what a wonderful life she had: traveled, knew her great-grandchildren and enough was enough. When she broke her hip, there was no choice other than to go into a nursing home. That was the final straw. The day after her 95th birthday she stopped eating and passed away within 10 days. To the end, she controlled her body.

My next posting will be about my mother.

How have your ancestors communicated their feelings about their bodies as a reflection of their lives? How has this affected how you feel about your body as you get older?

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