All In The Family Part 2: My Mother
Mother, Grandmother, Daughter, Me, Father
My daughter's Bat Mitzvah, May 1993
My first blog about my Grandmother escaped before I had a chance to explain why I started my site (www.LeslieMFaerstein.com). My blog is a direct response to the lack of information on women's relationship to their bodies as they age. Products labeled "anti-aging" and such are the result of the world wanting us to buy into a non-reality of quick fixes. My goal is to reveal how to accept our bodies and ourselves as we age. We are valuable - not invisible. We possess wisdom and power that is applicable to whatever path we choose NOW.
If you missed Part 1: Grandmother it's on my site (www.LeslieMFaerstein.com).
“Women are trying to change the shape of their lives by changing the shape of their bodies”, Susie Orbach, author of the seminal book Fat Is A Feminist Issue. My family was no exception.
My mother always suffered in her body. My grandparents and extended family called her “Bubbles” as a child and a teenager. She went to elocution lessons and learned her manners. She dropped out of college at the age of 18 after two years, to marry my father and then returned to college at the age of 24; I was 4 and my brother 2. She received her B.A., then her M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University, all while working and teaching at Columbia and raising two children. She received her doctoral diploma when I was 17. During her life, though, her biggest obsession was her weight: dieting and feeling like a failure, which was only compounded by my grandmother’s constant comments about her own shame at my mother’s yo-yo weight. When my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 small cell lung cancer (smoking since she was 16 as a diet aid along with the readily available amphetamines in the 1950s and 1960s), she announced that now that she was dying she was going to finally eat everything she wanted without worrying about it. How tragic that only at the end of her life (she was 69) could she make that pronouncement.
Mom never really owned her accomplishments, talking instead about how distressed she was about her weight and how no diet seemed to work. She wouldn’t use her title of “Dr.” because my father didn’t have one (although he did in later years) and she didn’t want to “one up” him; she wouldn’t even put it on credit cards. She taught me about always dressing professionally. As the rare woman on faculty at the University, she felt that how she presented herself physically was critical. She was so concerned about this that she kept a calendar and wrote what she wore every day so that she wouldn’t repeat outfits in her classes over the semester. She was unhappy in so many aspects of her life that trying to be slim, to change her body size, was clearly about trying to change the reality of her personal life and it kept her from acknowledging and accepting the incredible challenges she had overcome not only in her own academic accomplishments, but as one of the most beloved professors in her field.
My next posting: Me
How did your mother communicate her feelings about her body, weight and accomplishments to you? Have you found yourself feeling differently about your body as you’ve gotten older?