“Oh, now you have a pooch in the back AND in the front,” laughed my mother, as we stood on her front lawn chatting with my younger sister, my 6-year-old daughter, and my 12-year-old niece.
She looked me up and down appraisingly, from black yoga pants to teal hoodie.
She said it again, just in case I hadn’t heard it the first time. “Oh, now you have a pooch in the back AND in the front.”
Her barb reminded me of some of Donald Trump’s recent comments that have been in the news, such as, “She has a fat ass.” They emphasize the chasm between how men and women are viewed and treated.
You haven’t heard Hillary Clinton comment about Trump’s lamentable combover, have you?
My mother has commented on my looks hundreds of times since I was a child, and I thought it would stop when I grew up. It hasn’t. I get praise when I meet her definition of what’s attractive and criticism when I don’t.
Recently she came across a picture of me taken in my early 20s and showed it to me. “You were so hot!” she said.
Nothing effectively curbs her commentary, but I tried a different tack anyway: “You know what they’d call that at Lily’s elementary school? They’d say that was unkind.”
And then I took my daughter and we drove away. I started writing her a mental note in the car.
It stops here. I mean that in the most respectful way. There’s no disputing that you’ve earned the right to speak your mind at 74. And there can even be something cute about grannies who act like rebellious teenagers. You’ve worked hard and raised four children. You had a husband who abused you. You’ve earned the right to lead the life you want.
But that life can’t include cutting down the women in your own family.
If you had lobbed your hatred of my weight at me during a time when my daughter wasn’t there, it would have had a different impact. But here’s something for you to think about. Is this really what you want the next generation of our family’s women to learn? That it’s okay to cut down a female family member based on her appearance? Is this what you want to perpetuate?
Is this how you want to be remembered?
We can analyze your behavior all we want. Maybe you never liked how you looked. Maybe you compared yourself unfavorably to your sisters growing up. You always described yourself as “the homely one,” and I’m sorry you felt that way about yourself. Maybe your comments to me are a projection of your hatred of your own body.
I've learned that I am more than how I look. It took a long time, but I feel good about myself. I accept myself. I have something to offer the world, and it can’t be captured by the numbers on the bathroom scale or the tags on my clothing.
I’m not perfect. Occasionally, I’ll resort to behaving the way my mother does. That night, my daughter and I talked a little about the incident. “Miss Piggy!” she laughed as she curled up with me. A bossy coworker had been on my nerves at a job, and at home, I vented my ire by calling her Miss Piggy within my daughter’s hearing.
“Mom has to work on being kind about her coworker,” I told her, as she lay her head on my comfy stomach. “We have to help grandma be more kind. Life is about your heart and your soul, and your compassion, not about how you look.”
“And Donald Trump should be more kind!” finished my daughter, who had picked up on the presidential buzz from the radio and the TV and from her parents’ discussions at dinner.
“Yes, Donald Trump should be kinder, too.”
The message was somewhat lost on my husband, who hovered nearby as my daughter and I spoke. He played Rod Stewart’s “You’re in My Heart” on his iPhone and started to dance around, unable to handle the gravity of the situation. (His looks don’t come under the same scrutiny from his mother, although she's often told me I should attend Weight Watchers.)
As women, we have enough men like Trump attacking us for how we look. Doing it to each other as females – and female family members – is not only hurtful. It sets a bad example for the next generation.
I’m not proud of creating an unflattering nickname for my coworker. But I am proud that I became aware of my behavior, took responsibility for it, and took steps to change it. So now it’s time to ask my mother – and every body-shaming grandma out there – to do the same.
Do you have a mom who criticizes your looks in front of your children? How have you handled it?