I was seething in anger yesterday when I read about Cheryl Tiegs' dig at Ashley Graham's Sports Illustrated cover. Though I think Tiegs ought to keep her mouth shut, I understand her point of view. And it has to do with my mother and her generation.
Note that I say "understand" and not "agree with".
My mom has been on a diet my entire life, and probably all of her adult life. I can't remember a time when she wasn't watching her weight. Her generation is the generation that poured money into SlimFast shakes and Dexatrim. I even remember my parents doing a short stint of HerbaLife because my aunt sold the supplements. My mom constantly talks about weight (hers and other people's). In every email and letter, every phone call I've ever received from her, she always brings up weight. It affected my mental health and it affected my sister even more. My sister's weight skyrocketed and she became morbidly obese, though there wasn't any family history of obesity. She underwent gastric bypass in 2004, but she's not a success story. Though the operation helped her lose a considerable amount of weight (100 lbs during that first year), she didn't and still doesn't practice good nutrition and makes poor choices involving food and alcohol. None of us in the family have ever said as much, but my mom's constant nagging and negativity towards food was the catalyst to my sister's health issues.
In my own case, I was never overweight but my mom made me feel as large as a house. She has a way of getting in my head and pushing all the right buttons, all the self-worth and confidence ones. It's a power play on her part. I remember one Christmas going to visit my folks in San Francisco; I took the Marin Airporter and my mom picked me up at the bus stop. A look of horror spread across her face as I stepped off the bus. "What happened to you?", she gasped. "You are SO FAT". The bus driver almost dropped my suitcase that he'd been hauling out for me and looked at her wide-eyed. "I cannot BELIEVE you let yourself go like that. What is the matter with you? We have FAMILY coming tomorrow! I am SO EMBARRASSED". She went on and on, in the car on the way to the house, for the rest of that week, in front of family and friends. She wouldn't shut up about how "grossly overweight" I was. I kept my mouth shut tightly and tried not to let it bother me, but she was relentless. She would come into my room as I was falling asleep to sit on the edge of my bed and lecture me, giving me "guidance" as she calls it, about how I absolutely must lose weight immediately. I was a nervous wreck by the end of that week and burst out crying on the airplane as it was taking off out of SFO. I am 5'4", and when I got off the bus that night? I was a size 8.
Another time when I flew back home for a cousin's baby shower, mom told me she was too embarrassed to stand anywhere near me because of how fat I was. "Fat people shouldn't wear beige", she informed me matter-of-factly, as I emerged from my room wearing khakis and a fucking twinset (I used to keep a whole separate wardrobe of ridiculously conservative clothing solely to wear around my mom. Not that I have questionable taste in fashion, but as she doesn't approve of anything I wear to begin with, no need to give her a heart attack by donning my black leather Chucks). At the baby shower, an extended family member whom I hadn't seen in a few decades was gushing about me to my mom, who promptly shut her up with a "Caroline makes bad life choices. She's so immature. I told her not to wear beige, look at how much fatter she looks in beige!".
When I turned 40, I took some holistic nutrition classes. That's around the time when I decided I couldn't let the shitty comments get to me anymore. Though I go through serious bouts of exercise (I do love all of Tony Horton's P90X series), I'm not always in top shape, but I'm okay with that. I don't eat fast food. I do indulge in occasional bits of chocolate - anyone familiar with the Marou brand made in Vietnam will know what I'm talking about. I drink alcohol; perhaps not every night but hey, I drink. But I also eat an enormous variety of fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, and shellfish. Interestingly, since moving to SE Asia, I've actually put on a little weight even though I walk everywhere. But I don't feel unhealthy. Tony Horton himself explains that we shouldn't be slaves to the number on the scale; after all, muscle weights much more than fat. I've tried explaining this to my mom, but she's so set in her ways that it falls on deaf ears. "But how much do you weigh?". she asked after I told her muscle weighs more than fat. I told her it was none of her business. Surprisingly, she took it well.
Cheryl Tiegs has the same mentality as my mom. She was at the height of her popularity in the late 70s/early 80s, when women thought it was okay to skip a meal or two in order to get into a dress the next day. Thin was in. She still has that mindset. If I showed my mom the SI cover, I bet you she would say the same thing that Tiegs did. I"m not trying to excuse her, just trying to crack open her brain and peer in to understand. People like Tiegs and my mom won't change; they just won't get it. There's a woman I absolutely admire named Jessamyn Stanley. She is a yoga instructor who has a cult following on Instagram (@mynameisjessamyn - you can also find out more about her here: http://jessamynstanley.com/). She's strong, she's beautiful, and she's by no means thin as a rail. And she's okay with it. She moves easily into the most difficult of yoga poses. She has a self-confidence that many more women need, including myself. And i'm positive that my mom would think up some horrible remarks about her.
Tiegs made a follow up comment on Twitter yesterday, but later deleted it and issued the following:
Is it half-assed? No, because it's not an apology or retraction for what she actually said. She, like my mom, won't change her mind about what she thinks is right, that women should look thin, and that is that. And I feel sorry for her.
There's no great big secret here: the key to health and well-being is diet and exercise. And by "diet", I don't mean the negative connotation that we often associate the word with; I mean good nutrition. I've never had better skin than I do now in my 40s. Could I use more muscle tone in my upper arms? Sure. Would I like to get back into some of my size 6 clothes that I brought with me when I moved here, now that i'm a size 8 (and sometimes 10)? Absolutely. But i'm not going to kill myself over it, and nobody else should either.