Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Mother's Body, My Body and My Daughter's Body

A while ago, I wanted to write a book called, My Grandmother's Corset, My Mother's Barbie, My Plastic Surgeon and Me. I liked the title, not so catchy but a clear indicator of the content and romantic enough to (hopefully) catch people's attention. I wanted to write about women's body image across generations, and more precisely the importance of the waist in body image ideals.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I’ve just finished reading Susie Orbach’s Bodies (Profile Books, London, 2009), - hey, that’s a 2009 book that I’m reading in 2009, how up to date am I! - It’s well written, easy to read, engaging and accessible. One thing that really struck a cord with me, Orbach talks a lot about the influence that parents have on children (and the adults that they become), and it has revived my interest in those cross-generational aspects, the legacy - my original book idea was to look at the legacy of the corset - of my grandmother's body to my mothers, my mother's body to my body, and my body to my daughter's body. Well, yes, it's obvious that parents influence your children you might say, everyone knows that, but she’s talking about the influence of parents on their childrens' bodies. No, not just the way they dress, hold themselves, present themselves, not even just in terms of how thin or fat they are. Their ACTUAL bodies, how their bodies grow, and I find that a frightening thought; that my actions now, my sufficient or insufficient parenting will influence my daughter’s body for the rest of her life.

Looking at things analytically, I know that there are things in my life that are reflective of my mother’s influence on me. My inability to go on a diet – yes, very funny – to stick to a diet, the fact that I’m generally so comfortable in my body that I don’t have the motivation to diet. My mother dieted when I was younger, and she still does, I remember her going to Weightwatchers meetings on a regular basis for a while, and I always remember her coming home one evening and reporting the leader’s comment to one particular women who was whinging and making excuses for her failure to lose that week “You’re here because you’re fat, and you’re fat because you eat too much”, it’s funny what you remember. But that didn’t result in me always wanting to go on diets, in me being insecure about my weight in general. I guess, from a purely practical point of view, I had a healthy diet, at least while that diet was under the control of my parents – largely but not exclusively my mother. And as a result I had a healthy body, I was active, I was social, I didn’t have trouble fitting in, so I had no reason to dislike my body. My parents were important in the creation of that body.

So back to now, is there any sure way to ensure that you pass on to your children your good habits and not your bad ones? To make sure that they grow up to be confident and happy with their bodies? Whether I make my daughter finish all the food on her plate or not, will it really make any difference in the long run? There are things I would like for my daughter that don’t come naturally to me, I never wear makeup, glamorous is not second nature to me, I can’t for the life of me walk in high heels. I wish a was a bit more everyday glam, a bit more naturally elegant. I wish that I cared a bit more about the way I present myself. I dislike people who look great but don’t look like they’ve had to make too much effort to get there, but I still want to be them.

Maybe I'll still write the book one day. It's on the ever growing list. Now I have my own daughter though, I may have to change the title to include her too, which would probably make it too unwieldy, and knock it down from the bestseller list...

Questions Raised

  • How do I instil a sense of beauty and natural elegance into my child when I don’t have it myself, or rather how do I make my child what I am not and should I?
  • If I like my body, does that mean my daughter will like hers?
To Do
  • I have my second batch of interviews to arrange for next week, the questions will remain largely the same but with an emphasis on collecting more of a body history and background which it is hoped will help to develop the data collected.
  • To begin with I am going to attempt to write my own body history - which will follow in the next post.
  • For writing practice I am writing up a book review of Orbach's Bodies - I'll post that here too.

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