by REBECCA SPARROW
My timing could be better.
We’re just weeks away from Mother’s Day and here I am writing a post that essentially criticises my mum. Let me tell you, it makes for uncomfortable writing. And it’s entirely Kate Winslet’s fault. More on that in a moment.
You see, I have always seen my mum as amazing. I have looked to her as the benchmark of how to be a mother who is loving but not cloying, who nurtures but doesn’t stifle. She raised me to be strong and independent, to laugh often, to work hard but to keep things in perspective. Mum encouraged me to cherish my girlfriends, to show compassion, to earn my own money, to always find time – regardless of kids or work – to do something that is my own.
So let’s just make it clear that my mum would beat Carol Brady, Mrs Partridge, Clare Huxtable and yes, even Julie Rafter if there was ever some boxing match involving my mum and, you know, fictional mums from TV. Which there’s not. Obviously. But if there was – ‘You going down, ladeeeeeeeez. Word.” Or something. Anyhoo …
Soooooo writing this post is a just a leetle difficult.
Because last week I had a lightbulb moment thanks to, well, Kate Winslet. Yes, Kate “I’m-flying-look-at-me-look-at-me-there’s-only-room-on-this-plank-in-the-sea-for-one-of-us-Jack” Winslet and I’ve realised that while I want to (and should) hope to emulate much of my mother’s parenting habits – there’s one thing I must do differently. And it’s the way I speak about my appearance. My body.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I grew up in a household where my mum routinely sledged her appearance in the mirror. But I didn’t. I can – hand on heart – tell you that I never once heard my mother complain about her figure. Never heard her bemoan her thighs or her arms, the size of her boobs or the shape of her hips. She may have thought it in her head – I’m sure she did – but she just never verbalised it. Certainly never in front of me. Consequently despite the fact that I am an entirely different size and shape to my mother (I look like I ate my mother, frankly) I rarely utter a negative word about my appearance in front of Ava or Brad. Do I think it? HELL TO THE YES. It’s like my head features a soundtrack narrated by Anna Wintour. But I don’t say any of it out loud.
And for year YEARS I have thought this was enough. More than enough. Just last week I was congratulating myself on my awesome body image parenting while simultaneously stuffing several of Ava’s Easter eggs into my cake-hole.
But last week Kate Winslet made me realise it’s not enough.
Last week on Facebook I stumbled upon this quote from the actress about what she says to her 12-year-old daughter Mia:
“As a child, I never heard one woman say to me ‘I love my body’. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend.”
“No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body’.
“So I make sure to say it to Mia because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.”
I heard my mother say many things while I was growing up. “Am I the only person here who knows how to unpack the dishwasher?” being one of her personal favourites. But I have never ever heard my mother say that she loves her body. Or that she’s proud of it. Or grateful to it. Not once.
And I think that’s a tragedy.
When I mentioned this to one friend she said, “Hello? As if you’re going to say ‘I love my body!’ in conversation with your child.”
She has a point.
And then I thought about it some more and thought, ‘Hang on, no she doesn’t.”
Why can’t we bring ourselves to say, “I love how strong my legs are” or “My body is awesome because it grew a baby!” or “How brilliant are our bodies that we can run and skip and jump and climb hills and ride bikes.” (Okay, I don’t say that last one because I’m not a member of the Famous Five and I only run if a serial killer is chasing me with a meat cleaver but still …)
Why can we brag – even in a jokey way – about how good we are at other things (I’m the Queen of Trivial Pursuit, I’m an awesome driver, I make the world’s best shepherd’s pie, Nobody writes a better business plan than me…) but we can’t ever say something positive about our bodies?
Because we’ll look up ourselves?
Because it feels uncomfortable?
Or because so many of us loathe what we see in the mirror?
I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it’s all of the above. But I do know that I want Ava to grow up appreciating what her body does for her. That despite the disgracefully neglectful way we often treat our bodies that we should feel gratitude for the fact it keeps going. We should be in awe of what it does for us often under the toughest of circumstances (and, really, despite some of the hideous clothes we made it wear in the 80s. Culottes and shoulder pads, anyone?). I want her to be proud of how she looks. To look at her body with affection rather than disdain.
So Mum, you have been the greatest of mothers to my brother and me. Without question. But when it comes to body image, I’ll be taking a leaf out of Kate Winslet’s book. And I know – because of the woman you are – you’ll be just fine with that.
Did your mother encourage a positive body image when you were growing up? If you have children do you encourage this?