This is a guest post. Liz wrote to me, saying she had a story to share. And then she wrote this in 30 minutes. Some things just need to be said:
I look like my maternal grandmother. Not just a little, but eerily similar. It becomes more pronounced the older I get. By default, I look like my mother. Both of those beautiful women were Sicilian. Dark hair, dark eyes, arresting facial features, soft olive skin, and… big asses. Tiny waists, and massive booty. When I was a teenager, my grandmother would turn to me and said, “Elizabeth, you thank GOD on your knees every day that you got your daddy’s ass.” And she meant it. My mother did not like pictures to be taken of her; her initial insecurity went over the top when, due to a life saving surgery, half of her face was paralyzed when I was 1 year old. We have very few pictures of her after that.
Both my mom and my mawmaw were vocal about their “ugliness.” I grew up, a witness to their self-lacerating, self-hating, shame filled lives. When their bodies were mentioned at all, it was to discuss the latest diet, or shove guilt around in proper measure. They never told me I was ugly. They never told me I was too fat, or too thin. They never used negative language in my direction. But, they didn’t have to – when used on themselves, a smart little girl is going to put two and two together. “I look like Mommy. I look like MawMaw. They are not pretty. They are too ‘different.’ Wait. That mean’s I’M not pretty… I don’t fit the mold. I’m not as good as other people.”
I internalized the self-hatred to such a degree that I accepted the fact that I had to be a nun because no man would find me attractive. I was only 12 when I arrived that this obvious conclusion. Only, slowly, very slowly, I started to think differently. I traveled overseas – and got attention from men. My circle of friends and acquaintances grew wider and wider, and I started to vocalize my beliefs, which led to the realization that they were completely UNFOUNDED and IDIOTIC. I started to like things about me – my long legs, my eyes, my nose, my cheekbones, how I carried myself…
Then, my mother died when I was 20. Shortly after that, MawMaw passed as well. I was faced with debilitating grief, but also, a gift.
I looked back at the lives of these two women, the wombs I came from, and I made a choice: the buck stops here. I will believe in my self-worth, I will recognize my beauty, I will accept my body, I will accept compliments (a biggie for me!). I felt an obligation to myself and future generations to heal this wound. If I could see the beauty in them, I could certainly see it in myself!
A few days before my wedding, my aunt pulled me aside and told me a story. Years ago, before my mom’s first big surgery, my father was sitting with my aunt, talking. My father turned to his sister-in-law and said “I think your sister is the most beautiful woman in the world, but nothing I can say will ever convince her of that.” He was with her until she breathed her last, 34 years later. The sadness of that washed over me like a wave as I dissolved into tears. My aunt concluded, “Liz, DON’T CONTINUE THE CYCLE.”
I see these two women in me. I see them in my eyes, in my face, in my teeth, in the way I sit, in the shape of my breasts, in the texture of my hair. I’m still working on just saying “Thank you” and making myself believe in a compliment from my husband. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of them when I glance in the mirror or see myself in a window as I walk down the street. It pains me that if I have a daughter, she will not know them. But, she will know the battle waged in the hearts and minds of so many women – and she will know that we have the strength to overcome. Past generations of women are our teachers. They can be a how-to manual, or an example of warning; regardless, they are gifts to us. And for that, I say a prayer of thankfulness every day (with an aside for my ass).
(Me enjoying some kind of pastry thing in Naples, Italy.)
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Unroast: Today I love my legs while wearing a mini jean skirt, and how it hugs my hips.
Liz’s bio: I’m a Marine brat who tried to find myself by way of Austria,
Slovakia, and Russia. While getting my masters in a po-dunk town in
Ohio, a random French man wandered into my house. We married a few
months later and moved to France. I currently live in Lyon, filling
my time with my teaching job and learning French.