my grandmother’s booty

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.)

*   *   *

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.

21 Comments »

Kate on August 7th 2012 in guest post

21 Responses to “my grandmother’s booty”

  1. Melanie responded on 07 Aug 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    I want to give Liz a computer high five! It is really hard when you are around this not to internalize it. To this day my mom talks about how fat and gross she is. I keep saying, “Do something about it or be quiet. You’re beautiful. But if you don’t think so fix it, or shush!”

    I chose, like Liz did, to not go that route. It took a long time, and a lot of work, and there are still days where I feel hideous. But I do not feel hideous all of the time, and that’s something.

    So yay for Liz, and all women who choose to break the cycle!

  2. Janet Oberholtzer responded on 07 Aug 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    Yay Liz! Good for you… stopping a cycle like that is hard work, but so worth it.

    Live well and enjoy those French pastries!

  3. Claire responded on 07 Aug 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    Hi Liz, Very good post, very moving!

    Apart from the huge task of breaking a family negative circle, you are also adding a step to the world we all would like to live in, a place where our body will only be what we look like, not what we are!

    I have a spanish friend also living in Lyon for the love of a French guy and trying to make her way in French ;-) I may also join her in a few month, so if you want to meet new people there, let me know! :-)

    Good luck with everything!

  4. Emma responded on 07 Aug 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    This beautiful story came to me at a perfect time as I recently found out that my mom and sister, my role models, are having plastic surgery to change their body. A body, that very much resembles my own. It’s been hard to remind myself that I’m ok and my body is ok, and very much like Liz, I refuse to continue the negative cycle that has gone too far. Thanks for this Liz and Kate.

  5. sos responded on 07 Aug 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Lovely story. I am so glad, you broke the cycle!!

  6. contrary kiwi responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 2:13 am #

    Thank you so much for this very moving post. I nearly cried reading it. I don’t look anything like my mother or grandmothers, so if they had body snarked themselves it probably wouldn’t have transferred as much as yours anyway, so I hadn’t until I read that realised the magnitude of a mother hating her body and the impact it would have on her daughter. I am vocal about loving my body and don’t plan to have children, but this makes me want to redouble my efforts to get people to love their bodies.

  7. Aezy responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 6:52 am #

    This post makes me feel really lucky that no matter how unhappy my mother is with her body, she has tried her hardest not to pass it on to me and my sister. I always remember when I was growing up, her being happy when she lost weight more for the health benefits than her appearance and she never ever complained about how large she was.

    And she always has eaten cake if she wanted to.

    It makes me more determined to pass the positivity of being healthy and happy onto my kids if I have them.

  8. Blake responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 11:06 am #

    This is a beautiful article Liz. I can relate. Both my mom and my grandma are terribly insecure. A lot of young girls grow up watching their mother’s hate their thighs. It’s very destructive to be a witness to negative body-talk. Thank you for sharing your personal story so we can begin to change the game for our daughters.

  9. T.K. responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 11:43 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this Liz. I have a mother with a very unhealthy and neurotic fixation on beauty – I am talking getting lipo in the 1980′s in the freaking Soviet Union where they probably did it with a saw kind of neurotic. Needless to say, growing up with a woman like that you have almost no chance of not developing issues. When I was eight she told me not to worry cause we will fix my nose when I am older. For her, that came from a place of love – the best gift she can give her daughter. I used to be really angry at her for being so shallow and so crazy and so bitchy. The older I get the more I just feel sorry and sad for her.As for myself, it’s an uphill battle to break the pattern that emerged further back than you can even recall, but it is not an imposisble one, and it is one worth fighting for.

    And I am sure you’ve already seeen this but I can’t watch this enough times :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6wJl37N9C0

  10. Caroline responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    It sounded like a Southern revival while i was reading this, i kept saying YES and AMEN.

  11. Kristina responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    This piece moved me to tears. I go through a cycle of self-hatred: I hate my appearance, my husband loves my appearance and when he compliments me I don’t/won’t believe him; then I hate myself MORE because there must be something wrong with me if I can’t even take a compliment from my husband. I am quite sure I could end up in a psych ward, but for now Utah will have to do I suppose. Great point of view on the consequences of our self-hatred filtrating down to the next generations.

  12. San D responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    My mother never verbally expressed any feelings about her body. She was of the generation that did not share anything with her daughters, other than “stand up straight” and “get the hair out of your face”. She did, however, fancy herself the “lost” Gabor sister (think Zsa Zsa, and Eva and then my mother), and dressed accordingly. If you ever saw Green Acres you know what I mean. She was on the edge of sexualizing her everyday wear in that she always ironed her bras to a point, and made sure the “ladies” were perky until the end. And she girdled herself in, so nothing moved. No down time ever, no jeans, khakis, bermudas. If she “underdressed” you knew she wasn’t feeling well. Her lips were always red, her fingernails buffed, shiny and red, and her hair bleach blond and “up” like the Gabor’s. Got up before my father to put on her makeup and do her hair. What I learned is that all of that charade was wayyyyyyyyyyy to much work for me. No bras for me, wore odd clothing, let my hair be naturally curly in a big ball on top of my head, and wore sensible shoes. I laugh too loud, I jiggle too much, I think too much, my nails are a nightmare, and all of my men friends look me in the eye when we laugh, talk and eat way too much. I flunked the “ladylike scale”. But that said, I can step back and see that I have her traits. In my own way, everything “matches”, I look my damnest, and I command attention.

  13. Kande responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    I have never thought myself attractive. I cried when everyone told me how much my eldest daughter looks like me because I so didn’t want that for her … and yet I also never saw how anyone could think that as to me – she was ( and is) beautiful. My husband obviously thinks I am attractive and tells me so, but I never believed him. I’m not blind – I will never win a beauty contest and would be lucky if I didn’t always come in last!

    Then one Christmas, when my daughter was three, we took her to a dollarstore to pick out gifts for each other. She was to choose her gifts with meaning, so was to tell us the reason for each choice, which we would then write on a note. So much fun – the reasons ranged from logical to adorable to hilarious. And then I opened one and found a mirror. With the note attached ” So Mommy can always see how beautiful she is”

    And I teared up. So touched. So grateful. So ashamed. I had spent so many years telling myself I wasn’t beautiful I forgot that beauty is in the eye of the beholders, and I should listen to the beholders that mean the world to me.

    I can’t say that from then on I found myself to be beautiful … but I certainly gained a valuable lesson that day. I started trying to see what my kids and husband see when they look at me rather than a liteny of imperfection. I try to see how all my pieces, even those I dislike, make me into the whole that I am. I try to see myself as my daughter saw me that day – as Mom – HER Mom … which was reason enough to find me beautiful.

    And when I look in the mirror and sometimes focus a bit too long on my nose, with a bit of a grimace – I remember how my daughter has this exact nose, my nose, and that alone makes it my most favourite nose ever!

  14. katilda responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    this totally gave me chills. love it so much.

  15. Stacey responded on 08 Aug 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    This was beautiful, Liz. Thank you for sharing it. And I’m so glad you broke the cycle and learned how to love yourself.

  16. Lindsay responded on 09 Aug 2012 at 6:54 am #

    I can definitely relate to this. I too have Sicilian blood, and I grew up in a town dominated by blonde haired blue eyed men and women. For years I beat myself up over my large nose and my slightly more plump figure. I hit a rough patch after High School and the self hatred just had to boil over. Today I am in a much better place in my life; most days I like what I see and gaining this acceptance has boosted my confidence ten-fold. I have learned to embrace my body as a unique work of art and to stop comparing myself to others: we are all beautiful in our own way!

  17. Nancy responded on 12 Aug 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    Liz,
    You are so beautiful!! But you’re mind and heart are even better. Keep writing!!

  18. Dot responded on 15 Aug 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Brilliant post! I can completely relate to your story, it’s so much like my own experience! All my life, I’ve watched my mother diet because she considered herself too fat. She’s not. I don’t remember her ever being more than a size 16, and these days she looks thinner every time I see her. Yet, to this day, she does not eat gravy, and she cannot have a peace of cake or an opulent meal without saying she’ll diet the next day.
    When I hit puberty and started gaining weight (actually, I simply developed curves a little earlier than most girls), she outright panicked. Since then, concern about my (ever-increasing) weight has been the center of my attention, and has proceeded to utterly destroy my self-esteem.
    My grandmother is also a big part of this story, because my mother went through the exact same thing with her when she was young. But because my grandmother does NOT have the same “problem” figure my mother and I have, she has absolutely no understanding for our struggle with weight, and has no qualms about expressing her contempt for it.
    Like you, I keep telling myself: This has got to stop! If I ever get married and have a daughter, I might have to force myself not to have a say in all things concerning her body, eating habits, and health. I don’t trust myself not to keep making the same mistakes my grandmother and mother made.
    Your determination to stop the vicious cycle and love yourself, the description of your daily struggle and the thought of being strong for the generations of women to come, impressed me deeply. (Actually, I cried a little.) I think we cannot overestimate the influence our mothers’ and grandmothers’ attitude towards their bodies has on our own perception.

  19. Kathleen responded on 31 Aug 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Great guest post & the first time I’m compelled to comment on this blog, although I’ve been enjoying it for some time now. I’m Kathleen from Latvia, and this is an issue that often comes up in conversation between me & my friends, although way less so lately.

    My story is a little like a lot of the ones expressed here in the comments. My mother made a great effort of telling me (as I was still growing) that I was ugly, at least by her standards. I’ve grown to have slightly bigger bones than she does, so I’ve always been a little bit bigger, and hearing her stories about how she weighed 45 kilos at my age didn’t help. This wasn’t the only problem area though – I have a prominent nose as well and in the last year of high school she offered to pay for a nose job for me (even though I wasn’t asking for it) – she thought it was the perfect time for it, before going to university, so nobody would even know I had one.
    There are a lot of other stories to tell, but the bottom line is – I’m definitely going to go against her traditions. My children will be told that they are pretty, no matter what their noses look like, no matter how big or tiny they grow to be, etc. Right now I’m 22 and I’m mostly happy with myself. I try to tell myself good things about my appearance & I know I’m beautiful. I mught not be the skinniest girl around (though not really fat by any standards), and my boobs are still tiny. My nose is definitely not small, but I’ve decided that my face would look strange with anything else in it. I’ve realised that confidence is key and you can work with what you’ve got, as long as you’re happy with yourself. And that is a lesson that nobody can take away from me anymore – too bad I can’t really teach it to my mother. Seems weird to say, but in this area I feel like I’ve somehow already surpassed her and realised things that she still doesn’t know – like the fact that she is beautiful and she’s still not old (44) and she should enjoy life more.

  20. Liz responded on 03 Sep 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Salut! This is the Liz who wrote this post… I don’t think anyone will probably check the comments anymore, but know this:
    THANK YOU for your kind words and sharing your own stories. I seriously feel such love and sisterhood right now, with you strangers who comment on eatthedamncake.com
    In our difficulties we’re never alone in this world :)

  21. Hannah responded on 08 Feb 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I blame my wide arse and saddlebags on genetics, but really it’s due to eating waaaay too many of those ‘pastry things’ from Naples! They’re called Sfogliatelle, and they are little parcels of heaven!

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