My lasting memory of my maternal grandmother was her struggling with her body.
About a year ago, I was rummaging madly through my mother’s house, looking for photos of my parents and grandparents on their respective wedding days. I wanted to add a vintage touch to my wedding cake table, as well as honour the generations of brides from which I came.
I vaguely remember a photograph of my grandmother on her wedding day that she had perched in a place of pride in her house. I used to study it when I was young because I was fascinated with the idea of a photo being printed and then hand painted. I think her bridesmaid was a soft blue. I can’t remember if she had a flower girl. I want to say that she did. Something is telling me that my grandfather was holding a pair of gloves in his hands. How dapper! But I do remember her. Precisely. Next to my grandfather, she was actually quite tall. She totally held her own and commanded the attention of the photo. Her dress was Oh So Regal. Modest, but an attention grabber, too. Long sleeves, cut on an angle at the wrists and a structured neck line that drew your eye up to her immaculate, but stoic, face. She owned it.
Anyway. That night at my mum’s I found a stack of great candid photos of her as a bride. Laughing, grinning and dancing…but then (and you can probably tell I get sidetracked, right?) a tiny square Polaroid caught my eye and I instantly fell in love with it.
Va Va Voom, right?!
Intuitively I just knew it was her, but I checked the back to see if it had any more info (…did anyone else’s folks label the back of photos with dates and locations?)
And just as quickly as I was smiling, my heart just broke.
Margaret (Whale) 1965
As a side note, in 1965, my grandmother was 32 years old and would’ve already had 5 of her 7 babies by now. This woman was pregnant and gave birth 5 times in 6 and a-half years…
It takes me that long to write a grocery list!
I can tell you memories of her hair. So Soft. I can tell you how pretty she looked in baby blue. I can tell you that she was fiercely intelligent and actually quite witty. Her house was never messy. She always smelled like fresh talc powder. She made the best salmon rissoles you’ve ever tasted. bar none.
I cannot ever tell you one time where I ever thought she had a body to be ashamed of.
Her years of nursing had taken a toll on my grandmother's back and she struggled consistently with pain, especially as we both grew older. I felt for her and wished she had a better experience IN her body. But no, I never thought she was a whale.
And I can bet no-one else did either.
I mean, look at her. In this photo she is banging hot! Look at her waist. Her hips. Her feet and ankles are petite but strong, like a dancer. She’s had 5 kids under 8 when this photo was taken (or 4 and she’s pregnant with my Uncle Kevin!) and she has still managed to shave under her arms... are you kidding me?! She’s a goddess!
So much emotion, memory and personal insight flooded to me when I read the way she had described herself in this photo (in her perfect, feminine and very elegant handwriting, I might add) so I took the picture home and know I keep it on my desk, photo facing outwards (and whale comment out of sight) so I can remind myself that this work I choose to do now, this passion that also happens to be my new career, is A LOT closer to home than I thought.
It’s no secret that as the years and generations have moved on our body image ideals, as a society, only have gotten worse and more unrealistic. Another post for another time, I think!
I wonder what she, my grandmother, would have said to me during my years of secret body shaming and obsessive dieting as my relationship with food grew more toxic and abusive by the day, had she have been here?
I know she would have said something. If not to me, then to my mother - her first born (and only) daughter.
I think she would’ve passed the command down the female family line that this shit had to stop.
And so, it does. It stops with me. I don’t have babies yet but I can tell you when I do, modelling a healthy relationship with food and my body is damn high on my list of motherhood-stuff-to-master.
This pervasive inward AND outward hatred of our bodies, these abusive and guilt ridden relationships with food and these extreme approaches we take to make ourselves thin and perfect have been filtered down through our DNA.
I want to stop here and say two things. One: I am not blaming my grandmother or my mother for the abusive relationship with food and my body I experienced. Many other factors brought that nightmare on! Two: I am not chalking this all up to genetics. My scientific knowledge stops with basic anatomy, nutrition chemistry and a vague recollection of studying photosynthesis! I am just suggesting that as women, especially, these behaviours and this way we tend to think about and treat ourselves...we’ve learned by inheritance. We have watched generations of other women do it to themselves and slowly understood it to be the default way to think and act. Add in the influence of celebrities, social media and fad diet trends in the last three decades and you can see how we have been taught these lessons, in a hereditary way, to stop trusting and start shaming our bodies.
And, well, I think it’s about time we un-learned them.
That’s one family trait that we can just decide isn’t important anymore, right?!
Is it really getting us anywhere anyway?
What I know for sure is that hating your body now will ABSOLUTELY NOT get you closer to loving it later.
YOU CANNOT HATE OR SHAME YOURSELF INTO A PLACE OF CHANGE AND COME OUT OF IT HAPPIER, CONFIDENT AND TRUSTING YOURSELF.
Nope. No way, No how. It don’t work that way. Sorry. Believe me. Been there. Done that.
So you might be sitting there thinking “alrighty then, Little Miss Positivity, How do I change? How do I stop these thoughts about my body if I have them every single time I have to put a dress on and go out? How do I start to love my body if I’ve only been taught to criticise it?”
How do we stop calling ourselves whales and start seeing ourselves at works of art?
It’s simple. Keep your eyes in your own backyard, darling.
One of my 5 keys to food freedom is all about breaking the habit of comparing ourselves to other people and having some compassion for yourself along the journey to being your healthiest, happiest and most energetic woman. It’s about treating yourself like you would treat your best friend.
In the 22 years we’ve been side-by-side, my best friend and I have called each other a lot of names. Funny, harmless ones to each other’s faces and, during times of social turmoil, probably hurtful ones behind each other’s backs...but A Whale? That’s never made the list.
You see, when you develop a relationship with your body and food that is ALL YOURS and when you drop the need to keep checking out what everyone else is doing and eating to look a certain way, this really funny thing happens:
You suddenly realise that YOU get to be the explorer of your own body and diet! You can actually listen to your body to find out what makes you feel the best…and you just turn these things into repeatable steps and actions that become habits.
You repeat these habits so that you are respecting your time, money and sanity as well as prioritising your own self-care.
And above all, you start understanding your body and learning to trust it again.
(you see, that’s another thing about best friends. When you trust them, respect them and care for them...they give all that back...and when you talk them down or make fun of them, they tend to stop talking to you!)
Ask yourself this: If you don’t feel like your body has been working with you...have you been giving it the space to do so?
You are totally not alone in this. And the way out of the body shaming rut is clear. Take a deep breath. Say sorry to your body and pledge to treat her a bit better. Tell her you trust her and you’re not going to let anyone else's actions direct the way you feed and move your body from now on.
I can guarantee you. Like a good friend, if you give her time and space, she’ll come back to you. She’ll respond. She'll lighten up a little and you'll feel comfortable in her presence!
I talk so passionately on this topic because I know the pain of being that girl who puts herself down to avoid putting herself out there... but I also know the freedom of letting it go and standing up for my body.
And I know that keeping my eyes in my own backyard, and not allowing the negative self-talk to come into my home any more gives my friends, and my beautiful clients, the permission to do the same. As I become free, so can you. As you do, so do your friends and your daughters and granddaughters...you see how this works?!
Today, I’m typing up the final edit of this post from my favourite cafe at our local beach. I went for a quick swim in the ocean before I tucked myself away to eat and to work. I would have never dreamed that I could walk to the beach, down the street, to the car and back with only my bathers on. But, today, I did. The ocean was clear, calm and cool.
And there wasn’t a whale in sight!
If you’re interested in changing your approach to food and your body and building a beautiful healthy relationship with yourself to finally feel confident, energetic and free of diet or body prison, I want you to check out my Feed Your Freedom program here. Meet the society of women taking their health back into their own hands by joining the party over on Facebook and grab your copy of my FREE eBook 5 Steps to food freedom.