I was raised the only daughter of one very ambitious stage mom.
There, I said it.
In just a few short years, she deftly facilitated all that was necessary to make manifest the basic building blocks of a troubled childhood: beauty pageants, headshots, talent agencies, auditions, the whole shebang.
My mother was hellbent that I attain success! so she encouraged me, coached me, and cajoled me. She permed and curled my flat and lifeless mouse-brown hair. She dolled-me up, slapped on the paint; she inventoried and camouflaged my endless flaws.
She forfeited her own personal time for the sake of my theoretical triumph. There was, supposedly, some favorable outcome on the horizon. She was in the business of creating opportunities and, if there was an opportunity to be had, I’d better damn well seize it.
My mother, the consummate momager, not only showcased me in beauty pageants but also had me enrolled as a client in a modeling & talent agency. I had a professional resume and headshots. She’d take me on “go-see’s” to various auditions with strict instructions to be effusive and charismatic.
I, both wanting to please her and also wanting to be a STAR! (hello, I was a little girl, ya know), went right along with it, excited at first, then quickly resigned to feigning enthusiasm for that which I began to loathe. The whole concept and everything it demanded of me forced me beyond my comfort zone, into another dimension entirely. It made me anxious, and it made me chronically depressed.
Throughout my years on the “Pageant Circuit” and as a client of “various talent agencies” being sent out to television and movie auditions, my mother would falsify my weight and measurements on both my composite card and my resume to appear more appealing as a candidate for potential work.
Result: My mother instilled a fixation with the number on the scale, a number which, at that age, and at that point in my development would have been quite arbitrary. I learned that ladies are ashamed about their weight, that they lie about their weight, and that what they actually are born with is not right, totally unacceptable.
Around age eight, I had already failed at the other “girl-stuff”too: I was a clutz. The ballet, tap, modern, jazz dance classes were wasted on my bumbling nature. It did not help me become more graceful or poised. Additionally, gymnastics was an epic failure. I was a giant amongst tiny, perfect elves, much too large for the sport. I was way more WNBA than USAG.
But in her defense, my mom was young and inexperienced. After all, I was her first-born. I was her only girl, too. Her one shot at whatever dreams she wanted through that of a female child. I’d been a pretty, bright, expressive girl with a nearly eidetic memory for scripts. So she latched onto that and didn’t let go until I defected in middle school by becoming chubby and awkward.
But I don’t blame her. I really don’t. I don’t really attribute my eating disorder to anything she or my dad said or did. Family of origin is only one small piece of the Eating Disorder puzzle. Plus, nobody knew any better.
Nowadays, we have positive body image campaigns, an effort to educate the public about eating disorders, advocacy, what have you. It could all stand to be improved, revamped, made more widely available, but at least, it’s getting there.
And while body image is finally being discussed in mainstream media channels, it still remains a taboo subject in a great many households. To be honest, I’m flabbergasted that this could still be the case, as the issue of body image affects almost everyone in today’s highly visual-centric society.
When I was growing up, there was none of the media coverage. No “Real Beauty” campaigns. The Surgeon General didn’t even publicly address mental illness until I was a Junior in highschool. Mental illness bore a terrible stigma, even worse than it does today, so no one was even comfortable having those kinds of family conversations. My mother didn’t know any better and was possibly mimicking even more arcane notions than these.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if my mom would have a legitimately open dialogue around that topic now. Presently, this is still very much the parent-child dynamic in our relationship. Silence. Sadness. Heartbreak.
Despite having been dangerously ill from Anorexia several times, there’s no surviving part of the “adult me” that doesn’t feel as though I’m “too much” in the presence of my mother. I’m far “too emotional, too volatile, too selfish, too extreme, too intense, too indulgent, too, too much”.
Read: “Unacceptable” which probably means “too large” which would definitely mean “too fat”.
Better change that number on the scale. Or at least, the number on the paper. No one can find out how wrong I am.