The Self-Loathing of our Parents

This started as a comment on Chrissy’s post “Compliments and Good Intentions.”

I began my experiment with non-restrictive “normal” eating about two years ago, and since then I’ve moved up to about the size I was before I started restrictive eating (a size 24, which I wore when I was 15 y/o. I’m 25 y/o, now). When I was moving down in sizes, you couldn’t dam the flood of compliments I got. No one asked *how* I did it, of course, and if they did, would they have liked the answer? (“I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday morning, and that was a fat-free Fig Newton. Oh yes, and I’m also taking diet pills with ephedrine, whee!” )

I’ve noticed that my experiment has generated, rather than insults, a great sucking void with respect to my appearance. When I was starving in high school I used to get all sorts of proud compliments from my father, my stepmother (and worried remarks from my mom — she’s the only one who had her head screwed on straight), my friends, my grandmother, my extended family…and do you know I haven’t gotten a single body-referential remark since I gained back the weight? It must be because they’re so happy I’m not longer eating-disordered and are now respectful of my humanity and unmindful of what I look like, right?

Maybe not. My dad speaks with pride that my four year-old little sister is skinny as a rail, and treats her chubbier little sister (two years old) with far less respect. Weird? Should I mention he considers, “Hey, have you lost weight?” the biggest compliment of his own self in the book? Yes, he’s a self-loather. Does that mean I have to be, too?

It’s hard escaping the personal values and expectations of your parents, but I think the most important part of the journey is to realize that their personal emphasis on thin(ner)ness = success is just that — their personal emphasis. I frankly pity my Dad, because I know how unhappy he is, loathing his naturally fat body, fighting against it, coveting the rail-thin body of my stepmother and his adopted daughter. That’s really, really sad, and once I realized the issue was not with me but with him, I was free to let melt away the anger, indignation, confusion, and disappointment I felt in his estimation of my body. It was never really me he was seeing, you know. It was himself.


10 comments on “The Self-Loathing of our Parents

  1. Bee says:

    Thank you for the post, BL.

    I found the last paragraph especially touching as my dad’s very much like yours in that respect. Always fighting against his body, hating it, loathing his ‘lack of discipline’ re: food. Although he never actually said anything explicitly horrible to me weight-wise, he was always adamant I had to do some sport as a child so I wouldn’t ‘end up like him’.

    I do sometimes blame him for being the role model for my numerous food neuroses, but, on the other hand, I do feel sorry for him. I know what it’s like.

  2. Chrissy says:


    I feel like there is so much out there that’s parent taught. I mean, in my family, my mom and dad have always been heavy. I think I picked up the fat=failure thing from my parents when they started bringing me to classes when I was a teen to get my weight under control. It wasn’t about accepting me, it was about losing weight.

    I feel my parents are very understanding, but not in the way I want them to be. My dad feels like fat is a life or death thing. My philosophy is that of HAES. So as long as I’m healthy (which I need to do a little more work to become) than I’m fine. He thinks that no matter what my cholesterol, etc. is, if I’m still fat, I’m unhealthy. Ugh.

    So I don’t know. I think that something needs to be said to society to quit it, but I doubt that will ever happen. My own dad thinks that the FA Movement is all about making excuses for our weight, despite the fact that what it has done for me is make me more motivated to make myself healthy, taking away all the pressures I felt because I felt I had to be a certain way (one that was so far from the way I am that I didn’t even want to try).

  3. anniemcphee says:

    I’ll never know what my parents think of FA (just as well probably.) But when I look back – well I don’t like to do it too much, but damn. They were really, truly sick about food, and it’s amazing to me that I have never had an eating disorder. (They weren’t popular when I was a kid though.) I mean, my mother has been on a diet all my life. I guarantee you she still is – fighting that same five or ten fucking pounds – she’s like 5’6 and maybe 145. Never fat, never skinny, always, always on a diet. Or off a diet but going back on soon. I remember her proudly telling me one day that she had it down to where if she wanted something sweet she would dip her finger into the sugar and take a tiny taste, and same with wanting something salty. Couple of lettuce leaves with gravy and some hideous dry thing for supper.

    What they did to me with food was even sicker than that, though, and it’s part of why even though I don’t have an ED I do NOT like to eat with people. I like to eat alone, period. Even in a restaurant I bring a book, even if it’s me and my husband. Even though he doesn’t like it. I create the illusion of being alone. Well I guess this wasn’t about that; it’s just in my case it really wasn’t their self-loathing but their genuine loathing of ME that was at issue. So I probably don’t have much to add, and this is making me tear up so I’ll see ya later 🙂 Hugs.

  4. blablover5 says:

    A few years ago I had started working at an o”n my feet all the time” job and also walked a lot three times a day as I couldn’t catch a bus from one campus to the next. It was all not planned and I wound up losing weight not on purpose. It was incredibly annoying when everyone had to comment on it, say how much better I looked and then ask me how I did it.

    Every time I’d just mumble something, not look at them and hope they’ll go away. What made it really sad is my parents were worried I was losing weight from not eating but I still felt really embarrassed from losing weight the “healthy way”. All those compliments just were quick to remind me how ugly I must have looked before.

    Well now that I am not so active and don’t have to make up for a lack of a bus I’ve gained some of the weight back. I think that losing weight that I had always had has if anything made it worse on me, that whole what could have been kinda thing.

    Lucky for me, I have good friends and a fiance who really don’t care about size and we don’t ever sit around harping about diets or how fat we are. We just accept it and go out and do crazy things cause we can.

  5. anniemcphee says:

    Totally O/T but JFS Sandy just linked to me and called me a thinking blogger. Squeee! Thanks for letting me say that, BL. Back to topic.

  6. anniemcphee says:

    blablover, it’s quite excellent that you have such people around you – not everyone is that lucky, I know. Some people wait a long lonely time to find acceptance. Be glad, and remember they love you fat or thin or in-between 🙂

  7. BigLiberty says:

    There are sooo many great comments on this post, and I want to make sure everyone knows I’m going to get to them. 😀 But I just want to take this opportunity to introduce blablover, who’s an old friend of mine. She’s fantastic, and funny as hell. She runs the “Introverted Bride” blog (see my sidebar under “Other Great Stuff” or just click on her name). I’ve got to get over there and start commenting. Welcome to the ‘osphere, blab! Now you know where I’m spending all my internetz time, these days 😉 😀 😀 😀

  8. blablover5 says:

    She’s lying. I am never funny, I am always quite boring and um nutrageous?

    I can see how easy it is to lose some hours on the internets with this stuff. Al Gore should be ashamed of himself.

  9. […] on the other hand, I hate. Always have. Responding to a post on Big Liberty’s website got me thinking where my aversion towards exercise – in principle, more than anything else – stems […]

  10. […] and Daughters I’ve posted here before about my father and how his perception of himself, and what women should look like (namely, that one should be able to “see daylight […]

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