My mother is the very first person to shape my understanding of body image because after all, as children (and beyond), our parents are our first role models. As a little girl, I used to sneak into my mother’s bedroom to try on her lipstick and wobble around in her shoes, too large for my little feet. Much of the style liberties I take with my wardrobe and hairstyles have been inspired by photos of her when she was my age. I watch(ed) my mother so I could learn how to be a woman, but really the reason why my mother influenced my body image beliefs extends well beyond the ritual of putting on lipstick.
My mother’s womb was my first armor, my first safe haven, my first understanding of miracles. They say when you have a child, you have to rearrange your whole life, but what really leaves me in awe is the way a woman’s entire body rearranges to make room for a child. The carefully orchestrated release of hormones, the organs moving out of the way to make room for the growing fetus, the nutrients that go from the mother to the child, it is pure magic. Did you know that if a mother doesn’t eat well, the body will prioritize the baby and take from the mother’s reserves (like calcium from her bones) to give to the child? Mom, I’ve been taking from you the minute that I was conceived, and you’ve been giving to me generously and unconditionally ever since. Your body is miraculous. Your love is miraculous.
Another inspiring thing about my mother and her body, is the resilience I’ve continuously seen in her. I remember was in high school when my mother got the news that she had cancer, and I really only found out when we had to go see her in the hospital after her mastectomy. I don’t know how she managed to shield us from the entire chemotherapy process. Watching my mother lying on the hospital bed that day, I felt nothing but resentment that she hid the news from us for so long. But in retrospect, I am in absolute awe of the strategic work it took to protect us from the scary process of cancer treatment. We never witnessed the countless nights bent over the toilet, the moments when she was so weak she had to crawl back to her bed, not counting the emotional toll of the treatment. If ever I heard her throwing up when I came back from school, she would convince me that she probably just ate something bad. I also believed her when she told me that her tongue that had turned purple due to the treatment, was only because she ate beets. Sneaky sneaky mom, and clueless clueless me.
It’s important to note that the resilience of her body is not only because of her battle and victory over cancer, because that would insinuate that other people died from cancer were not as resilient as she is. The resilience is the additional work it takes for parents with cancer to maintain a sense of normalcy for their children. The effort it takes to get out of bed and smile reassuringly when your knees just want to give in. The effort to try and still go to work for as long as you can, to show up to your kids events, to still try and stay upbeat when you’re drowning in medical bills; you’re sick but you can’t take days off from being a parent. That resilience in a person and a body that is designed for, and wants to nothing else but fight for your survival, that is magical. My mom’s body is magical. And resilient. And inspiring
Her icon status in my life is not just due to her impeccable style, it is because she introduced me to an appreciation of the body that has nothing to do with vanity. My mother was my first safe haven and it is always to her that I return to heal when the battlefield of the world takes its toll on me. Watching her own battle with cancer has taught me about the resilience of the body. I want to be like my mom and her awesome body. A safe haven and an enduring example of resilience.
I still sneak into her room to steal her shoes and even though they fit me now, I’m not so sure I can actually fill them.
Happy Mother’s day Mama.
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.