You may think your body image issues take up a lot of mental real estate, but they cover blocks of your mom's brainscape, too. Since 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, part of your mom's vigilance might be in the name of prevention. And, if you read Clare B. Dunkle's memoir, Hope and Other Luxuries: A Mother's Life with a Daughter's Anorexia, you'll get a sense of why those seemingly meddlesome concerns — about your business, with your bod —might be warranted.
Dunkle, an accomplished YA writer, reflects on her own life, from her own lonely childhood through to the early years of motherhood, when "watching [her] girls play together was one of the greatest joys of [her] life." She shares the story of how she became a writer. But mostly, she chronicles the struggles of her vivacious youngest daughter, Elena, who, at 17, four years after being raped, develops an eating disorder.
"It's when you let down your guard that the ax falls," Dunkle reiterates throughout Hope; like so many mothers, she believed she was making solid, thoughtful parenting choices (limiting television, cooking nutritious meals) that would allow her children to thrive. She believed she was too comfortable with the status quo, which is never as copacetic as it might seem on the surface.
So the next time your mom eyes you eyeing yourself in the rearview mirror, the next time you watch her frown as you tug at the waistband of your jeans, be patient with her. Here are six things she might be thinking:
"Can't You See Yourself?"
Whether Dunkle is recalling her daughter's pre-ED bra-size (bigger than Mom's!) or her anorexia-thin legs ("like matchsticks" in a minidress), she is always witnessing Elena's body. Your mom might wonder why you can't see yourself, too.
"This Isn't My Job"
"I loved my daughter very much," Dunkle writes upon learning that she will be taking her daughter to treatment every morning, "but I absolutely hated minding her business. The times we had been happiest were the times when Elena had been well; she could share with me the parts of her life she wanted to share, and I could cheer her on. But the times when I had had to "manage" Elena — to wake her up in the morning and nag her through her days — those had not been happy times ... I didn't want to run my daughter's life." Your mom wants to see you taking care of yourself! No matter how many times she comes to your rescue with a smile on her face, she'd probably always rather you forego any pain or discomfort.
"I've Been on the Bad Side of the Mirror, Too"
Whether she's open with you about her own issues or not, you may think your mom's never stressed about her body. Dunkle, for instance, doesn't tell her daughters, Valerie and Elena, that, even though she had always been slender, her appearance stressed her out, especially during middle school. Dunkle reflects on her own experiences in 8th grade, when she had to work to fit in: "I learned from snide comments not to wear the same clothes too often, to pluck my bushy eyebrows, and to use concealer on my broken-out face. I even found ways to keep my unruly hair under control." Maybe your mom's generation didn't talk about "thigh gaps," but she probably obsessed — or knew girls who obsessed — about their "thunder thighs," too.
"You Used to Be So Sweet. What Changed?"
You were a talkative little girl with interests beyond those in the mirror... so what happened? When Dunkle first learns that her daughter will need to receive in-patient care, her motherly confidence is heartbreaking. "Elena — our bright, responsible, busy girl — our honors student, our arrow-straight hospital volunteer, who had a million friends and a million projects, who served as an officer of the Future Business Leaders of America — that girl needed to be locked away for half a year?" Your mom might have a hard time understanding how and why your body image issues have altered your personality, in ways that might seem minor to you.
"Snap Out of It!"
"The eating disorder was ... eating her alive." Your body image issues take up a lot of time and energy, regardless of their severity. Your mom might be thinking about how all that stress isolates you — from your friends and your family, who miss you because...
"You're an Amazing Person!"
...who is more than her appearance. She is your mom, after all, and, emotionally, psychologically, or biologically, you're her creation. Your beauty, in your mom's eyes, goes beyond appearance. Just look at Dunkle, who admires not only her daughter's curvy, pre-ED figure, but her daughter's resilience in fighting anorexia: "She was so brave, my daughter. She was absolutely fearless."
Images: Robert Bejil, Xava du, Raeko.; Ben Nipper; SierraRosePhotography; basil; Kimberley Munro; Chad Liddell/flickr