(by Michelle Scott)
My relationship with my mom is fairly similar to my relationship with food: It’s complicated.
I am short. I’m not fat, and I’m not unattractive. I have to tell myself that every day as I look in the mirror before a shower. Some days I believe it. Other days—well…. And a lot of the reason has to do with my mom.
Growing up near Atlanta, Georgia, my sister was overweight and didn’t have any friends. So from the age of 12, my mom sent her to doctors, dietitians, anyone to help her lose weight. I became accustomed to seeing my sister in tears after her appointments, to signs posted on the refrigerator that said things like “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” In place of pasta, cookies, or birthday cakes, we had low-carb meals, low-cal snacks, and birthday frozen yogurt.
In her defense, my mother saw her daughter going through a miserable early childhood, and attributed it at least partially to being overweight. Other children were cruel to my sister, and Mom believed that being overweight would directly lead to loneliness and isolation. She was also insecure about her own image, worried about being appreciated in our family, and anxious about being liked. Unfortunately I seem to have inherited these insecurities from her.
Mom never really enjoyed cooking, regarding it as a chore, something that takes too much time and leaves too big of a mess to clean up. But I appreciate many things about her. She has a master’s degree in geology and helped with my math homework during all of my schooling. She's always been so supportive of my passions and hobbies—singing, acting, and writing. She has a great sense of humor and a bold, loud laugh (I could hear her in the audience during my high school plays). She cares deeply about people, and I love her sense of empathy—any tragedy in the world feels personal to her. I know that she’s not a villain who set out to make me miserable, and she wants nothing more than for me to be happy, but she has some wonky ideas on what leads to happiness.
For a long time, I was actually a few pounds away from underweight. Then, as I went through puberty, I gained some weight, and my mother began constant criticism about how I looked and what I consumed. There were crying and screaming arguments in stores because she thought something I tried on made me look “fat.” She often asked if I wanted boys to like me, remarked “I wish you’d take care of yourself,” or greeted me by saying, “Oh, look, it’s three-roll stomach.” If I wore a bikini, she claimed that I was depressing her.
Ironically, my sister never resented our mother’s criticism as much as I did, and acted as a mediator between my mom and me for a while, but there were years of the same vicious cycle—confrontation, argument, Mom getting upset about being a bad mother, me apologizing for making her upset—until ultimately I told her that the only solution was for us to not talk about my weight or diet. I still habitually hide food wrappers in my desk drawers, to be thrown away in secret later, out of fear that my mom will see how much I’ve eaten. I am still struggling to view food as a pleasure of life, not an act of defiance against my mother. I am still struggling to see the value in myself and my body, no matter what I put in it.
Things have gotten better for both my sister and me. She eats healthy food because she wants to, but if she visits home and feels like having a sudden midnight cookie-baking session, Mom doesn’t get upset—in fact, she’ll even indulge in a few warm treats. I eat and live how I want, and as my relationship with my mom began healing, just a little, so did my relationship with food.
Michelle Scott is a recent college graduate currently working in Los Angeles as a production assistant for Scenes Media. She intends to pursue a film career in her hometown of Atlanta and is working on a science fiction novel. She can be found at www.scottmichelle76.wixsite.com/michellekscott and www.instagram.com/mkslovesacting/.
Chili con Turkey
(adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
1 lb. ground lean turkey
1 c. frozen chopped onions
3/4 c. chopped green pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
16 oz. can tomatoes, cut up
16 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained
8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. dried basil, crushed
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
In a pan, cook the ground turkey, along with onion, green pepper, and garlic, until browned.
Drain excess liquid, then transfer to a large pot.
Add undrained tomatoes, drained kidney beans, tomato sauce, chili powder, basil, salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.