I find myself wishing recently that I could withdraw or rewrite some of my Grandfather's eulogy.
In the eulogy I wrote, I talked about him being a man's man who loved his family deeply and who held the women in his life in the highest esteem.
And that's all very true, and I certainly felt that way at the time I wrote it. The man was 150% all about his family. Through and through - he provided for them, taught them, raised them, had fun with them. Gave them things his parents weren't able to give them. And he saved. My God was he a saver. But he also had problems that I was blind too - sort of.
1) when it came to loving everyone equally, I'm not so sure he did that.
2) when it came to mental health, I believe he often suffered with what we now understand to be mental illnesses of depression and at times anxiety, but he would have fought you to the death to be labelled as such.
3) he thought the best way to make you strive for more or better was to help you see the worst possible options as a means of driving you to be better than that. Let me explain, because these are truly the reasons that I wish I could re-write it now.
I've spent many years trying to figure out "how I got to be the way I was." There were lots of great things he taught me. For example, he taught me to save at least 10% of my salary from day one. I did, and it's saved me more than once in a crunch, and I have a real shot at retiring by the age of 55 and living pretty modestly and comfortably throughout retirement despite any of the set backs I've had. He also taught me that the day I stop learning would be the day I died. I am surrounded by people who I am often envious of, because they just go about their lives without seeking the meaning of everything, but I am plagued by this innate need to peel back layers, understand, learn from my mistakes and others, while others just simply move from one mistake to the next, No worry, no dread. Just meh - and on they go on their merry way. I learn which is wonderful. But it also means I've got anxiety at times that can be very debilitating.
But I also beat myself up in insane ways over my weight. I brood over every piece of food - the good and the bad. I've done diet after diet and exercise after exercise. I've done weight loss surgery, plastic surgery, taken pills, and done everything short of actually take myself out of the equation entirely...and even that, well, I'd be lying if I didn't say I hadn't actually tried dismally at that once even.
And when I've thought back trying to pin point who in my family had actually reinforced that I was physically beautiful, or otherwise even Just fine the way I was, I could pinpoint exactly who said what and when. Because clearly my self esteem or lack thereof had to have come from something I was hearing or seeing regularly enough to warrant it becoming a self fulfilling prophecy. I can look at a photo of me as a teen, and while maybe I did mature early, I was smoking hot and slim and normal and nothing near what I envisioned myself to be back then. I am certainly bigger than I ever imagined being possible now. And the only voices that I remember hearing that countered those other voices were my mom's and a cousin's husband. I can tell you exactly when each reinforced the good in me, because it was so infrequently heard, and so precipitated likely by a frenzied experience of hearing how horrifyingly fat and worthless I was, that they needed to be loud enough to be heard.
The voices who made me feel worthless, and horrifyingly fat and destined for a life of vomit inducing profiles, hiding from the world or putting myself on display at the circus? My grandfather's. My brother's. In some ways my mother too who tried simultaneously to use similar tactics to my grandfather's and only countered the arguments when I would hit a breaking point, and who I believe tried desperately to overcome those feelings herself.
It makes me wish that the counter voices, the voices who reassured me of my worth and my beauty were louder, more frequent and more relevant than all the other voices. It makes me wish I'd seen my mother stand up to my grandfather on my behalf, in front of me to stop him dead in his tracks. It makes me wish our baby boomers didn't respect their elders to such a degree that they'd at least call them out on their bullshit.
And so when I find myself struggling with the decision about whether to reinforce my daughter's beauty or her brains, I try my damnedest to reinforce both at the same time. At 5 she has already told me how un-pretty she feels. And this is despite me trying desperately to model body positive behaviour for her even when it's not natural for me to do so. And I wish I could find the right words, that would be the loudest of them all, that would tell her not to listen to other stupid and jealous people. Words that would scream from the highest monuments, that other people's jealousy means absolutely nothing and that I've never seen anyone so beautiful as she is.
She stops the world, quiets a room, commands attention in every single way. And it's her beauty inside and out that does that. How do I make her believe that...? How do I believe that for myself now that all the damage is done?