When I first started this weight-loss program, my mother, who lives in Philadelphia, came to Chicago to help me pack for a move. It turned out to be a real turning point in our relationship.
Mom and I were cleaning the walk-in closet in my bedroom. Over the years, I’d kept her out of there, ashamed that it was full of so m any sizes. I didn’t want to admit to her that I had a problem. She had spent the bulk of my life scrutinizing my weight, appearance and eating habits, which made me feel bad about myself. I had held onto those feelings all my life.
I didn’t want her to see all the size 8, 10 and 12 clothes that I couldn’t fit into. I didn’t want her to comment on the fact that I had enough elastic in my closet to supply Haines for an entire decade. I didn’t want her to know that she was right: Being overweight was a burden passed down to me that I needed to confront. For me, buying clothes that fit was expensive, degrading and uncontrollable.
Until that day, when I literally came out of the closet – and cam clean with all of my cotton, silk and wool skeletons. I sat on the floor, holding open a trash bag while my mother tossed in items, thinking to myself, “Go ahead, Mom. Get a good look. Let me have it.”
She said nothing.
I don’t know if it was because she knew I felt I was under the gun to lose weight for this column, but she acted as casual as if we were looking for ribbons at the dollar store. I thought to myself, “No, this is disingenuous. Something’s got to give.” So I did.
I gave her a black sweater, a silk shirt, and a few shirts that were too small for me, but too stylish and well crafted to give away to a stranger. She tried them on and liked them, conflicted. I could see it in her furrowed face – the thrill of something new and the painful realization that they were the hand-me-downs of her overweight daughter.
She kept asking, “Are you sure you don’t want this? I know you’ll be able to wear it at some point.”
“No, Mother,” I said. “You take it. If I want it back, I’ll ask.”
I smiled calmly, knowing that we were OK. We were on our way toward a dialogue and healing the scars of the past that, until now, lay between us like 10 white elephants.
Later that day, over chicken, asparagus and slivers of corn bread at one of our favorite restaurants, we talked about the closet, the clothes and the Shape diary. While the conversation was sometimes superficial, the subtext was powerful. It reflected an understanding on both of our parts that still holds true today: Clothes don’t make the woman or her mother. What does is love, perseverance and forgiveness. For that, I am grateful.