Our Mothers' Filters

The last time I saw my mother, I received the gift of some powerful clarity about something, and it's something I need reminding of every day.

She saw herself, and thus this world and me, through a filter where all she saw was weight. It truly was ALL SHE SAW when she looked at me. Or at anyone.

This photo is me around the time my mother started controlling every single bite I ate. She called this little girl you see here fat, and put a padlock on the pantry because she could not be trusted to make her own choices about what to put in her mouth. We ate out most all the time, and I was allowed to have half of something from children's menu. There was no regard for nutrition, only regard for portion control ... Trying to make sure that I would not be fat.

Because that would make me worthless.

I was hungry from 10 to 18.

I was hungry from 10 to 18. That is a shattering sentence for me to write, and it makes me weep as I sit here at 43 years old.

This thing that happened on our last visit was such an incredible gift. My mom was a pianist, and she happened to be playing for a funeral while I was visiting. The niece of the woman who had died wrote a song for her aunt, and she played and sang it during the service. It was an absolutely beautiful song, and a powerfully moving moment as she sang about her aunt she clearly loved so much.

My mother leaned over to me after this song, and made her only comment about this beautiful moment: An admiring "Look how thin she is!"

I realized in that moment that that was the filter through which I had been seen by the most important woman in my life. Which is to say, I had not been seen. Ever.

I need reminding of this every day, because it is so easy for me to see myself through that same filter, where I have absolutely no value if I am not thin.

Most of the time I know that's not true. I truly do, and I have been extremely fortunate in my lifetime really never to have experienced any kind of cruelty about being overweight. (Well, except from my mother every day of my life.)

But it is very easy for me to see myself through that filter when I consider whether I ever get to be loved in my life. Particularly when as there happens to be at the moment, there is a person who has someone's love I so deeply long to have. As far as I can tell from the little I know, she seems to be very much like me.

Except she is literally a model.

There are dark corners of my heart that feel like that makes my mother right. That she gets to be with him because she's thin, and I don't because I'm not.

But the truth is, that is completely untrue, not to mention unfair both to me and to her.

These stories, about what I deserve or don't deserve because I'm not thin, and that I am somehow in competition with this girl, are just completely made up. Their relationship has absolutely NOTHING to do with me, any more than my getting to be with him or not has anything to do with my worth or value or prospects of being with anyone ever.

But we sure tell ourselves that story.

I am so incredibly grateful for the discovery of that filter through which my mother saw me. It makes it so clear how this feeling of being unworthy can be so powerful.

And completely untrue.

-Susan Compton