Yesterday, I was inspired to resurrect an old head scarf I used to wear all the time when I lived in Amherst. One of my close friends, Devin, had started wearing head scarves and bandannas recently, and I wanted to look as cute as she did. The fam and I were on our way to Boston’s trendy SoWa open market, and I wanted to dress up. It’s a big deal, these days, you know. Dressing up when you’re a Mama.
So I donned a long summer dress, drop earrings, and a paisley head scarf. I indulgently took this ridiculous duckface selfie, complete with seat belt:
What’s important to note about the scarf, is that it was my Nana’s. She passed away in 2003, and I gratefully received this after she died, along with a few other cherished jewelry pieces. It got me thinking about what she, and my mother, and the women before them had to go through to let me be as strong as I am today about this whole body image thing.
A little backstory:
This is what I was told about my Nana: she was born in Ireland and came to the US when she was a baby. She was adopted by a family over here, and worked fairly young, as her family was not, let’s say, the Kardashians. One thing that always made me smile was the stories my mother would tell me about her trips into Boston as a teen. She would take the train into Boston by herself, walk around the city, and buy a trinket with the little money she had. She seemed fiercely tough and independent, and I identify with that. Anywho, she married my Grampy, and worked tirelessly as a housekeeper while raising seven kids. One of them being my mother.
My mother often tells me, “When I was a kid, we didn’t think there was any other choice than marrying and raising kids. That was just what you did.” And she’s right. Were there some women going to college in the mid-sixties? Sure. But not like there are today. In 1965, Betty Friedan truly hadn’t reached everyone yet, and when there were financial stressors on a family, college was a completely ludicrous idea. So, those women married, and followed the ideals of the fifties. They pleased their husband by cooking and cleaning. They tried to look pretty for them.
Someone I see on a weekly basis often likes to tell me, “You women are lucky today.” And he’s right. Choices for my Nana and mother were limited – and they, perhaps, didn’t have the time or energy to love their reflection because they were too busy cooking or working or cleaning. Also, they didn’t know they even had a RIGHT to challenge old, patriarcal beliefs because they had been taught to not question things like that.
My mother, however, had a streak of hippie in her (even though she denies it). She was an attachment mother before there were attachment mothers, she organized church food drives for the hungry, and she was a bleeding heart who took her patients home on weekends from the Fernald State School to get a respite from the horror. Her compassion – despite ARDUOUS circumstances that I will keep private – inspired me to choose the career road I walk down today. It spurred me to get an education that furthered my liberal, feminist beliefs, and challenged me to look beyond what I had been conditioned to believe about my body. And I’m sure her mother had an effect on her character, in some way. But that’s her story to tell.
What am I saying?
Even if we have a conflictual relationship with them – even if they hate their body and you learned that as a result of being around them –
Let’s thank the women who came before us.
Without them, we wouldn’t be able to be the fantastic individuals we are today. Maybe you’re completely different from your mother because you felt angry with her and wanted to rebel. Well, your fabulous rebellious self? Thank your mother for that. Or maybe you’re a carbon copy of your mother, who spends half her time cooking organic food and the other half volunteering for the homeless. Either way, they have an effect on our personalities – and our body image.
All I know is, I feel absolutely gorgeous when I wear my Nana’s scarf.
How have the women in your life affected your body image?
(1950’s ad provided by Molly Treanor’s blog. Check her out!)