Winter: Mo

The author, age 15, and her grandmother Mo

After my grandmother Mo died, I inherited her diaries, sporadic histories of her life, varying from when she was a teenager to her golden years.
What I discovered surprised me: even in her late 70’s and early 80’s, Mo was obsessed with her weight.
She weighed herself daily and recorded the number, typically around 140, perhaps slightly chunky for her 5-foot height.
If she lost weight or remained the same, she had a good day, but if she gained, her day was shot – and she was miserable and complained bitterly in her diary and planned starvation strategies for that day to shed it.
Sound familiar?
At first, I was surprised because I never thought of Mo as being fat or even fat-obsessive – it seemed to me that her weight never varied.
Sure, when she was younger, she was slimmer than when I knew her, but wasn’t that the natural order of the world? After all, she bore and raised four children and was raising a difficult fifth (me!).
When I thought about it, though, I was less surprised.
Looking back, I can remember her studying old photos of herself, clucking as she commented about her younger body: “Look at how slim I was.” And clothing: “That dress was a size 11,” she would say, shaking her head as if waxing poetic about better and thinner times.
She made a point of noting that a back-in-the-day size 11 was nothing like the current day size 11; she was absolutely correct because as consumers have grown fatter, Madison Avenue has answered the siren call to delude women into thinking that their weight hasn’t changed by manufacturing larger size 11’s (More on this in another chapter).
Her secret obsession also explains her fears and constant haranguing about my weight, why she dragged me to diet doctors and fed me rabbit food, and demanded that I be prescribed diet and thyroid pills, why she scrutinized every bite that went into my mouth.
I have never seen photos of her when she was a preteen, and I wonder if that was no accident.
Could she have been a chunky child, whose mother panicked and placed poor little Mo on a strict diet, or did a boy she liked – the notorious Louie who refused to eat lunch with her at a picnic? – make a rude comment about her body?
I have to believe that while fat stigma exists now and existed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, it must have been particularly horrific in the 1900’s, a time when obesity and even overweight were extremely rare conditions.
A time when conventional wisdom said that if you are fat, then it’s your fault because you eat too much and lack willpower.
At least now, research is revealing that the causes of obesity may be more complicated than formerly thought, that the calories in/energy out model is just one metric – and not always an accurate one.
But young Mo’s family didn’t know any of that.
While this knowledge doesn’t minimize my childhood pain significantly, at least I understand better why Mo was obsessed with my weight.
I just wish I would have known about her weight obsession.

I wish she could have confided in me.


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