When I was a child the image of my mother barging through our front door pulling up her dress, pulling down her girdle and exhaling as she let our a big sigh has never quite left me. The tight elastic from the girdle would leave her yellow skin red and embossed with lines and patterns.
It was never something she did in secret. This was a very normal occurrence much like her love for purging teas. I never thought of my mother as fat but i on the other hand, had a problematic body. One that was as much a family issue, as my inability to grasp mathematics at school. I had been through my plethora of nicknames with the words fat or orobo maintained as an unwavering prefix or suffix depending on who christened me with a new name. My mother equally exhausted from the name calling, as a teenager she would say that no one would ever marry me if I didn’t do something about my situation because as you might know between the transition from Nigerian girlhood to womanhood, this is the end game.
A few years ago whilst preparing for my workout at the gym, my mother was gawking at me bewildered. Then she said ‘ Who would have ever thought you will be the same person going to the gym regularly, as they say you can’t force somebody to do something until they are ready’. I giggle as she reminds me of diets imposed on me during my childhood and then she starts to reminisce about taking diet pills herself. This is new to me because I had never thought of my mother as someone with a body as problematic as mine that needed fixing. I have detailed the woes and impact of growing up with a distorted view of my body on my self-confidence and other aspects of my life in past pieces so no need to bore you further.
But I suppose all of this got me contemplating the expectations we place on mothers to always know, do and say the right things. Using the body of my mother and I as an illustration is only a small anecdote to numerous normalised social and cultural issues regarding the body that we need to critically address, like seeing our own bodies as sexual currency or interchangeable for love, bodily ownership and autonomy, or even what a healthy or abusive relationship looks like. But rather we often propose a ‘Mothers need to do start doing better’ stamp of finality. And this goes for raising both boys and girls. Like my mother, my body has encapsulated the politics of culture and she unable to identify it, though attempting to navigate though unsuccessfully, propagates in turn.
A lot of our mothers belong to a generation of women whose lives were hugely dictated and validated by people other than themselves. The limited self -awareness also meant that there was a blind assumption that womanhood was something you grew into or something that happened to you. Unfortunately we come from a space that absolves fathers of any responsibility with how we turn out that you have a generation of sometimes broken women solely responsible for whole human beings.
I think in some way we are a generation of young women who are lucky enough to have names for our experiences which means we get a chance at mapping out how we can start to change and redefine things for ourselves. I do think we are also trapped within a past of certain expectations and future of possibilities and in some way negotiating our way into the middle.
Three years ago, I moved into my mother’s house. It is the first time I am getting to know her as an adult. The biggest lesson I have learnt is that you can’t hold people accountable for not giving you what they have never known or what they have never had.