32. An Iron Mother

32. An Iron Mother

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

An Iron Mother

I am beginning to measure myself in strength, not pounds. Sometimes in smiles.

~Laurie Halse Anderson

The fitness room at the Holiday Inn in Fort Lauderdale has two treadmills, one loud StairMaster, two stationary bikes, neatly rolled white towels by the door, and a very commanding doctor’s scale.

As I spin and sweat on the bike, the smiling woman next to me steps off the treadmill with relief. Ten minutes later she comes back, this time in her bathing suit to use the scale. The least amount of clothing is obviously very important.

She rushes out as a blond woman in Spandex dashes in. “Just checking my weight!” the blond woman explains, as if apologizing for coming and going so quickly.

A woman’s relationship with the scale is complicated. I no longer own one and haven’t had one in our home for twenty years. When my son was little he stretched out a tape measure and said, “Mommy, I know you never like to know how much you weigh. Is it the same for how tall you are?” But over the years, my children have come to better understand why I needed a clean break.

I began my unhealthy affair with an iron gray scale in my mother’s bathroom at sixteen. It was rusty, cold and very powerful in my world. It was how I coped, how I cried, how I survived my parents’ divorce. They had fought for years but I managed. When they divorced I didn’t manage as well, and instead, the scale began to manage me. She was someone I trusted, she was always there, and her message was clear and unemotional. I could come and go and she’d be there when I returned, to comfort me and compliment me for being thin.

Soon, however, I was controlled and abused by this iron mother. She wouldn’t let go. A pound more, and her imagined criticism made me feel sad, mad, and anxious. A pound less, and I was her proud and confident daughter. Like a film director, she controlled my expression and feeling — and gave me a voice that was not my own.

I was a young woman ruled by numbers. But recovery from an eating disorder, with the help of therapy, yoga, spirituality, and my loving family and friends, helped me face the truth about my iron despot. She turned into a piece of metal and I turned into the iron maiden who had the power. One blue-sky morning in Colorado I buried her in a Safeway Dumpster, which seemed like an appropriate farewell.

Sometimes I wonder if my children feel deprived that they’ve grown up without a scale.

I know there are many women who can use the scale in a healthy way to monitor their physical health and wellbeing. I am not one of them. It isn’t easy to measure myself by weighing my emotions, but it is a safer life raft than holding on to something so heavy it would sink me in the end.

I continue to ask the kind nurse at my yearly check-up not to tell me my weight. “Oh deary you, what’s the worry?” she questions.

But, as I recommend to my patients who have a history of abuse, it is up to them what kind of relationship, if any, they want to have with their perpetrator. Sometimes I wonder if my children feel deprived that they’ve grown up without a scale. But the health of their real mother does seem more important.

So, for now, I prefer to walk on by the ominous creature, celebrating life free from its grasp and appreciating the challenge of finding my own internal “balance.” And what did I say to my young son many years ago? “Sure you can measure how tall I am, but the truth is we never stop growing on the inside, so we’ll have to find a really big tape measure!”

~Priscilla Dann-Courtney

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