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His Eyes Will Start Wandering if You Don't Lose Some Weight

by Hester Moses about a month ago in list / advice
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and other age old unsolicited European quips from my mother and the aunties from the community

Girl inspecting her face in a fogged up mirror in the bathroom

As women we're used to unsolicited commentary about inappropriate things all the time from both family, friends and even strangers. Comments about everything from the clothes we wear, to the careers we opt for, to how we decide to raise kids. But without a doubt, I find that certain cultural backgrounds carry a little more judgement within their core, especially for standards of beauty. I'm not saying that my personal experience speaks for all Eastern Europeans, or that I even had it that bad. I am quite aware of the inequalities that many women experience across the globe every single day. This piece merely hopes to outline the experience of one girl (me), growing up in Canada where we were constantly taught about acceptance and inclusiveness, and yet when I came back home or to my cultural community it seemed to be a completely different story.

Here are 5 of my all time favourite lines I've had the honour to be the recipient of:

"All the men were looking at her when she walked by in that summer dress"

Said my grandmother proudly to my mother when we were visiting back in the old country one summer. I was 15 and we were walking back home from the grocery store where a bunch of older euro men were sitting and smoking.

There are a few things that bother me about this one specifically. It doesn't make it right to say that about anyone, but when you say that in front of a young girl who is in the throes of teenage insecurity, you are drilling some problematic things into her subconscious. Things like, its a good thing when men look at you like that, you should dress in a way to gain attention like that, and your grandmother is proud of you when you're physically attractive and older men look at you inappropriately.

"You're still not nearly as fit as you should be, don't get too cocky"

My uncle said to me jokingly another summer we were visiting and I was going clothing shopping. I was about 19, the thinnest I have ever been in my life, and truthfully on the verge of an eating disorder.

Seriously. Why?! Because I wasn't super toned? Or maybe I wasn't absolutely stick thin? Just the standards of some people baffles me to this day. Luckily I am now in a place that I understand how to deflect comments like this both in my own mind, and verbally to the one who dealt the comment, but phew. That one haunted me for a while and I'm pretty sure the damage was only undone many years later.

"Look at those strong arms. I bet you you're really good at making bread and carrying groceries. You know I have a grandson back in the old country..."

Said an elderly man at our church one year during a fundraising event.

I didn't know this man in any extended personal capacity other than him being at the same church as me every Sunday. It was just old Mr. Whoever - we all know someone like that. Anyway, this man was notorious for unsolicited comments like this towards the young women of the church. We all laughed it off as we compared our own experience or commentary from him which ranged from "You have gained weight haven't you!", to "Your red lipstick makes you look like a fallen woman".

Nevertheless, it left a notch in my mind. "Strong arms". Mind you this was before the whole push for cross fit and women who lift. My world was still very much seeing stick thin celebrities on magazine covers and binge watching America's Next Top Model. So strong arms wasn't exactly something I was eager to hear. Still to this day I don't wear tank tops or short sleeve shirts in public because I am so self conscious of my arms.

"If you gain too much weight, he'll start looking at other women and lose interest in you."

Said my mom to me right before I left for a trip to the Dominican with my then boyfriend of about 5 years. He's now my husband so I guess that extra weight didn't scare him away.

Again though, just the obsession with weight. My mother grew up with this body issue growing up, and even though it almost killed her (eating disorders, suicide attempts etc), she still couldn't help projecting that on me and my sisters.

When I became aware of how toxic this was somewhere in my early twenties, I actively repudiated her comments and tried to explain to her what she was doing. It took a long time and I think she's become a little more aware of everything, but the general point of view still stands.

She'll say that she grew up with this commentary from her grandmother and mother, as did all the women from that time. As a result the women of their generations cared about how they looked and most women were thin and attractive. Meanwhile today women (especially us North American women) are all sloppy and "jiggly".

"Would you rather be skinny or healthy?"

Said my friend when I was eating avocado toast for lunch once. I said something about knowing that avocados had a lot of calories, but that they were super healthy so it was OK.

That's when she took out a cigarette and had a sip of her black coffee and said those words to me. She was and always has been the skinnier and more fit looking one in our friendship, but I've also witnessed the obsessive focus on food and exercise when it comes to maintaining such an image. It is hard to upkeep! Not to mention, the skinny vs. healthy thing is disconcerting. You can totally be fit, while eating great foods/not starving yourself. Everything in balance!

She definitely had this drilled into her head while growing up. I remember our families were friendly because both our parents were refugees from behind the iron curtain. I would be sleeping over at her house and we'd sneak downstairs to look for snacks and they literally had nothing in their fridge but filtered water. In the morning we'd get one slice of bread with only a thin layer of butter because "we wouldn't want to gain weight would we?" said her mother - for the record we were like 11 years old. And then we would go hiking somewhere for what felt like hours.

At least my house was a little more easy on the meals and food, even though my mother would guilt me after eating my fill instead. I don't know which is worse - withholding food, or putting a bunch in front of a kid and then shaming them for eating...who knows anymore.

This comment was made before being fit and strong was seen as sexy. Somewhere in the 2010 to 2015 time frame I generally started seeing a shift to strong/healthy = sexy. That's when this friend in particular ditched smoking and became happy to have avocado toast along side a fresh antioxidant smoothie.

This isn't just a European or Strictly Women's Problem I Know

I'm not claiming that the only young girls and women who experience this are from European descent. I'm also aware that men are very much victim to the same body image pressure, and have even less representation in this stream. I'm sure when it comes down to it everyone has had their experience with something like this. Perhaps it's a generational thing rather than a cultural one, or maybe it has to do with the media and fashion industry and how it projects it's ideal of beauty on the people. Clearly it's complex.

Either way, I'm glad we're moving slowly but surely towards a general acceptance that healthy and happy bodies are beautiful. More importantly that happy and healthy bodies are the goal, not some subpar thing that people should strive to overcome and make even better.


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Hester Moses

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