TW: body dysmorphia, plastic surgery, overall immigrant parent judgement.
Can you believe it? My Iranian immigrant parents are very judgmental. A revelation! It’s not. It’s a classically sad stereotype, which in my case, is based in some truth. Now I want to be very clear: I do not write this to disparage my parents or ANY immigrant parents in any way. I write this because it has been very present on my mind since the holidays and I want to talk about something that affects a lot of us, regardless of where our families are from. But to emphasize my above point: our parents all come from different worlds and eras and I am not here to say anything other than this is all just very unfortunate. I do not think my parents are bad people. I think they’re just doing their best. Does it excuse certain behaviors? No, but at this point, it is beyond us. Let’s just be open and talk about it.
Currently, my biggest issue with my parents is their obsession with commenting on my body. This has been an issue my whole life but over the holidays, it really hit a peak. My father would not stop commenting on what I ate, how I looked, what I used to look like, and how I would look if I kept eating. He would pick up an old photo of me and point out that I had gained weight since that photo was taken. At first I ignored it, but after awhile it started to really hurt my feelings. It just got to be too much.
I wanted to scream. Don’t you understand you have been doing this to me my whole life? Don’t you understand I suffer from body dysmorphia because of this? Don’t you understand that I have a terrible relationship with food because of all these comments? Don’t you understand everything you say to me, I have said ten times worse to myself? Don’t you understand I hate my body and always have because you and everyone around me in the world has told me to since I was a child?
Even when I lost weight, it didn’t feel good. Nothing feels good. I have been told my whole life that my body isn’t good enough. Why, at 32 years old, do I need to continue hearing this? Do you not feel like enough damage has been done? I eat aggressively low carb because of this damage. I never feel comfortable when I am eating because of this. I feel sick to my stomach with sadness when I feel like I’ve over-indulged. And yet, my body must be commented on.
So I guess you could say there is a darkness in me. Is that putting it lightly? Possibly. I’ve spent years in therapy trying to move past the issues I have surrounding my body and it has worked for the most part. I compartmentalize the shit out of all the comments from my parents and general pressure from the world to look a certain way. I have my own tools. I had to. There was no help from my family. My mom always told me to not let it bother me. I mean. Okay. Sure. What a simple way to think about it. Just don’t let it bother you! Unfortunately I wasn’t raised in a repressed culture that taught me to suppress my feelings to nothingness, but thank you for trying to give me some advice.
In my mind, the most ideal situation is to not have a body. Bodies make everything complicated. We should just be a floating entity, an energy, if you will. You can’t see me, you can just feel my vibes. Because then you have nothing physical to judge me on. You cannot hold how I look or what I am wearing against me. You can’t see what I intake as nutrition to keep me going. And again, when you can’t see it, you can’t judge it. The dream! I know this is all nonsense but one must be allowed to fantasize.
Clearly I am unwell so let’s move on.
In middle eastern cultures, food and love can be interconnected. People show you love by feeding you. They insist they feed you. They insist you keep eating. They don’t want you to go hungry. Please, please keep eating. Do not offend them. Oh yeah, that’s a thing. If you don’t eat, it could be considered offensive. Someone could possibly FIND OFFENSE in your lack of interest in continuing to eat their food. Madness.
In the recent season of the television show Ramy, there is an episode where Ramy’s sister, Dena, goes to see a white therapist. At one point, they pivot to talking about bodies and the exchange goes like this:
White therapist: Do you agree that brown cultures have emotional relationships with food?
White therapist: I found there is an emphasis in brown culture on the acceptance of food as a form of love while also a criticism of those who gain weight. Did you find that your body was ridiculed by your family?
Dena: Um, I don’t really feel comfortable or like -
White therapist: Talking about this with a white woman?
Dena: I was actually going to say something else, but, yeah.
White therapist: This work isn’t about exposing your family, this will serve your family.
Dena: When I was seven, my grandma told me she would get me a nose job at sixteen.
Now this therapist does eventually take Dena down a very disturbing and racist path but I think regardless of the commentary on white people’s understanding of ‘brown culture,’ the comments about food and love still stuck with me. It’s true. There is an acceptance of food as a form of love. And then we ARE criticized for gaining weight. Everyone from my aunts to uncles to my grandfather have commented on my weight. And all have encouraged me to continue eating when at their table.
As much as I want to put that in the stereotype folder in my brain, I can’t help but think, yes, it is true. I have felt this. And, yes, my dad also offered to get me a nose job if I ever felt like I needed it. I grew up in a family that was obsessed with their looks and was pro-altering what you need to. I have a cousin who has cat eye eyeliner tattooed on her eyelids. I have cousin who has their eyebrows tattooed on. It’s normal, no one says a thing about it. This is just how it is. My dad’s best friend from childhood went to Mexico and got a great face lift for a good price. Everyone was amazed! He soon died of bladder cancer after a tough battle. To this day, when his name comes up, people talk about what an incredible face lift he got. And for a good price! It’s too bad he died so soon afterward. He didn’t have a chance to really enjoy his face lift. Sad!
These are things that were said around me that I just took in, accepted, decided were okay. I remember my cousin once telling me I was SO lucky that I didn’t need to get a nose job. What? I was? Wow, I guess I never thought about how lucky I am to not have to alter my nose to fit the accepted standard of what society considered a beautiful nose. That same cousin ended up getting a nose job that changed the entire shape of her face. She was unrecognizable. It was kind of shocking at first but now I don’t even remember what she used to look like. All those ‘before’ photos have been scrubbed from the internet. It is all very dystopian and I am still not sure how to fully take it all in.
My own dad used to ask us if we thought he needed a face lift. I always said no, that’s weird. You don’t need one. Then he would agree and say yes, I was right, lines on your face gave you character. I would sigh a sigh of relief. But then it would come up again. I always give him the same answer.
A mind fuck? How could it not be!
Another memory I have surrounds my grandfather. He died in 2019. He was my mother’s father. A polygamist, a chauvinist, a hard working man. My mom was his oldest child. He married my grandmother when she was sixteen and immediately had a child with her. After a year or so, my grandmother divorced my grandfather. Naturally he then turned to my grandmothers sister and married her, thus making some of my mothers half-siblings also her cousins. The old country, am I right? There was a brief stint in my teenage years where I stopped going to Iran to visit. I was angsty, emotional, unable to deal with the fact that I would have to dress so conservatively. So I didn’t go. I did end up going back when I finished college. I knew it was time. I hadn’t gone back in years and I knew I needed to go see my family. We didn’t tell my grandfather I was coming. We wanted to surprise him. I remember knocking on his door, taking in his blank stare that turned into recognition. He started to cry. In his tears he showed me photos of my cats he had printed out and framed on his mantelpiece. In those same tears, he looked me up and down and told me I had become chubby. He hadn’t seen me in seven years and this was his final conclusion after taking me in. In the moment, I said nothing. I knew better than to disrespect my elders, to their face, that is. I smiled politely and went about catching up with him. And yes, I ate a lot of food at his house that night. I was encouraged to do so.
These scenarios are so common in my life, that I fear I have become complacent about them. Have I taken my mom’s advice and chosen to not let it bother me? Okay, maybe, but it doesn’t mean I have forgotten them. My physical appearance has been made such an issue my whole life, that I have these memories ingrained in me. And to be very clear: I wish I didn’t. I wish I simply didn’t care. I wish I loved my body. In ways, I do, but I feel like as soon as I make a modicum of progress mentally, I am dragged back down into the darkness.
So over the holidays, I finally snapped. I yelled at my dad. I yelled at him to stop commenting on my body. I called him an asshole. I told him to let it go. I actually told him I would put his ass in a home when he was too old to take care of himself. I would do this because he wouldn’t stop commenting on my physical appearance. I didn’t need to say that but I was really on one at that point. Let’s just say it didn’t go well.
I do think he got the message. I also do think he is trying to come from a place of love and care but doesn’t know how to actually handle it. I get it, my parents want me to be healthy. They just will never understand the concept of body positivity. They weren’t raised with it. It is not a concept they have probably ever heard of. I don’t even know how I could ever even explain it to them. It is, unfortunately, a lost cause. While my father got the message, he will eventually comment again. He refuses to know any better. It is what it is.
In conclusion, what I am trying to say is, this world is hell. We are all doing our best to survive. I do not have anything figured out. I just try to work on it. That is all you can do. I can’t hate my parents. I can simply just try to not let it kill me. I don’t have any great advice to offer, if that wasn’t clear. Just take care of yourself. And if you feel like you have an eating disorder, then consider asking for help. Do not beat yourself up. There is also nothing wrong with needing that help. I needed it for years. I am only now slowly getting myself above water and still triggered by comments made by my parents. And I’m suppose to be an adult!! The pain doesn’t just stop, though. We are all in need of tools to help us deal with our issues, our pain, our anger. I believe it’s the most common thing in the world.
Note: please do not force toxic positivity on people. It’s not okay. Let people feel how they feel. Do not tell them they shouldn’t feel a certain way. That’s not cool. We feel a lot of stuff and that is okay.
Okay I love you all and I hope this made at least one person feel not alone? I am sorry if it was triggering or too sad. It was just very present on my mind and I needed to feel these emotions out in written form. Fuck me, right?
God bless and good night.
Thank you for sharing this. I’ve also dealt with body dysphoria which gets worse when I don’t feel healthy. I kind of had the opposite issue with my family: food = love, and also don’t call yourself fat in front of us. I felt like I couldn’t really open up about my body looking wrong to me without it being construed as a criticism toward someone else. That’s a whole different kind of mind fuck. I also deal with chronic pain and illness which makes it hard to like the body I’m in sometimes and no one in my family wants to hear that either. They’re very slow unlearning toxic positivity. Having a body is more trouble than it’s worth most days but I live for those days few and far between when I like who I see in the mirror. It’s hard out here ❤️