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We Are Beautiful, Mom

By Gracie Mandel--Driving along the winding streets of my childhood neighborhood, my mom sang along to the radio with cheesy popcorn in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Our weekly Saturday morning yard sale adventures had just begun and I was ready to find some treasures. At the end of the long day, we’d come home with a car full of trinkets, clothing of every size, and ingredients to make my mom’s famous fudge. You see, my mom is a collector, and she decided from a young age that if she ever began to feel empty, she’d just fill herself up with things, with work, and with food.

I first saw my mom as strong, brave, and independent, but I knew underneath that she was just as scared as I was. The secret to her disguise was a struggle I could not fully understand. The years caught up with me, and I found the terror of being “too much” control my every move. My mind collected anxious thoughts like I did with the trinkets back when I was young and I couldn’t decipher my wants and my needs from the eating disorder voice in my head. The learned mimicking of my mom came easy to me; pretend to not need, and then consume enough to fill the emptiness – it’s all that I knew.

When the years of tutus and hop scotch passed by, high school approached and my mom and I fought frequently. I wanted so badly for people to love me, to accept me for being all that I was, and I thought I had to shrink in order to not feel like I was “too much.” My mom worried about me, but all I saw was her struggle with weight, body image, and food, so I had no idea how to live and be and breathe without that struggle, too.

There came a point, about halfway through being at a residential treatment facility, that I called my mom and asked her about her relationship with herself. My mom asked me why I had asked about that and I began to describe every moment when I was young that I saw her eyes looking in the mirror. I described to her the learned behaviors of filling and emptying herself to make room for the men in her life, the endless outfit changes, and weight changes and diet changes. I knew that she knew, and I knew that I had to change something, but speaking those words out loud, telling her how much she affected my eating habits made a shift in me somehow.

I was able to understand that in order to feel worthy and good enough and not “too much,” I had to give that validation to myself. If I wanted to have a daughter one day, I had to love all that I was so that she would never have to go through what I did. My eating disorder thoughts bled for a bit, they blended with recovery and depression and heartache and loss, but I finally got on the right path towards freedom. It took a long time to make amends with the way my mom was and the way I knew I had to be, but my mom believing in me really made all the difference.

Now, all this time later, we still go to yard sales. This year, we crank the music up high, the windows are down and we’re both singing. My legs are on the dashboard, my mom is smiling at me, proud of all the trials I’ve overcome. In search of more treasures, I find a gold sequined dress and hold it up to myself in the antique mirror. My mom slowly walks towards to me, smiles and says “You’re beautiful, my daughter,” and I reply “We are beautiful, mom.” With tears in her eyes, and tears in mine, I hug her as she hugs me back. My hands wipe away her tears and her cheeks are as soft as my baby hands that she held when I was young, Recovery and healing comes in full circle, I guess. Happy Mother’s Day to my mom: the collector, the hand holder, and the consumer of chaotic comforting love. Thank you. 

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

Proud2Bme was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental health organization that has licensed the concept to the National Eating Disorders Association. Unless otherwise noted, all original content on this site is copyright The National Eating Disorders Association. The Proud2Bme brand, logos, and trademarks are property of Rivierduinen.