Thursday, April 15, 2010

Philly Moms: You might be a cult member if …

You might be a cult member if …

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.

MemorialYou might be a cult member if ...

… You’ve tried diets involving extended consumption of only one kind of fruit, or massive quantities of protein, or meals in a can.

… You are fonder of your treadmill than animate beings.

… You feel ambivalent about your height. Or your skin. Or your hair.

I think most of us belong to the cult. We say we’re realistic about our looks, or that we have to know our flaws to work with them, but the truth is we’ve been indoctrinated into a corrosive pseudo-religion -- one with specific (often unattainable) standards and a sense that no matter how ascetic or hedonistic we are, we will forever fall short of its promise of salvation. Film actress Demi Moore recently revealed her history of body issues, comedienne Kirstie Alley has practically made a second career out of hers, and stars as dissimilar as Cher and Joan Rivers have altered their faces to indistinction in search of some quality they don’t see in the mirror.

I come from a long line of image cultists. My grandmother was obsessed with my mother’s skin tone and black hair. By the age of 12, my mother had already been dyed blonde then red, and was routinely doused in face powder three or four shades paler than her skin tone in order to look “whiter.” My mother, in turn, obsessed about my looks -- albeit differently. It was my fat she sought to eradicate. When I did finally lose some weight, she shifted her attention to my nose -- which had reverted to some sort of ancestral coarseness quite unlike her fine one. She offered to pay for a nose job when I turned 16 (I declined). And, I’m fearful that despite my best intentions I, too, have brought my beautiful daughter into the cult.

In one of his moving poems, Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai writes: “Happiness has no father. No happiness ever/Learns from the one before, and it dies, without heirs./But sadness has a long tradition,/Passes from eyes to eye, from heart to heart.” The cult may not pass along sadness, but it makes insecurity an inheritance. And that carries it’s own cost to wholeness.

Eye to eye, heart to heart. If our eyes are nothing but critical when they’re trained on our reflections, can they be less critical when trained outward? If our hearts feel diminished by each perceived lack, can they ever feel full? Particularly when we recognize something of ourselves in our daughters?

By the way, the photo that accompanies this post is of my mother. It seems inconceivable to me that she could have ever felt some lack, or had issues with her looks. But that’s what’s so insidious about the cult -- it takes in what’s perfectly whole and beautiful and redefines it.

How do we walk away from the cult? Kindness, both outwardly and inwardly expressed, for sure. But that’s a facile answer -- and far more difficult to practice than to write in a blog post.

So, what do you think it takes? I’m asking.

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