Doña Martha- A Story On How Our Past Shapes Our Present

I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. Growing up we had, as is customary for most middle class families there, a number of cleaning ladies who worked with us along the years.

One of them was Doña Martha. A middle aged woman with curly black hair and a warm smile, Doña Martha was very sweet and pleasant. As it often happens with people we spend time with in close quarters, we got to know her well. We knew about her family and their struggles, their love and tight-knit dynamic.

Doña Martha was also overweight. She worried about her health and the risks that came with her expanding waistline. Like many people, she was unsure of how to fix this problem.

Around that time a commercial began appearing in local TV, advertising a series of neon-colored drinks “formulated to help you lose weight.” Even back then my bullshit-o-meter was on point! Nothing but snake oil and lies, I remember thinking. One more way in which those who can will take advantage of the public’s misinformation.

What was my surprise when the following week Doña Martha mentioned she had bought “the drink system thing” to help her lose weight.

I was baffled and horrified!

Hers was a family that could use every bit of income they got, and now they had decided to use a portion of their money buying these drinks in an attempt to help her get healthier. They believed the lies. I was heartbroken for them.

I didn’t say a thing, mostly because I didn’t know what to say. But that feeling of powerlessness, of anger at how opportunists without ethics can take advantage of others, stayed with me for a long time. I think in a way it molded who I am today and what I do for a living.

The rejection I feel for fad diets, magic teas and quick fixes has its roots in this story, and it has helped shaped who I am as a professional. I bet Doña Martha has no clue! Ha.

Remembering this anecdote made me wonder how often seemingly insignificant narratives from our past influence the way we think and act today. Those thoughts on certain foods being “good” or “bad”, where did they come from? The need to polish off your plate, is that because you too heard the story about the poor kids in Africa who wish they had your food? Your love for exercise, is that something you grew up with? The disapproval you feel toward your body at a certain size or shape, did you inherit that?

The best part is, once we find these stories we get to choose.

We get to decide which stories serve us, empower us, help us grow. We can keep those.

And those stories that make us small, afraid, or dislike who we are? Time to let those go.