Maybe we can start here: In her mind, she’s simply doing her job as a parent. If I were to ask her why she’s putting this kind of pressure on you, she would probably say that it’s because she loves you deeply. She likely believes that getting top grades and maintaining a certain weight lead to a happy, fulfilling life, and she feels she’s helping to guide you to that future. She might even believe that what you consider pressure is well-meaning “parental guidance,” and she may be baffled by what she considers your lack of appreciation for her attentiveness and care. All of this makes it hard for her to hear you.
What she doesn’t realize, however, is that she’s showing her love in a way that doesn’t feel loving, because it leaves you feeling unseen, anxious, and inadequate. For instance, instead of respecting your desire to engage in your interests and delighting in the joy they bring you, she devalues their relevance. Instead of showing pride in your academic achievements and how hard you work to earn them, she insists that you work even harder. Instead of admiring your beauty in a body that gives you strength, she urges you to become smaller. And perhaps most frustrating, she sets you up to disappoint her: If you study, you aren’t exercising enough; if you exercise, you aren’t studying enough. No matter what you do, you can’t please her.
The good news is that it’s not your job to please her. Nor is it your job to get the highest grades or have the slimmest body. Rather, the work of a healthy human is to learn how to please yourself—not your mom, your teachers, or society’s idea of what a woman’s body should look like. It’s to figure out what matters to you and to focus your energy in those directions. For you, what matters may be balance rather than undue stress, learning rather than a letter grade, growth rather than perfection, self-defined beauty rather than a rigid aesthetic, creativity rather than a constrained existence. Let those values be your north star.
So: back to your mom. Somewhere along the way, likely in her own childhood, a certain kind of achievement and appearance became very important to her. Maybe her parents put the same kind of pressure on her that she puts on you—but unlike you, she acceded to it without examining the consequences. Or perhaps her parents didn’t pay much attention to her at all, and she wished dearly for parents who were as invested in her “success” as she is in yours. I put success in quotes because for whatever reason, she long ago developed a definition of success that you are wisely questioning. If you get the highest grades but the cost is stress, depression, anxiety, and a feeling of never being good enough, that might not be a healthy definition of success at all. If you lose weight but end up going to sleep each night hungry, weak, irritable, and insecure about your appearance, that also doesn’t seem like the kind of “success” you should aspire to.