I don’t think I have to tell you twice that words can hurt. I mean, I’m pretty sure we all know the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is patently false. After all, a broken bone only takes a few weeks to heal, but hurtful words stick with us for a lifetime, and take plenty of therapy sessions to unpack. Hurtful words can especially affect us, however, when they are said to us by people we love, more specifically our parents. Our parents’ opinions of us are the ones we consider the most because they’re our parents and we base our opinions of the world and ourselves off of theirs. This is demonstrated beautifully in The Simpsons episode; “Lisa’s Belly.”
In the episode, after being submerged in some weird water on an old ride at a waterpark, Bart and Lisa get sick and have to go to the hospital. There, they are prescribed a four-week regimen of taking steroids, which have the side effect of weight gain. Flash forward four weeks, and both Bart and Lisa have gained weight, just in time for the new school year. When Lisa is about to go off to school, Marge gives her a hug and says “Someone’s getting chunky.” This instantly causes Lisa insecurity and anxiety, and the word takes up a huge space in her brain. Everywhere she goes, it’s all she can hear, no matter how hard she tries to scrub “chunky” from her brain.
What our parents say can stick with us and affect us, even if they didn’t mean for it to. I don’t think Marge meant to hurt Lisa by saying she was “chunky.” I think she just thought she was doing some harmless teasing. But it doesn’t matter because the impact was the same. Lisa was still deeply hurt by Marge’s words and they still stuck with her and caused her lots of self-doubt and mental anguish, even though Marge didn’t intend for it to. We all have things that our parents have said to us that have affected us deeply and have stuck with us all our lives, even though our parents didn’t mean to hurt us.
Later on in the episode, Marge tells Lisa she knows why Lisa is down in the dumps, and that she didn’t know what she was thinking. Lisa feels relieved, thinking Marge is going to apologize for hurting her feelings. Instead, Marge thinks Lisa is down about not having any new clothes and takes her shopping for back-to-school clothes. This just makes Lisa feel even worse, because none of the clothes Lisa likes fit her, and she has to wear clothes meant for 10-year-olds. Lisa is upset because the clothes are too big for her. Marge says that they’re not and that it looks very “flattering,” which just makes the word “chunky” grow even larger inside Lisa’s mind. This causes Lisa to snap, yelling at Marge that it’s not her job to comment on her appearance and making a scene in front of the store, so Marge takes her home.
Isn’t that what everyone wants? For their parents to apologize or at least acknowledge how they made them feel? Unfortunately though, lots of times, we are unable to get this because our parents are unaware that they were hurtful, or are too proud to apologize. In Lisa’s case, Marge is unaware of how she made Lisa feel, and of how Lisa is holding in all the hurt and pain caused by Marge’s words. This causes Lisa to lash out without actually saying what is really bothering her because she wishes Marge would realize how she made Lisa feel. But Lisa doesn’t know how or is too afraid to communicate this, and I get that. From the outside, it seems like all Lisa has to do is tell Marge why she is upset, but I understand why Lisa is scared and hesitant to tell Marge. It can be scary to go up to your parents and say “Hey, you hurt my feelings,” depending on the relationship you have with them. Also, what if they don’t understand why you’re hurt? What if they invalidate your feelings? Even though it seems like a simple fix, it’s not as simple as it seems.
In the episode, when they get home, Lisa angrily runs up to her room and slams the door. Homer timidly asks an obviously cranky Marge how it was at the mall. Marge tells him what happened and that she asked Lisa what the problem is, but Lisa won’t tell her. Marge asks Homer to talk to Lisa. Homer asks Lisa what’s bothering her and Lisa tells him what Marge said to her, and said she just wished she didn’t care what people thought. Homer tells her that if she didn’t care, she wouldn’t be human.
This is relatable because it’s true! While we all wish we didn’t care what other people thought of us, we will always care to some extent because we’re social creatures. This is even more true when you’re Lisa’s age because you are still forming your perception of yourself, so everything anyone says has a huge effect on you. Particularly your parents, because we look to our parents for guidance about who we should be and how we should act.
As the episode continues, Homer then enlists the help of Patty and Selma. Patty and Selma take Lisa to the park and tell Lisa that they don’t care what other people think of them, and neither should Lisa. Later on, Marge tells Lisa that Homer told her why Lisa was upset with her and apologizes. However, Marge unintentionally makes it worse by saying that Lisa will soon be back to “normal” and be her “perfect” little girl again, which causes “chunky” to grow even larger in Lisa’s brain. Lisa gets upset again and starts being snippy with Marge, who can’t figure out what she did wrong again.
While I don’t agree with how Lisa handled this, I can understand why she would be hurt by Marge’s words. When Marge said that Lisa would be back to being her “normal” and “perfect” little girl again, Lisa could have felt hurt and discouraged that it seemed as though she was only “normal” and “perfect” to her mom if she looked a certain way. I want to make it clear that Marge didn’t mean to send this message to Lisa. I think she was just trying to say, “Don’t worry, you’ll be back to normal soon!” But Lisa probably wanted Marge to assure her that she would be beautiful to Marge no matter what.
Marge then gets recommended to a hypnotherapist by Luann. Dr. Sage hypnotizes Marge and Lisa to visit Lisa’s mind. When Marge comes upon the word “chunky”, she is horrified by how large it is, and how much space it’s taking. Lisa worries she’s never going to get “chunky” out of her head. They then explore Marge’s subconscious, and they find themselves in a childhood memory of Marge’s. In it, Marge, sporting a new haircut, asks her mother what she thinks. Her mother replies “It’s nice, but I do think longer hair complements your plain features.” We then see inside Marge’s mind that “plain” takes up a huge space. Marge now knows how she made Lisa feel, and Lisa now knows exactly how Marge felt, and they hug. Their reconciliation causes the words “chunky” and “plain” to shrink. Lisa remarks that maybe, the hurtful things your mother says to you never totally disappear. Marge says “Maybe they don’t, but I really believe that if you’re aware of them, those words will lose their power over you- very, very, slowly.”
I like this scene because it shows how this phenomenon is generational. Even if we can’t see it and aren’t aware of it, our parents are also struggling with hurtful words that got put into their heads by their parents, whether that be intentional or unintentional. If they have not processed their insecurities, they might accidentally pass them down or project them onto their kids. That’s why it’s so important for parents to be aware of their childhood wounds and do the work, so they don’t hurt their kids in similar ways.
In addition, this part of the episode really nails home the power a parent’s words can have. For example, when Marge tries to fight “chunky” to get it out of Lisa’s head, but it’s no use. As you can see, it is much, much harder to get a hurtful word out than it is to put it there, as evidenced by “plain” taking up a bunch of space in Marge’s mind despite the fact that she no longer remembers her mom saying that to her. There is a saying that says “People may forget what you said, they may forget what you did, but they’ll never, ever forget how you made them feel.” This is especially true when it comes to your parents. Marge forgot her mom said that to her, but what her mom said definitely stuck with Marge and continued having an impact on her, long after the memory of what her mom said faded away. It reminds me of earlier in the episode, when Lisa kept seeing “chunky” everywhere, and she saw her teacher write “chunky” on the board and say “This year we’re learning lessons that will stay with you for the rest of your lives.” The lessons our parents teach us really do stay with us for the rest of our lives, for better or for worse.
Finally, I have to talk about how while the hurtful words in both Marge and Lisa’s heads shrink when they reconcile, they don’t disappear, they just shrink. I like this because even if you’re aware of the effect of what your parents said had on you, and are trying to address it, the words will not disappear immediately, they will slowly fade away, but still are there, taking up space. That’s because healing is not a one-and-done thing. It’s a process. Since it had such a large effect on you for so long, one can imagine that it’s going to take time to recover from. Some days, you’ll have an easier time coping than others. You just have to be patient with yourself.
As you can see, the words our parents say to us have a deeper impact than they (and we) know. While our parents might not mean to, their words definitely stick with us and affect us long after they say them. It is very important to be aware of that impact, so you can heal, but also remember that your parents are only human too, and are also dealing with hurtful words of their own.