Dear Carolyn: I am a 30-year-old woman with a BMI of 24.9, the top of the “healthy” range. I believe I am attractive and healthy and I am consistently told by friends, boyfriends, and other family members that I am beautiful. Sure I wouldn’t mind losing a couple of pounds, like most other women in this country, but I like myself the way I am.
The problem is that my parents seem to feel that I am too heavy and have been making occasional remarks about my weight since I was in college.
I don’t think they realize their focus on my weight hurts. It really, really hurts. It makes me feel that all they see when they look at me are the imperfections they perceive, more so than even seeing me as a human being.
I earned my doctorate a few years ago, and getting through a doctoral program is no walk in the park. I was no heavier than I am now, and when I walked in the door of my parents’ house, my mother would immediately make some comment about my weight, clothing, hair or other aspect of my physical appearance before she even asked me about school or my social life. It always felt like such a slap in the face. I have asked her to stop, tried to explain how this makes me feel, but the comments keep coming.
Yesterday, my mother stopped by my apartment. She said they noticed I ate a lot over Christmas. Wow. I was recovering from a stomach flu then and I actually did not eat a lot. She also offered to pay for a Weight Watchers membership as a birthday present.
I am at a loss about how to handle this. While I think my parents have good intentions, I honestly feel like their fixation on my weight is harming our relationship. – S.
You’re a devoted and loving daughter (for which I’ll suggest therapy in a moment, and not as cynically as I sound now), but a large percentage of the people reading this are wondering why you didn’t tell your parents where to stick their concern a decade ago.
Your parents haven’t just hurt your feelings; they’ve abused the power of their criticism to the extent that you don’t see their deep reach into your business as the violation it really is.
First things first, though: telling them where they can stick their concern.
State to them, by letter if needed, that you have doctors to guide you on your weight and don’t need Mom and Dad to comment, issue warnings, throw money at or worry about your weight. NO extra explanations or apologies – just the fact. They’re out.
Then say that, because your past requests for them to drop this issue have been ignored, if they do comment on your weight, then you will put an immediate end to that visit or phone conversation.
Then do it.
Follow this by asking your doctor for names of good family therapists. To defend yourself effectively, you need to know where your parents end and your “self” begins. Your parents have blurred those lines.
It’s possible to sharpen them without therapy, sure – if you can see your parents objectively as outliers and wrong. It doesn’t sound like you’re there yet.
A good therapist will help you see where the boundaries go, how to erect and enforce them, and, possibly most important, why your parents never taught you this themselves – something healthy parents do from the very day you’re born.