Dear Carolyn: Each and every member of my immediate family views thinness as the absolute key measure of success in life. Some are bulimic, some anorexic, but all have eating disorders.
I’m in my mid-50s, athletic, and of average weight according to medical guidelines. My weight has fluctuated about 15 pounds through the years. I visit as frequently as I can from a several-state distance.
The first thing, and I stress, the VERY first thing, said to me upon arrival is: “You look like you’ve lost weight.” Or, if I’m up 15, nothing is said but diet tips will be given throughout the visit.
My parents are elderly, and it’s too late to change that pattern now. My sister, though, is an unwanted, talking scale. Many years ago, while I was getting rid of post-baby fat, she grabbed my niece and my daughter and went into a circle dance, chanting, “We’re the skinnies! We’re the skinnies!” Around and around they went. I hated her for it, and I hated me for being “fat.”
Recently, in the middle of a conversation about what to do about ailing parents, she chimes in, out of the blue, with, “You’re doing so well with your weight! I’m so proud of you. We’ve all been talking about it.” She’s ruthless.
I was thinking, “$+^&! you.” But just said nothing. I never want to hear a word from her again on the topic. What to say to stop it, once and for all?
– Family Obsessed With Weight
A: My (imagined) hat’s off to you for still visiting often. My car might have forgotten how to get there after years of cruel, humanity-negating myopia like this.
Assuming you keep up the visits, I offer three words: “I don’t recall.”
“I don’t recall asking your opinion of my weight.”
“I don’t recall asking for help with my diet.”
“I don’t recall seeking your approval.”
“I don’t recall any part of our parents’ care that involves my weight.”
“I don’t recall any mention of weight in discussions of morality or values.”
“I don’t recall ever agreeing that weight is a measure of a person’s character.”
“I don’t recall when discussing weight was ever helpful to me.”
“I don’t recall ever judging your worth based on your appearance.”
And, “Your sick values aren’t welcome around my daughter.”
Each and every time, speak with minimal emotion, and follow each and every time by disengaging – changing the subject, leaving the room, getting up to “stretch my legs,” maybe with a two-handed slap to the belly – or a decision to stay gone for good.
I actually pity your sister and parents. With resolve and some practice (in therapy, if the “I hated me” still applies), you too can react to their comments more with pity than outrage. I expect that will help.