What do you do when someone close to you comments on your weight? Makes a snarky remark about your looks? Makes a joke about your recent weight gain?
When this happens, you might be shocked, startled and really sad. It can be downright painful.
Maybe you’ve been working on embracing your body for a while, but these kinds of comments still bruise you. Or maybe you’re in a shaky relationship with your body. And these comments certainly don’t help.
Recently, a reader asked me for advice on navigating these kinds of situations. She’s going home for the holidays and her family tends to focus a lot on weight and appearance. So I reached out to some of my favorite clinicians for help. I shared one excellent response last week.
Today, I’m sharing Judith Matz’s valuable suggestions (along with two more therapists). Judith, LCSW, is a clinical social worker who helps people make peace with food, their bodies, and themselves. She’s the author and co-author of the fantastic books Amanda’s Big Dream; The Diet Survivor’s Handbook; and Beyond a Shadow of a Diet. You can learn more about Judith at her website judithmatz.com.
Going home for the holidays can be a stressful time for anyone. Add the complex topic of weight issues, and spending time with family can become fraught with blame, shame and pain. Even if you’ve figured out how to accept your body size and deal with comments from other people in your life from a place of strength, spending time with our families of origin tends to bring out a regressive pull, so that we can end up feeling like our child selves caught up in old dynamics. When that happens, it’s much harder to reject messages that equate our worth and wellbeing with weight.
When Margarita asked me to share my thoughts on this topic, I decided to reach out to some other clinicians and see what kind of advice they give their clients. Rachel Eddins, a therapist specializing in binge/compulsive eating in the Houston area, offered the following suggestion:
“Examine the context of the comment and if appropriate respond politely while requesting a clear boundary. For example, ‘I understand your concern but those comments make me uncomfortable. I’d appreciate it if we didn’t discuss my appearance at all and enjoy our time together.’”
There’s no doubt that setting a strong boundary is the most important step you can take. At the same time, sometimes it can be easier said then done! As you think through the best way to set a clear boundary, consider the following:
- Contact family members before you arrive with your request so that you can prevent the comments from coming when your family sees you.
- Be prepared to let your family know that their comments don’t serve your needs in whatever way best fits your style of communicating. This can be part of contacting them in advance or deciding to see what happens after you arrive.
- Proactively decide what you will do if your family is unwilling to respect your request: stay quiet and tolerate their comments; engage in a conversation; leave the room; not go for the visit after all.
- Visualize your response to their comments. It’s always hard to be taken by surprise, and the more you imagine how you’ll respond, the more likely that the words will come out the way you want them to. Here’s an example from clinical psychologist and founder of the Body-Wise-Perfect-Size website Cari Corbet-Owen:
“Every time I went home for holidays, I would steel myself because my mother’s opening greeting was ‘hello dear, turn around, turn around, I want to see if you’ve gained weight.’ One day, I laughed, took her two hands in mind and whirled her around and around and said: ‘Mom, are you at all interested in is the size of my heart, or my spirit? If my body has grown it’s only because it’s had to grow to accommodate my ever-growing heart. Mom, I love you and I want you to know that my body isn’t open for scrutiny or discussion, but I’m more than happy for you to be interested in the size of my heart and the size of my spirit.’ It was the last time she did her turn around, turn around line…. It didn’t stop her from trying subtly to ‘address my body’ but I’m a great believer in the broken record technique, and I’d just smile every time and remind her…. ‘I love you, and I’m happy for you to comment on the size of my heart or spirit, but not my body.’”
I want to acknowledge that while it’s important to recognize that you’re entitled to set boundaries, everyone’s situation is different. If you’re not in a position to speak up to your family, stay compassionate with yourself. Perhaps you can reach out to a friend for support, visit your favorite website on the topic, or write in your journal.
Remind yourself often that you’re doing your best, and that you are not alone!