Dear Heidi: How do I explain to loved ones that their constant comments about my body are upsetting?
If personal comments about your body or appetite hurt, or cause you to make poor choices, it's time to say something — politely.
Specific topics exist that are impolite to talk about, such as money, age, and weight. However, there are times when the curious and a bit rude pester us with questions regarding taboo subjects. The best response is to be polite yet, flippant, "Oh, no matter how much money I make, it's never enough," or "Thank you, I'm fortunate to be blessed with good genes."
However, when it comes to how much you weigh, or comments about your body, or what you eat, all bets are off; it's sacrosanct. Yet, somehow we find ourselves in the position of defending our choices. How you treat yourself is one of the few last bastions of freedom we have. We all want to be healthy, and many of us have unique ways of going about it, but the choice is ours to make.
Some of us are lucky to have family and friends who care about us and express their concern in prying questions; "Why don't you eat more? You can't live on so little, and you are too thin." Or, the flip side, as my mother said to me growing up, "Why eat that brownie? Just apply it directly to your hips." I can't say that it didn't hurt to hear that, but I ate the brownie anyway. In retrospect, my mother meant well. She was thin after all and wanted me to be healthy. I probably should have cooled it with the brownies.
When comments hurt or cause us to make poor choices, it's time to say something politely. Do you celebrate holiday meals with family or friends, always a prime time for body image comments? Maybe you were asked, "You have such a lovely face, it's a shame you've gotten so chubby," as someone asks you to pass the mashed potatoes. It's hard to put a big dollop on your plate after that; you’re under a microscope.
Thin people are razzed just as much as overweight people, and please know it hurts them just as much. I've witnessed people poking fun at how fat they are by showing how thin someone else is. Thin people have feelings too and do not want to hear about their bodies anymore that anyone else. Perhaps at the holiday meal, you heard, "This apron barely fits around me, but we could wrap it 10 times around you. Eat something; you're so skinny!"
It is perfectly alright to let others know that their comments are hurtful — politely. Critical comments can be devastating to those with eating disorders in particular. Semantics can be a lethal weapon. If you are a victim of these wounds, consider saying,
"I know you care about me, and your concern comes from a place of love. You know I love you, but your comments are very hurtful, and it's hard for me to get past them. I am doing my best to take good care of myself. Please respect my choices."
You may discover that your loved ones had no idea they were hurtful because they "meant well." If this is true, appreciate the concern and love, just set some boundaries.
Speak up with respect and kindness, and you will receive it in return.