Lifestyle

Carolyn Hax: How to deal with in-laws’ constant fat-phobic comments

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My mother- and sister-in-law are truly wonderful family whom I care about, but they’re obsessed with size as though it means health. On every occasion we’ve gathered, body talk occurs a lot. It seems to be a factor of their bond: their “too low” body fat percentages, whispering about large people seen in public, shock at big or pregnant women wearing bikinis, diagnosing family with diabetes on size alone, etc.

These women are extremely educated in the health, nutrition and medical fields. They’re also each half my weight and eight inches shorter. Up until now, I’ve ignored these comments or tried to deflect any blatantly fat-phobic talk while silently hoping they haven’t noticed I’m not like them.

But I gained 15 pounds during the pandemic and it is noticeable. I am already dealing with a lot of self-hatred over it and knowing what my mother-in-law really thinks of bodies over a size 10 is draining. What are some ways I can keep sane and defend myself and others subtly, without feeling as if I’m arguing with professionals on something I’m not doing great at myself?

Walrus Among Otters: People can be educated and still be wrong, blind, obtuse or stunted. And gosh, walruses are my favorite funny animal but please don’t do that to yourself.

This may be too much to ask, but I hope that on your next encounter with their body talk, whenever it comes and at whatever weight you are when it comes, you will say your piece: “You may not realize how often you talk about body size. I do, though, and as someone who has a very different body size, shape and type from all of you, I have found it difficult to hear talk of bodies like mine as a problem. You are truly wonderful family and I care about all of you so much. I just hope you will consider what these conversations sound like to me.”

If they are indeed in “health, nutrition and medical fields,” then they are bringing attitudes to their work that aren’t healthy for an array of patients. If you don’t think you’re worth sticking up for, then stick up for those patients, though, for the record, I think you’re completely worth sticking up for, and I really hope you do it.

· I wouldn’t even mention myself or how I feel. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you talk about other people’s weight A LOT. Why do you care so much about other people’s bodies?”

· I’m sorry you’re going through that, letter-writer. If it’s any consolation, people who sit around and obsess over other people’s weight, bodies, and diet choices probably don’t have a healthy relationship with their own bodies or food. In other words, they’re the problem, not you.

And yeah, I’m a 6-foot-tall woman who was gifted with peasant birthing hips. I am of average weight. I work out 4-5 times a week and do my best to eat healthy. I could lose 80 pounds and still not be under a size 10. Your relatives, frankly, don’t sound like very educated or nice people.

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