Sarah Weir
February 10, 2016 12:38 pm
Image via Universal Pictures

Dear Sarah,

A certain family member constantly talks about my body weight. She’s always pointing out how skinny she thinks I look. I hate when people talk about my weight—I don’t want to have that be a part of why I feel happy or good about myself.

I think it’s a big issue that a lot of people compliment women and girls based on their weight and equate being “good” with what they eat. I wish we could just focus on feeling healthy, not worrying about how the calories consume will effect their thighs or butt.

The last time I tried to discuss society’s “weight problem” with this person was a few months ago. She had said something along the lines of, “I did’t exercise this morning so I can’t eat this ice cream.” I brought up my feelings about women worrying too much about being skinny and she got really defensive. I kept repeating that I wasn’t trying to offend her personally, I just wanted to discuss how it’s a much larger issue within our culture.

I’d much rather hear her say something like “you look so happy and healthy” or “it’s really awesome that you’re so passionate about rock climbing.” I know part of the reason she compliments me is because she wants the same compliment in return. How do I nicely express my feelings without coming off as rude or harsh?

—Fed Up in New York City

Dear Fed Up,

I applaud your attitude about weight and self-esteem. It would be great if we could shift the focus away from women’s body size and shape and be proud of ourselves for our health and accomplishments instead some number or ridiculous”ideal.” It’s a battle that needs to be fought and I suggest you find a group of like-minded women with whom you can speak openly and passionately and work together to shift perceptions. You could release some of your frustration and also be doing something fabulous for girls and women.  There are plenty of organizations out there with the same mission to join forces with—or start your own movement!

Meanwhile, you have to deal with your family member without losing it. The best way to do this is to cultivate empathy. Her comments about your weight and her fixation on food are about her, not you. Turn the tables and praise her for her achievements and healthy behaviors. Positive reinforcement can help people stick with habits and behaviors that are good for them. When she says, “You look amazing, you’re so skinny” or whatever, basically ignore it and change the subject. You won’t be reinforcing either the way she “compliments” you or fishes for compliments herself. If she says something you think is exhibiting a warped body image, possible disordered eating, or low self esteem and you feel you need to speak up, try to do so with love and concern rather than anger. Address her as an individual rather than part of a broader societal problem—it may feel frustrating, but I think you’ll have a better chance of reaching her.

Love, Sarah

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