A weight-obsessed mother-in-law needs to be reined in

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 13, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My mother-in-law is extremely fixated on weight. Almost every conversation with her at some point either comes back to how much (or how little) people exercise and weigh. She is tiny herself, exercises all the time and is very careful about what she eats.

I’m a fit thirtysomething with a healthy body image, so in the past it hasn’t bothered me too much (although it has always gotten on my nerves). However, I am now 35 weeks pregnant and honestly would rather just not talk about weight right now.

She has made a few comments to me recently — how big I look, etc. — that really hurt my feelings. I know I’m hormonal and sensitive, but I feel like these comments are mean-spirited and passive-aggressive. She always makes them in such a way that it would be hard to really defend myself. For example, at my recent bridal shower, I was getting my picture taken with her and she said, in front of about 10 people, “It’s so nice to stand next to someone who is so much bigger than me!”


If it matters, my weight gain is completely on track and I’ve tried really hard to eat well and exercise throughout my pregnancy. Not once has she said something nice to me about how I look pregnant.

How do I deal with this? I know it will take a while to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and I would rather not feel like crap about myself every time I see her while I’m still trying to lose the weight.

For what it’s worth, my husband recognizes that she is completely ridiculous about this and says she has always been this way. I’m afraid that in the sleep-deprived first few weeks, I am going to say something I regret.

Anonymous

I’m sorry you didn’t say something at the shower, along the lines of, “Did you really just make a fat joke about me right in front of me and my closest friends?” — or, “What an unkind thing to say,” or just a succinct “Really?” or “Wow.”

I realize the moment has long passed, but I point this out as a means of arguing that she doesn’t make these comments “in such a way that it would be hard to really defend myself.” Your self-defense options are right there for the taking.

This is not to say your husband is wrong in his approach, which seems to be to dismiss her as ridiculous, but that only works if you, too, think she’s too far out there to be worth your concern.

If instead you do care enough to be hurt, then pick your spots and tell her calmly when she crosses a line.

One powerful argument in favor of standing up to your mother-in-law is that you’re about to have a child who will need about 20 to 30 years to become as mature as you are about body image — and what about Grandma’s unhealthy and unfiltered obsession in the meantime?

You’ll need to protect your kid(s) from this idiot worldview eventually, so I urge you to take preemptive action now, before Grandma’s body bias costs her access to her grandkid(s) entirely.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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