Carolyn Hax: Parents obsessing over daughter’s weight

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 20, 2013

Dear Carolyn: I am a 30-year-old woman with a BMI of 24.9, the top of the “healthy” range. I believe I am attractive and healthy and I am consistently told by friends, boyfriends, and other family members that I am beautiful. Sure I wouldn’t mind losing a couple of pounds, like most other women in this country, but I like myself the way I am.

The problem is that my parents seem to feel that I am too heavy and have been making occasional remarks about my weight since I was in college (when my BMI was right in the middle of the healthy range). I believe they think their concern is coming from a place of love and care, but I feel they are a bit out of line.

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

I don’t think they realize their focus on my weight hurts. It really really hurts. It makes me feel that all they see when they look at me are the imperfections they perceive, more so than even seeing me as a human being. I feel this is a distorted world view and I do not share it.

I earned my doctorate a few years ago, and getting through a doctoral program is no walk in the park. I was no heavier than I am now, and when I walked in the door of my parents’ house, my mother would immediately make some comment about my weight, clothing, hair, or other aspect of my physical appearance before she even asked me about school or my social life. It always felt like such a slap in the face. I have asked her to stop, tried to explain how this makes me feel, but the comments keep coming.

Currently, I am dating. My mother has implied that the guys who have not continued seeing me probably had a hard time “getting past” my weight. Gee, thanks.


Yesterday, my mother stopped by my apartment to drop off a coat I had left at their house. She said they noticed I ate a lot over Christmas. Wow. I was recovering from a stomach flu then and I actually did not eat a lot. She also offered to pay for a Weight Watchers membership as a birthday present.

I am at a loss about how to handle this. Please help! While I think my parents have good intentions, I honestly feel like their fixation on my weight is harming our relationship. — S.

You think?

You’re a devoted and loving daughter (for which I’ll suggest therapy in a moment, and not as cynically as I sound now), but a large percentage of the people reading this are wondering why you didn’t tell your parents where to stick their concern a decade ago.

Your parents haven’t just hurt your feelings; they’ve abused the power of their criticism to the extent that you don’t see their deep reach into your business as the violation it really is.

First things first, though: telling them where they can stick their concern.

State to them, by letter if needed, that you have doctors to guide you on your weight and don’t need Mom and Dad to comment, issue warnings, throw money at or worry about your weight. NO extra explanations or apologies — just the fact. They’re out.

Then say that, because your past requests for them to drop this issue have been ignored, if they do comment on your weight, then you will put an immediate end to that visit or phone conversation.

Then do it.

Follow this by asking your doctor for names of good family therapists. To defend yourself effectively, you need to know where your parents end and your “self” begins. Your parents have blurred those lines.

It’s possible to sharpen them without therapy, sure — if you can see your parents objectively as outliers and wrong. It doesn’t sound like you’re there yet.

A good therapist will help you see where the boundaries go, how to erect and enforce them, and, possibly most important, why your parents never taught you this themselves — something healthy parents do from the very day you’re born.

* * *

Hi, Carolyn: I received an invite to a bachelorette party and RSVPed yes. There was no discussion of what would happen, just that it was local.

I just got an e-mail from the bride’s sister invoicing us for a $200 overnight trip and saying she takes cash and checks. I am floored, but for some reason feel obligated to go! Do the money and overnight surprise make it legitimate for me to cancel even though I said I would do this months ago? — Wedding Invoice

Yes, you’re free to cancel based on costs, schedule, or justified harrumphing.

“I realize most wedding-party members can’t bear the full cost of ambitious overnight parties, but they have no business planning them without the informed consent of any guests they expect to pitch in.”

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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