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Carolyn Hax: Distorted sense of body image; saying no to friends in sales


Hi, Carolyn:

How should I respond when svelte friends pat their (small or nonexistent) bellies and announce they’re dieting to get rid of their “belly pooch”?

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’m an average-size, 30-something woman with a normal post-baby-not-fat-but-certainly-not-flat tummy, and happy with myself the way I am. So not only is it annoying to have to listen to my gal pals hate on themselves, it’s insulting: If they’re calling themselves fat, they’re calling me and others fat, too. How can I put a kibosh on the self-hate conversations?

Body Hate

So many ways to approach this.

(Nick Galifianakis)

There’s concern: “Why the self-hate? How ’bout we just not pick at our looks.”

Humor: “Yes, good, I was going to say something.”

The verbal forehead-flick: “Perhaps you should look at your audience before you call that thing a ‘pooch.’ ”

Eye-rolling all of these into one: “Oh, brother.”

And this, one of my favorites:

(No, that’s not a mistake.)

And, there’s the big picture: Are these smart, awesome people rife with self-doubt, or did you look so hard for smarts and awesomeness that you missed the vanity?

Whether any of these amounts to a “kibosh” is mostly up to your friends, but expressing yourself clearly on a matter of principle is almost as rewarding as a flat tummy. (Ka-chow.)

Dear Carolyn:

While talking to a friend, he might mention he has a home-based business. When I ask what he does, I get evasive answers, like, “Let me come over and tell you about it,” “Let’s go to lunch and I’ll explain it,” “I’ll show you a video,” etc. Sometimes I get drawn into setting a date.

By the time I realize he wants to sell me something, I’m deep into excuses about why there isn’t a good time to meet with him. I’d like a suggestion for what to say the next time this happens. I don’t want to be rude; but I don’t want to waste my time, either.

Tired of Sales Spiels

There is nothing wrong with saying no to a sales pitch. Ever. It may be harder among friends, but the friendship confers no special obligation.

In response to one of those vague, “I’ll show you a video” answers: “Oh, that’s not necessary, thanks.” Optional: “ . .  though I’d love to have lunch for the sake of lunch.”

If the friend presses, or if you’ve already been trapped into meeting with him: “Oops, I didn’t realize what this was about — I’m sorry, I don’t do business with friends.”

This kind of clarity isn’t rude, it’s a show of respect. If a friend presses you to the point that you’re uncomfortable, that is rude.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a former client who I have just learned has mid-stage Alzheimer’s. I worked for him and his extended family for over 20 years. We parted on friendly terms. I would love to see him and his family again, but I don’t want to be an added burden on his wife. What should I do?


Send the wife a note or, even better given the ease of responding, an e-mail. Such low-obligation contact is an emotional lifesaver for people dealing with a major illness. Plus, her response will likely tell you whether a visit would be a blessing or a chore.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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