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

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Caroline: My mother and sister-in-law are a truly wonderful family that I care about, but they are obsessed with size as if it means health. On every occasion that we are gathered, body talk often occurs. It seems to be a factor in their bond: their “too low” body fat percentage, the whispering about tall people being seen in public, the shock of tall or pregnant women wearing bikinis, a family being diagnosed with diabetes based on the alone size etc.

These women are highly educated in the fields of health, nutrition and medicine. They also each weigh half as much as me and are 20 cm shorter. So far I’ve ignored these comments or tried to ward off any overtly fat-phobic talk, while silently hoping they haven’t noticed that I’m not like them.

But I gained 15 pounds during the pandemic and it’s noticeable. I’ve dealt with a lot of self-loathing and knowing what my mother-in-law really thinks of bodies over a size 10 is exhausting. How can I stay sane and subtly defend myself and others without feeling like I’m arguing with professionals about something I’m not good at myself?

Walrus among otters: People can be educated and still be wrong, blind, dull, or atrophied. And gosh, walruses are my funniest favorite animal, but please don’t do that to yourself.

That might be asking too much, but I hope that in your next encounter with her body talk, whenever it comes and whatever weight you’re in it, you’ll make your contribution by saying, “You may not know how often you talk about height. I do, however, and as someone of a very different body size, shape, and type to all of you, I found it difficult to hear bodies like mine being talked about as a problem. You truly are a wonderful family and I care so much about you all. I just hope you consider how these conversations sound to me.”

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If they do indeed work in the fields of “health, nutrition and medicine” then they bring attitudes into their work that are not healthy for a number of patients. If you don’t think you’re worth fighting for, then stick up for these patients, but for the record, I think you’re totally worth fighting for, and I really hope so you do it.

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

· I’m sorry you’re going through this, letter writer. If it’s any consolation, people who sit around worrying about other people’s weight, bodies, and food choices are probably not having a healthy relationship with their own body or food. In other words, they are the problem, not you.

And yes, I’m a 6 foot female who was blessed with peasant birth hips. I am average weight. I exercise 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 honestly don’t sound like very educated or nice people.

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