I recently watched an old episode of “Weeds” and there was a scene where Celia is watching her daughter, Isabelle, play a soccer game. Isabelle runs over to her mother to celebrate a good kick and Celia pats her stomach and says “I want to see more running out there, Isabelly. That’s what burns the fat!” Though the early seasons of Weeds has many great scenes, this one hit close to home given my history with body image issues. When I first saw this scene, I wondered if Celia was trying to motivate Isabelle to lose weight for her sake, her daughter’s sake, or if Celia had an altogether different intention.
After the episode finished, I thought back to an incident when I was around 8 years old. My mother’s side of the family is from Hawaii, and it was quite common for conversations to be sprinkled with Hawaiian words and phrases. I was visiting my aunt in Hawaii and, upon arrival, she greeted me with a big hug and immediately said, “You’re momona.” I knew this word. Momona means fat. My aunt did not say this with an ounce of maliciousness in her voice, but it hurt nonetheless. Though I was far from fat, the last time I had seen her I had been a little smaller. I felt that she was implying that my previous body size was more desirable because otherwise why would she greet me with that statement.
These types of comments were not limited to family members. In high school, I worked at a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop. I was visiting a friend one day and his mother asked me if I had a job. I proudly told her that I had just gotten my first job at Baskin Robbins and that the owner allows us to take home a scoop of ice cream after every shift.1 She smirked at me and said, “Free ice cream, huh? You better be careful.” The conversation continued, but I taken aback by the comment and slightly offended. Was she telling me that I was chubby already and that I would only get fatter? Was she cautioning me as a way to help me have a body that would be more socially acceptable? Or was she just being subtly cruel in that mean-girl kind of way?2 Whatever her intentions were, her words stuck with me even after all these years.
My wedding was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life, but one of the stronger memories of that time was of the day I had my wedding dress altered. After emerging from the backroom wearing the dress, the seamstress started doing her thing. She put pins where there was an obvious need for altering, but as she worked her way down, I thought about how the dress was quite tight around my stomach. I was afraid that it could not be let out enough for me to be comfortable, so I asked her if that part could be altered so that it would fit. She said, “Sure. Or you can lose weight.” She wasn’t wrong. The dress would not be as tight if I lost weight, but her comment felt like a jab about the few extra pounds I carried on my frame.
I have encountered and will continue to encounter people like my aunt, my friend’s mother, and that seamstress as I go through life. It’s inevitable. While I’d love to make a snide remark about their eating habits or their body since they made a comment on mine, I know no good will come of that. Over time, I gained confidence and have used trial and error to come up with a few ideas for dealing with these uncomfortable situations. Some are mental reminders while others are direct words. Which strategy I use depends on the situation, but here are the ones that have worked for me:
- Remind myself that I cannot control what other people do or say, but I can control how I react and respond.
- Smile and nod and then immediately change the subject. People love talking about themselves, so I ask them about their job, their kids, their newly remodeled kitchen, whatever. That usually gets the subject off of me.
- Silence can be golden. That awkward moment will hopefully give people the hint that their words were neither appropriate nor appreciated.
- State how their words hurt. I prefer to use “I” messages because they allow me to be assertive and are less threatening and accusatory. Something like “I feel pressure to change the way I look when you talk about my weight and it makes me feel bad about myself” is easier to swallow than “Why do you always have to comment about my weight!”
- A short spiel about intuitive eating may be called for at times. A little bit of knowledge about a new subject never hurt anyone.
- Tell myself that people are likely projecting what they believe is best at this particular point in their lives. Dieting is best for them right now while intuitive eating is best for me right now.
- Any comments made could be out of envy of my non-dieting ways. I can say “yes” to the piece of cake while they can’t!3
- Say that I am happy and there’s no reason for me to change the way I look. I realize that people may reflect their thoughts about body image on me. It may come from a good place but isn’t helpful. Happiness, body size, and weight aren’t necessarily connected.
Finding my voice took some time and I’m still working on it. However, I feel assertiveness and self-advocacy are necessary in situations like these. Thinking is invisible, so I may never know what people’s true intentions are, but I can still protect myself against their words.
How do you respond when someone with good intentions (or not-so-good intentions) says something about what you eat or your body? Please share in the comment section below.
1Free ice cream. Score! That was until I got fired.
2Yeah, I know she was a grown woman, but I’m sure you’ve met adults who have made you wonder if the word “adult” should apply to them.
3Especially lemon cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Nom, nom, nom!
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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