Dear Captain Awkward,
Ever since I can remember my worth in my family has only gone up when my weight goes down. My mom was always telling me I was too fat and that I needed to pull my pants up over my stomach or that I needed to buy larger shirts so my “fat doesn’t hang out”. She even has my brother, grandmother and my father doing it. My mother is a functional alcoholic, and has been since before she was pregnant with me (my dad had come home to her being trashed when she was about 3 months along with me, but that’s not the point of what I’m writing about) and when she’s drinking her comments on my body get around ten times worse. She’s even gone so far as to text my father (whom she’s divorced) that I’ve gained [EXAGGERATED AMOUNT OF WEIGHT] and need an intervention. I honestly am not overweight, or at least don’t see myself to be. [WEIGHT INFO REDACTED] I have to wear extra large T-shirts because I have an overly large bust and if I complain about not being able to find tops that fit she says that maybe if I went on a diet I would go down a few cup sizes. The only time she ever says anything positive to me is if she thinks I’ve lost weight. I would be completely comfortable with my body if it wasn’t for her breathing down my neck all the time about my weight. One minute she’s angry that I’m eating, and then another she’s angry if I haven’t eaten. There is absolutely no way that I can win with her. How can I make her leave the subject alone?
I’m an 18 year old girl, not a victoria’s secret model.
Sweet Machine reporting for urgent body image duty. Your letter breaks my heart in so many places, for so many reasons, LW. Before I get into details, I want to recommend some resources to you on body acceptance, okay? I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the fat acceptance and Health At Every Size movements, but they are for everybody who is tired as fuck of the expectation that the only way to be a person is to get as thin as possible. Some Awkwardeers know me from my previous gig at Shapely Prose; that blog has been shuttered for a while now, but I recommend you check out the archives, because boy howdy, have we got some stuff there for you. There are so many other great resources online for feminism, body acceptance, and wrenching yourself out of the “thinner = better” mindset, but maybe we should save that for the comments.
I removed your size info from the letter because every time I looked at it, I had this incredibly strong impulse to tell you you are not even fat, by god! But the truth is, your family is treating you as though you are a fat person, whatever your actual size, and you are experiencing the judgment, policing, and shaming that every fat woman in the Western world is intimately familiar with. It doesn’t matter whether you’re fat or not; you’re being shamed and poisoned by fat hatred, which honestly, truly, has nothing to do with you and your body. It has to do with cultural expectations for women, and with your mother’s self-loathing, and with your family’s dysfunction. You, dear LW, are fine. Your body is terrific; it’s your living self, and you can respect and love it! But first you have to deal with your mother.
Oh god, your mother. I am so angry with her. I want to scream at her over the internet, because she is abusing you. That’s what this is, you know—emotional abuse. You’ve heard of Munchausen by proxy? Your mother is committing body dysmorphia by proxy. She is projecting these horrible thoughts about herself onto you, and she is recruiting the (
all mostly male, I note) members of your family to join the cause. This is wrong. It wouldn’t matter what size you were: this would always be wrong.
I’m assuming you live with your mother, so if I’m wrong, some of this might not apply. Do you have any plans or opportunities to get out of the house soon? Are you going off to college? Do you have a friend you could split an apartment with? Anything that allows you to put food in your mouth and clothes on your back without your mother’s all-seeing eye on you will help.
Do you have access to therapy? Your mother is gaslighting you about your body (texting your father that you gained OVER HALF YOUR BODY WEIGHT is not, let’s say, reality), and a good therapist can help you deal with these lies and figure out what you feel without your mother clouding it over. Here are some ways to find therapy and other mental health resources.
Now for the hardest part: the here and now. If you live with your mom, this will be a lot trickier, but I think it’s time to pull out the tried and true Awkward tactic: draw a boundary, and keep it. It is not okay for your family members to comment on your body. It was never okay. Now is the time for you to tell them that. Make a script, and practice it in front of a mirror or with a friend until you can say it by heart. Here’s one possibility:
Mom, when you comment on my body, I feel awful. I am not going to listen to you trash me. Drop it, or this conversation is over.
My anger is spilling through in that script, so maybe another, gentler script would be good to have to (although, seriously, FUCK being polite to abusers, ugh). The key to drawing a verbal boundary is to enforce it: if your mom (or whoever) doesn’t drop it, leave the room. Walk away, go somewhere else, hang up the phone—whatever is the clearest way to make the conversation be over when you say. Now, this is going to make the other person mad, and you need to be prepared for that—but it is an act of self-preservation, and better they feel mad because you called them out on their hurtful actions than that you feel ashamed because they are poisoning your mind with self-loathing garbage.
This bullshit about your body is not really about your body. It is about your mom and your family needing to trash someone else in order to feel better. You, LW, are awesome. You’re pretty, you’re smart, you’re sticking up for yourself, and you’re going to make it through this and be a smart, tough, grownass woman. Your body is perfect.
But your mom sucks.
p.s. The chest thing: just because you have a rack of doom doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in ginormous t-shirts! If you haven’t already, get a proper bra fitting, which will CHANGE YOUR LIFE OMG. And check out some resources for busty gals (my current fave: Busty Girl Comics) to see where you might find some clothes that are made for your body type. Take it from me, losing weight does not solve the “this top doesn’t button” problem; even at my lowest adult weight, I was still an E cup. When your body changes size, it doesn’t necessarily change shape—you have a big rack now, and you’ll have a big rack when you’re 45. Make the most of it!
UPDATE: Please do not share weight/size info in comments. Comments with specific numbers and clothing sizes will not be approved.