Hi Awkward team,
Last fall, I decided to get an undercut — long hair with a side shave — and I love it! It looks super cute on me and it feels really good to be able to signal my queerness in an additional way. When I went home for Christmas, my mother was aghast. I said that it was my hair, I liked it, and she was welcome to cut her hair in whatever way she chose. She pouted and mumbled something about how at least it wasn’t a tattoo. (To which I responded, I reserve the right to do that if I want to, too.) I thought this would be the end of it, but almost every time I’ve talked to her since, we have this “conversation”:
Mom: [out of nowhere] I just want you to know your hair will grow back.
Me: …. I’m aware? But I like it this way, and I’m going to keep it like this for a while.
And then she spends a while trying to convince me that I am going to get tired of the maintenance or I’m going to find that’s it’s not professional enough.
I don’t know exactly what her deal is, but it doesn’t matter, because I am super tired of talking about it. I’m 30! It’s my hair!
What’s a good script to squash this conversation the next time it comes up?
At Least She’s Not Bugging Me About Grandkids This Week
Dear Punk Warrior Goddess Siren or whatever your name is,
Your mom can choose to spend her time with you enjoying and celebrating you and having fun together, or she can choose to spend it harping on your appearance. She can choose to listen to you when you ask her to step off a subject that’s none of her business, or she can choose to keep harping on something that you’ve asked her clearly and directly to stop commenting on. So if things get really awkward as you set and enforce boundaries, remember: She has choices about how to treat you.
Setting and enforcing a boundary takes two steps. Step 1: Directly communicate where the boundary is, i.e. “Mom, stop commenting on my hair.” Step 2 involves putting consequences in place if the person ignores the stated boundary, i.e., leaving if she won’t stop.
The next time she brings it up, square up to her and look her directly in the eye. “Mom, when you comment on my hair, what is it that you think is going to happen? What are you hoping for?” She will say something about professionalism or how you could be so pretty if you just blah blah blah. Respond: “Well, what is happening is that you don’t make me dislike my hair, or want to change it – I love my hair, and I don’t actually care if you like it. You do make me dislike and want to avoid you for the rest of the day, which makes me really sad, since I don’t get to see you that much.” She will stammer something out, to which you can say “Okay, I just want to be clear so you know that you can choose what kind of visit you want to have with me in the future. It can be a visit where you deliberately hurt my feelings by bringing up a sore subject, or one where you treat me like a fellow adult and we can enjoy each other’s company. I strongly vote for the second kind.”
She might get up in her feelings about it, and snort out “But I’m your mother! I get to have opinions!” etc. to which you can say “Well, do you vomit your opinions about people all over them, or, as an adult, do you keep some of those to yourself for the sake of kindness and harmony? Could you try to treat me at least as well as one of your random coworkers or church friends? I’d sure appreciate it.”
If she won’t change the topic, end the conversation. I realize it’s tough when you’re staying with someone on a visit, but “Well, good talk everyone, I’m going to go for a walk” can make the point just as well. Harp on your hair and make things unpleasant for you? She gets to see you less, or see the sullen, withdrawn teenager she’s treating you like.
I had this *exact* same talk with my mom about my glasses, which she hates, and I said “Of course you can have whatever opinion you want, but you are being a jerk when you insult my appearance, and I don’t feel like talking to jerks on the phone, so I’m going to hang up now.” And then I did, and didn’t call her for a while. And then she brought it up again the next time we talked, in a half-baked apology way that still tried to put down my glasses, so I said “Mom, this may surprise you, but I have opinions about your glasses. Would you like to hear them?” and she said “No” and I said “Are we gonna keep talking about glasses, then? Or can we agree that adults can wear whatever they want on their face without comment?” And lo, she never mentioned my glasses one way or the other again and I do not mention hers. I can see her, when I show up with new glasses, pointedly NOT mentioning them, which is fine by me. Things are a lot more pleasant between us now that “Is THAT what you’re wearing”/”Since I am literally wearing it, obviously yes!” conversation is off the table.
140 thoughts on “#688: Parents, appearance, and opinions.”
I love the Captain’s advice.
I just wanted to say that signing your letter, “At Least She’s Not Bugging Me About Grandkids This Week” almost made me spray my sandwich right out of my mouth.” I’ll give you an “Amen!” on that one, sister!
I also almost ruined my monitor on that line.
Ditto :-). But let me point out that she’s letting up on the grandchildren possibly because she figures nobody will get close enough for grandchildren when you hair looks like -that-.
Or maybe I’m projecting my own mother’s ulterior-hair-motives too much :-).
I answered the last person to ask me about kids with, “please stop asking about my sex life, it’s creepy.”
And now it’s a non-issue.
Genius! Saving that one for the “Umm, excuse me?” Files.
This is so brilliant, I can barely stand it. I’ve got a huge family event coming up and I KNOW I’m going to be pestered continuously about the kids thing. I am absolutely borrowing this!
It works extra well with family because nobody wants to think about a family member and sex in the same context. 😀
It (well, a variation) totally backfired on me, though! Some relatives have no shame.
This is brilliant. I am going to steal it from you and use it forever more (or at least till the time I am visibly pregnant :-))
I am personally a fan of “we keep trying- almost every day!- but can never seem to make it stick. Maybe it’s that darn birth control I’m on.”
Ah, the silent STFU. Saving this one for a rainy day. 😀
Many years ago I got a lot of “when are you going to reproduce?” at work
At some point I lost it
” You know,” sez I, “it sounds like you’re ttying to make me feel bad for not reproducing. What if I have fertility issues? What if I have sexual issues?
Or health issues?
What if I’m trying to adopt?
How prepared are you to hear all my troubles?
Or what if I’m using effective birth control?
I got a very shocked look
*High fives you*
My godfather and my somethingsomething cousin decided it was fine to start twittering about “biological clocks” at me at my father’s birthday party a couple of years ago. Like: I SEE YOU ROUGHLY ONCE EVERY TWO YEARS OR LESS. OUR RELATIONSHIP IS NOT INTIMATE. Why do you think it is normal or okay to ask me about my uterus and my plans or lack thereof for it? For all they knew I’d just been through a harrowing miscarriage or been told I could never have biological children!
I wish I’d reacted like you. The best I could manage was a blank, 1000 yard stare into nothing as if having a flashback to ‘Nam, followed by walking away.
Thank you – though I think your reaction was utterly cool!
Because yeah, there could be any reason for no kids. and none of those reasons is wrong
My actual friends and close family were pretty ok about it. But yeah, vague acquaintances and distant relatives?
A friend and I talked about it a lot. Both of us eventually came to the conclusion that the inquiry was not about curiosity, or desiring everyone to do the “normal” thing, and more about looking for something to act nasty over.
Oooh! That’s a good one!
OMG I have to save this one for future use. Brilliant.
That is an amazing reply, I love it.
Yes, my God. Half the time she’s warning me away from “children out of wedlock”, other half of the time she’s bugging me about my contraceptive shot and how will she ever get grandchildren if I’m wasting away my ovaries with that junk.
Also, for a very long time, like years, every time she saw me she would stare at my belly (yes, I have fat there, jeez, mum) and whisper furtively, Are you pregnant? Don’t you dare be pregnant out of wedlock! It would devastate us.. She stopped a couple months ago, when I gained 55 pounds from medication. Even she wouldn’t suggest that was from pregnancy.
I’ve been real smug recently (it’s been a while since the MIL asked me about Grandkids, she must have figured it out!) so, obviously, that all came crashing down last weekend, with a 30-min lecture on grandkids.
I feel your pain
“Setting and enforcing a boundary takes two steps. Step 1: Directly communicate where the boundary is, i.e. “Mom, stop commenting on my hair.” Step 2 involves putting consequences in place if the person ignores the stated boundary, i.e., leaving if she won’t stop.”
Yup. Step one – be direct. Step two – decide what action will happen (although consequence? I dunno…you can’t always consequence people, but you can always act for your own best outcome (leave) regardless of what effect that has on the boundary-ignorant. Small distinction, perhaps, but it can make it easier to “own” the action and feel the ’empowerment’ if it isn’t a consequence for others, but a reaffirmation of the boundary for oneself. Or so I feel.)
I think you’re misinterpreting the Captain’s use of “consequence” here. A consequence is the result of an action. It doesn’t have to be negative FOR THEM, it just is the direct result of their doing the thing. LW’s mom’s actions already have consequences (LW being upset); the advice is simply to make this more explicit and add the consequence of LW leaving the conversation/ending the interaction as well.
Also, if somebody is being mean to you, and you leaving isn’t a negative consequence for them, then that is a really, really good indicator that you two should spend less time together. Sometimes your avoidance of someone turns out to be positive for them and for you, and that’s fine. You’ve still fixed the problem and you’ve helped two people in doing so. So, either it’s negative and it encourages them to fix the behavior or it isn’t and it encourages you both to rethink how much the two of you interact.
it doesn’t matter too much what the consequence is for them. You have no reason to stick around and find out….because you don’t want to be involved with that person any more…thus what matters in this context is only that it’s better for you. The rest is all a mythical story you tell yourself because you don’t live in anyone else’s head.
In Psychology, it’s called a natural consequence: if you are annoying and critical, I won’t want to spend time with you. So much more powerful than an arbitrary consequence.
Yes! It’s not necessarily about teaching someone a lesson (that’s sometimes a positive benefit, you know if they learn that you won’t tolerate certain behaviour and they stop doing it around you) but rather about setting a limit for what you yourself will hang around to tolerate. Because you’ve decided you really, really don’t like a thing. You don’t like it enough to directly ask that person to stop. Then they don’t stop, so now not only are you still dealing with the hated thing, you’re also being subjected to the experience of having someone not respect your boundaries. Leaving that situation is one way to make it stop, and one the other person (hopefully) has no control over. Sometimes we’re forced to deal with stuff because it’s happening at a job we financially aren’t able to leave just now or similar, but other than that, we actually have more power to leave than perhaps we realise. And as scary as it is to escalate to walking out on someone, it’s actually really liberating, because if nothing else it actually solves the problem of you having to deal with the thing that you hate. Because sometimes you can’t solve the problem of someone who supposedly cares about you not respecting your wishes and not caring enough about you to stop doing something you don’t want them to.
You get to decide you won’t just quietly sit and choke on whatever other people want to inflict on you. Whether or not the other person learns from this and actually stops is kind of beside the point – because it works no matter what they decide to do.
I guess it’s possible I misinterpreted it in the context in which it is often used in relationships in that it is an action that is punitive to the person acted upon. The whole “sullen withdrawn teen” is a pattern that both mom and kid get entrenched in, so more of that just sounds like more of that. The only way to end the pattern is to adult at your mother, which really doesn’t include “sullen withdrawn teen” as a great option.
I may be misinterpreting, but hey, I’m not living in any other head, so this is how it plays out in mine. I”m growing abundantly weary of being explained to that the way I see a thing is less than the way someone else sees a thing even when they’re about equal in merit, cuz they pretty much are. So there’s that, too.
LW. Adult at your mom. Act for your own best outcome. (What the heck is wrong with that, I’m not sure, but misinterpretation is the accusation, so take this and all advice ever with a grain of salt) You did it right here: “I don’t know exactly what her deal is, but it doesn’t matter, because I am super tired of talking about it.” And there’s your script. “Mom, I don’t know exactly what your deal is, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m super tired of talking about it. ” And if that doesn’t work -> location change. All done with Pleasant Adult Face, because I find it just works SO much better than Sullen Teen Face – you get to skip all that pubescent pattern already entrenched between the two of you.
I really, honestly don’t see any difference between the captain’s original advice, and your own, for what it’s worth.
Having the object of your tirade get up and leave is a consequence. So is having said person avoid your calls for a while. One way to make it crystal clear that leaving is a consequence of their boundary violations is to state it when setting the boundary:
1. “Mom, I don’t like it when you criticize my appearance. Please stop.”
2. “Mom, I asked you to stop criticizing my appearance. If you insist on continuing, I will leave.”
3. “Goodnight, mom. I’ll see you another time.”
And what CA called her instead was awesome!
These scripts will also work when the grandchild harping begins.
pffff, amen !
I have had Boundaries Of Steel with my parents since I moved out. My mother will occasionally make a comment about a new tattoo or a piercing, but now can get shut down with the ‘I thought we agreed it was my body and you supported my right to do as I please with it?’ since she has said that in the past.
Now we can quite happily live in the knowledge that she HATES them but doesn’t get a say, because that’s how she raised me.
I think parents sometimes struggle with the knowledge that their adult children are no longer under their control, and cannot be told what to do with their lives and bodies. A good script can help them remember.
Also I love just responding cheerfully and directly, if possible. “You’ve got so many piercings! Are you done now?? :C ” “Nope! :)” For my mom at least, that really ends a conversation.
And, like, she realllly hates my eyebrow piercing. But I’ve gotten her to the point where she’ll just look at it and sigh or whatever, and I can distract her because that’s ignorable and fine to me 😛
My mother’s comment about my first tattoo, almost 20 years ago: “It’s, um, awfully permanent.” I said “That was kind of the point, yes.”
parents sometimes struggle with the knowledge that their adult children are no longer under their control, and cannot be told what to do with their lives and bodies.
Well, yes … but parents ought to begin that struggle at toilet training time and be pretty good at it by the time the kids hit high school.
Oh, I’m not saying it’s a reasonable struggle. Just that it is one.
My mother has confessed that she still sometimes sees me as a combination of:
– the baby that needed her to feed it and clean it
– the child that couldn’t tie her own shoes
– the teenager that set fire to her school uniform by accident
all at the same time. She has to consciously kick her brain out of ‘my small child, needs me to guide and advise them, and oh god, what if she makes the wrong choice!!’ mode and into ‘my 29 year old daughter, who owns property and is married, can probably be reasonably expected to make the right choices for herself’ because for so many of the years she’s loved me I needed her to guide me through those choices. It’s a comparitively short time, to her, that I haven’t.
It’s her problem entirely, not mine, and my boundaries are about her getting that through her head. Because I love her, and I don’t want our adult relationship to be her trying to tell me what to do and me getting angry.
Recently I underwent a minor operation, and when I complained about how painful it was in the immediate aftermath, my Mum halpfully suggested that I should take painkillers! Now, I am not known for stubbornly refusing to take medication (and, like wow, it’s still a super judgy assumption in the context), I am an adult in her thirties who has taken painkillers countless times in the past. I can only assume the daughter in my Mum’s head during that conversation was about ten years old.
My mother once suggested I “sleep more” as advice for how to deal with insomnia……
No idea what was going through her mind, maybe that I was refusing to go to bed and was complaining about being tired?
I just moved home and my mom does this about everything… It makes me want to scream. I would appreciate any scripts or advice about how to make it stop.
“The daughter in my Mum’s head” is a great way of putting that. Sometimes your parents aren’t actually talking TO YOU, they’re talking to the version of you they have in their heads at the time. That version might be four, or twelve, or twenty-seven, and their response might be reasonable in that framework but it obviously doesn’t apply to the current, actual version of you.
It seems like maybe remembering that would help adults navigate situations where their parents are responding to the wrong version of them. Add a bit of compassion and recognition of the situation that might be helpful in bringing the parents back to talking with the proper, actual person.
Haha. I HATE taking painkillers. My DH says ‘have you taken anything?’ when I’m conplaining. Best way of pointing me towards them.
Amber, I can’t reply to you, but I also live with my mum at 24 and…yeah. It’s generally great, but the ‘mother/daughter/housemate/something’ dynamic takes some working out. We talked about it early on (me saying ‘hey, mum, you keep reminding me to grab a coat/asking me when I’m going to bed, and it kind of makes me feel like a child’ and her being like ‘…I did not realise I was doing that. Also, please wash up, you live with your mother but it makes me feel like you’re five again’ and me realising that it’s not all one way!) and that’s really helped! Jokingly calling it out once or twice (‘Mum, I know to take painkillers, promise!’) also helps!
You’ll get used to each other and the change in your dynamic soon! It does just take an adjustment period.
My son is nearly 4. I am already practising seeing him as capable of doing things. It’s SO DAMNED HARD, but I’m hoping by the time he’s 18 I’ll be better at it.
When my child was small I got in the habit of asking, “So what are you going to do about that?” whenever she raised an issue. “I’m hungry,” “My shoe got untied,” whatever, rather than swooping in and solving the problem. Partly it was because her dad had the really annoying habit of announcing a problem and expecting the world to come in and solve it for him, but also so she would learn to articulate what she wanted and so I wouldn’t jump in too soon. Sometimes she surprised me with her answers.
Late to the party, but – given the number of times I fantasized about Setting my own school uniform on fire (but never actually did), I’m now really curious about that last one!
I was wearing my school uniform when I went to make myself an after school snack – noodles orrice or something, I can’t remember now.
But we were using gas hobs and I guess as I bent over my blazer swung into the path of the gas flame. It was made of pure polyester, so the corner of it melted into a lump.
The blazers were expensive, so my mum refused to buy another until I’d outgrown it. Alas, I had had what turned out to be my last growth spurt before buying it. I only gained half an inch or so between the age of 14 and now.
So I was stuck in a blazer with a melted corner until I got my last year uniform, which was a burgundy polo shirt and a black jumper/sweater.
heh. I would put money on the chance that you haven’t any children. As anninyn says “not saying it’s a reasonable struggle. Just that it is one”
I think parents sometimes struggle with the knowledge that their adult children are no longer under their control, and cannot be told what to do with their lives and bodies
Definitely. When I visit my mother, she’s been known to get so agitated over things like my staying out past midnight to hang with my university buddies that she must believe I never leave my own house after dark. I finally sent her a text saying, “Every time you text to tell me to come home, I will stay out half an hour later. If that means I don’t get home until dawn, so be it” and the stream of “WHERE ARE U” stopped at last.
When I got mono, her comment was, “Oh honey, you need to look after yourself! You should be more careful!” Heavy subtext: “Mono is spread by saliva so you must have been kissing a diseased person! Or maybe even MULTIPLE diseased people!” At the time I was 24 years old – a little late for parents to be fretting that you’re kissing people.
Many years ago while out to dinner with my mother and her mother, my grandma lit into me about my tattoos, “They’re so horrible!” To which I replied that I liked them. “You just get them to upset me!” (Um, no, I’m sure there are cheaper and less painful ways to upset you, I did not say out loud.) “Grandma, You don’t have to like them. It’s my body and my choice.” “You’re my granddaughter so it’s my body too!” I was pretty floored by that. I was thinking a combination of how archaic/Wow/boundaries much? but all i said was, no, it’s not. Then pointedly changed the subject, with Mom taking up the new topic like it was a lifeline.
Grandma’s always been bad about the basic social contract and has horrendous boundary issues, though as she nears 100 she has mellowed quite a bit. Being firm and clear has helped. Mom’s only comment was a wry “I raised you to be independent. I’m not sure I meant for you to be this independent.” i was lucky.
LW: You can do this. You’re obviously awesome. We’re all rooting for you.
I feel like there is a very high overlap between “people who comment inappropriately on their children’s appearances” and “people who comment inappropriately on their coworkers’ appearances,” so it’s possible that citing workplace behavior is not going to have the desired result. I would focus heavily on the “I do not actually care about your opinion” and the “this does not make me want to talk to you” parts of the script.
LW, I would suggest you dig in and prepare for some emotional blowback. This is where the non-apology is best used — “I’m sorry you feel bad, but you still need to keep your opinions about my hair to yourself.” Repeat ad nauseum.
Tangent — ugh, I loathe nothing more than “I have a right to my opinion!” It seems like it only comes out of the mouths of the women in my family after they’ve said something nasty about another woman’s appearance. A. You obviously know that’s a shitty thing to say, or you wouldn’t feel the need to justify it. B. THIS IS NOT EVEN A DEFENSE. Your right to have it has no bearing on the stupidity/viciousness of your opinion.
The only caution I would add to this is that “I don’t actually care about your opinion” can come across as INCREDIBLY hurtful and is likely not entirely true (there are quite possibly other aspects of your life your mom is welcome to have opinions about, and/or that you might want her expertise about ) so I would reccomend appending “about THIS” to head off “I guess I’m never talking to you ever again, then” spitebombs. YMMV.
Yup, I definitely hurt my mom’s feelings when I told her that I didn’t value her opinion about what clothes I wore.
I think it’s really up to the LW — for me, the damage I did to the relationship was less important than making the damage it did to *me* stop.
“I am not discussing my hair with you” and “My personal style isn’t up for debate” work just as well, IME.
“You absolutely have the right to think that. You also have the right to say it. Sometimes, choosing to act on that right is rude.”
Bonus for appending: “c’mon mom, you’re the one that taught me these basic manners!”
Ooh, perfect! Now this and several others are going into my pithy for-future-reference file. 😎
This is a great way to phrase that sentiment that comes down a little nicer. Awesome, filing this away. 🙂
I agree; I can see this line escalating instead of de-escalating the situation depending on how your mom takes that. For what it’s worth, I’ve had some success with the line, “It’s okay that you don’t like what I do, so long as you continue to love who I am”. It underscores what’s more important: a positive relationship with each other, which doesn’t require having the same opinions/values/decisions.
Anyone who conflates those ideas doesn’t deserve your time.
“I’m never talking to you again” never lasts long enough.
I’ve been disowned something like three times. It’s never stuck.
I disagree, actually. My (otherwise lovely!) mum used to do this, and it was very definitely Only Her Daughter. Not even my brothers. It was just a word tong of not quite having grown out of seeing my body as an extension/alterna-version of hers until I made that boundary really clear.
And by “word tong”, I OBVIOUSLY mean “weird thing”.
I do like “word tong” though and I’m desperately trying to think of a definition for it.
Like a barbed remark but for drawing someone into A Thing rather than pushing them away/declaring them unwelcome?
word tong… grabbing someone’s attention by what you say.
Aggressive alphabet soup.
With my actual mom, I would tend to agree with this (though for her all family is fair game.) However, I work in an office with a lot of people who do not necessarily understand basic manners about what is appropriate to say to one another, so I am a bit pessimistic on that front.
Yes, ditto. My (also otherwise lovely and supportive!) mum does this to me, for exactly the same reasons, and would never dream of making remarks like that to anyone else. She still comments negatively on new tattoos (though seems to get used to them very quickly once they’re there), but I have now trained her out of making remarks about my body and its shape and size (she slips up very occasionally, but now apologises without being asked, which is pretty amazing) – I think that for her, it was a really strange and slow realisation to understand that my body wasn’t a reissue of her own.
As a fellow undercut queer in their 30s whose mother hates their hair, something that helped diffuse the situation for me was having a positively framed response to comments about how unprofessional it was. The rest of her comments fell under the category of ‘not your business’/’why are you making mean personal comments?’, but when she made her criticisms about her concern for my employability they took on an air of legitimacy that was hard to argue against. I found that being able to say, ‘I decided to make the most of my last year of being in grad school to try out a bold hairstyle. I feel so positive and empowered’, or ‘Actually my boss and my co-workers have all paid me compliments on my hair and several other members of staff have cool, edgy hairstyles too’, before moving to shut down the conversation and set a boundary really took the wind out of her sails and made the boundary setting much easier.
Whatever your own situation, something that says ‘Actually I’ve looked into this and right now my hairstyle is not negatively effecting my goals’ + ‘If that changes I can make decisions about that when the time comes’ + ‘This is having a positive impact on my life’ might help if you are looking for any intermediary steps before the stfu.
Very nice. I like how it has an intermediary but firm step before stfu that actually addresses the underlying concern that sometimes (often…) lies behind a harping nag topic.
Totally agree. I’ve had good success with this when the concern/anxiety is mainly for how the thing will affect me. “Well at my current job/school it’s acceptable, I’ll consider a change when I change jobs.” If the real issue is that that person just hates it or just wants to make negative comments, then it’s time for the captain’s scripts.
I had dark blue hair for a while while doing my PhD, and people who said stuff about my hair were invariably shocked when I pointed out that one of the most prominent people in my field (who was in my department) had purple hair, and several of her good friends, also prominent scholars, had equally wild-coloured hair, so I was *actually* following the trend.
Same here. I was purple for a while in grad school. I thought I should dye it back brown for the Major Professional Conference… but when I got there, at least one out of three people had non-standard hair. Neurds are rebels. =)
My parents have two modes of appearance harping: the “But you’re not skinny; you must be unhealthy!” and “THINK ABOUT HOW PEOPLE WILL JUDGE YOU AND YOU WILL NEVER GET A JOB AND YOU WILL LOOK LIKE A WEIRDO SO NOBODY WILL EVER LIKE YOU AND WE’RE JUST WORRIED YOU WON’T FIT IN EVER!”
Neither of these have come true…someday maybe they’ll learn, but I finally got them to knock it off like…this year.
LW, you’re being so awesome! I truly think you’re doing everything right. Your insticts are spot on. I agree with the Cap and I hope that putting the use of consequences in practice will work for you!
Cap: love the link! My fav one is the Channing Tatum. I WOULD blush but secretly be full of glee when he serenaded me during karaoke night!
LW, I don’t know if this is relevant, but since you mentioned that your hair is a positive sign for you of your queerness: do you think this might be part of what your mom is reacting to? Parents can read sartorial codes just as well as other people can, whether they admit it or not, and I can’t help but wonder if some of the anxiety your mom is experiencing might have to do with being confronted with the fact of your queerness.
I don’t know whether you’re out, or what kind of relationship you and your mom have about your queerness. If you *are* out and your mom has previously been cool with it, now might be a good time to point out to your mom that your hair and your identity are linked. I recommend the Captain’s advice about projecting the emotion you want other people to pick up, here: say something like, “Mom, this haircut makes me feel really good about signaling my queer identity. I’m really happy with it and I hope you can be happy for me, too.”
If you’re not out… that’s a whole nother kettle of fish. I guess I just wanted to flag, as a queer person myself, that there could be more going on beneath the surface here. Good luck! Rock that hair!
Yup – another undercutted queer here thinking the same thing. There’s a whole thing where sexual orientation and gender presentation and monodimensional TV characters get mashed up in people’s heads and they end up clinging to your previous not-particularly-queer hair as evidence that you’re ‘not one of THOSE lesbians(!!!)’. And then you get your hair cut and they have to re-pigeonhole you in their mental boxes of What Different Kinds of Queer People Are Like, and this is confusing and difficult for them.
Because heaven forfend you just be a person who happens to have a hairstyle and an orientation.
I was entirely unaware that undercuts were for queers, or signified queerness, or suggested queerness…..is that a thing?
It’s never going to be an exact science, where when you see someone with an undercut you know their orientation, as trends spread outside of the subculture where they started and you never know someone’s orientation just by looking at them anyway. Good news, though, queer posters are telling you that it is a Thing, so you can be confident that it is.
Yet another undercutted queer. My mother can’t stand that my hair makes obvious what my relationship status hides.
So true, LW’s mother may not even realize this is what disturbs her. Or she does realize it but doesn’t want to admit it out loud. But either way, LW rocks!
One script that I have used and rather liked for its succinctness is “that’s okay, I don’t need you to like it.” In my experience it really ends the appearance rant.
Oh, I’ll need to remember this!
Non-mainstream body modifications also have a reputation–that teens are doing cool haircuts/piercings/tattoos AT their parents. People doing style stuff for other reasons have to manage this, whether they’re teenagers or grown-ass adults. You’re not wearing an undercut AT your mom, but she does have reason to think so; that means it might take more sustained effort on your part, LW, to get her off your ass. So I’d second the good Captain’s advice totally.
Appearance boundaries with moms can be really awful to negotiate. I got multiple facial piercings as an adult, and my mom really didn’t like it. I didn’t have to have a big talk with her, thankfully. I boundaried her by (A) demonstrating substantial disinterest when she started talking to me about piercings (“but too prettyyy to have metal in your face!” -> “huh. thanks! anyway…”) and (B) kind of inviting her onto my side, by showing her my new piercings and making it clear that I expected her to be happy and admiring instead of adversarial. She did get the picture. I’ll do the same thing when I get a tattoo and she starts up again.
She kind of comes in expecting that I’m rebelling and seeking a reaction from her, so I refuse to play along with that–I make it clear I’m not interested in a negative reaction. I make it clear I am just doing my shit here and I am willing to invite her to approve, but her approval is hardly a requirement. Like, she’s expecting me to be across from her pointing repeatedly at my piercing and going SEE? But instead I’m chilling out next to her going hey check it out 😀
(Usual caveat applies that this is a specific anecdote of when this has worked out well with my mom and my specific relationship, and my mom is ultimately a reasonable person.)
The advice here is totally spot on. I wish I’d had it when I was high school, when I somehow got tricked into getting my long hair cut into a bob. My mom had always wanted me to have short hair, and oh, boy. I did not want it. I was so upset for weeks, and had to wait for four months for it to grow back.
On the bright side, my mom never bugged me about cutting my hair short again, but I would have loved CA’s advice when I was a teen and trying to negotiate style boundaries, or actually, when I was older, when the fat-shaming reached an all-time high. Every time I told her ‘that hurts my feelings,’ I got ‘but I’m just worried about your health,’ and it took me crying and going into a meltdown for her to stop. I’m not proud of it, but after years of trying to tell her as nicely as possible, I didn’t see any recourse available to me at the time.
When diplomacy fails, Making A Scene is totally legit.
I’m still not proud of the Scene I Made, but on the other hand, it’s been almost 6 years and my mother hasn’t brought that fucking thing up again yet!
To be honest, when diplomacy has failed, I’m a huuuuuge fan of the Tactical Meltdown. It does require planning, which is not always possible when you’re being pushed to your breaking point. That said, I think even the Spur of the Moment and Definitely Not Tactical Meltdown is an incredibly valid way of pushing back. Jerkface people deliberately manipulate the social contract in order to hurt you (then ignore the fact that they even are being hurtful) so it gives you license to manipulate the social contract right back.
I’ve just realised how cowardly and avoidant my own solution is: timing all my new haircuts to happen just after I’ve seen my mum, which means I get at least a few weeks of enjoying each new style criticism-free before I see her again. I guess I should be focusing on addressing the behaviour instead. Why was that not obvious before?
Don’t “should” yourself. Gotta do what you gotta do.
If you feel like you can & want to address it directly, cool. But “cowardly”? That’s awfully pejorative language for an effective self-care strategy, and I doubt you’d say it (or think it) about a friend or a commenter on here.
I commented in more detail below, but until just this past month, I did the exact same thing. I don’t think it’s cowardly, although avoidant is probably correct. It’s really hard to break out of that cycle, and kind of scary to change the status quo. Good luck!
The world is full of challenges you can throw yourself at. Just because an alligator is THERE doesn’t mean you HAVE to wrestle it. Avoiding your mom’s appearance policing could be saving you some energy you need for other things. If you think now you have enough energy saved up to throw yourself at that conversational reptile then great, but don’t beat yourself up for not doing it instantly.
I spend a lot of my relationship with my mother deciding which hills I do and don’t want to die on. I’m absolutely stealing that alligator metaphor for when the next time comes.
Your alligator wrestling metaphor is amazing and I want to use it all the time.
“Yep, definitely an alligator. I see it. But is it the alligator that I want to wrestle? Do I want to wrestle it right now? Perhaps another time, alligator.”
Also, it’s not even just about energy. It’s about knowing *how* to set boundaries, which I’ve found is definitely an acquired skill (thank you a million billion times to CA and all the wonderful Awkward Army for all the help you’ve been in acquiring it!)
While I do now feel much more comfortable setting boundaries on my mother’s behaviour when needed (and she in turn has gotten much better), it took years and years before I learned how, and during that time my method of coping was to avoid conflict whenever possible by telling my mother as little as I could get away with about anything important that was going on in my life. It wasn’t great, and sadly did permanent damage to our relationship, but… it saved a lot of unpleasantness at the time. So, although I find it frustrating as hell to look back on some of the things Past Me put up with, and wish like anything I could go back in time and give Past Me a crash course in all this fantastic boundary-setting stuff (like, about two hundred pages of printouts of CA posts), I don’t believe that Past Me was cowardly or weak or in any way a failure in handling things by avoiding them. She just didn’t have the know-how to do it any other way, so she did what she did know how to do and it saved her a lot of hassle at the time and that is A Good Thing.
I’d delete ‘cowardly and avoidant’ and put ‘strategic’.
I actually think this is a great idea. It’s awesome to set boundaries and sonon, but sometime you just don’t want to deal with other people’s negativity hashing your new haircut glow. I, in fact, am doing this exact thing this summer. I know that my life will be far less stressful if I do not spend my brother’s wedding fending off my grandmother’s snark about my hair. So I am not going to punk rock my hair until after the wedding, when it will be 6 months to a year until I see her again. Boundary defense takes energy! It’s okay to pick and choose where you spend your energy!
Thanks for all these comments! I will stop calling my behaviour “cowardly and avoidant” and rename it “strategic, but not the only strategy”. I love the point about “new haircut glow” – I can’t help feeling shitty when she says something horrible and liking the haircut less. If I’ve only had a few days to enjoy it before she says that, I feel like I’ve sort of got less value out of my haircut than if I have several weeks or months to enjoy it first. And yes, I wish I could give Past Me lots of training on boundaries! My parents’ training was basically “always stick up for yourself” with the unspoken but enforced caveat of “…unless it means coming across as rude, or embarrassing us in any way, or showing anger.”
You could always combine the old strategy with the new one: enjoy a few weeks of Not Having To Deal With Mum, then deal with mum. Since presumably the haircut lasts longer than a few weeks. (Maybe that’s a lot to presume, I am the type who cuts hair twice a year at home to avoid split ends! Husband & I do it for each other actually b/c he has long hair too.)
Good point! My change-of-style haircuts are not at all frequent.
Parents sometimes have a way of forgetting that their adult children aren’t little anymore. My dad treated my sister like an 8-year-old well into high school, and now that she’s 30 he’s gracious and treats her more like she’s 18.
I’ve had wacky/punky hair for near a decade now: mohawks, undercuts, side shaves, funny colors, the works. I occasionally get approached by strangers complimenting me and saying they wished they could do that to their hair. My response is always the same: “You can. It’s just hair. And it’s your hair.”
My folks have always been pretty chill about their kids’ fashion choices, but if they weren’t I’d still be insistent: I am 28. My job doesn’t care what I look like. IT IS MY BODY. I do not need your approval. Your comments are not welcome.
You shave the hell out of your head and rock it.
Also can I just add that the new tag of “THE FIELD OF NO FUCKS GIVEN” is glorious.
My mother was also nuts on the subject of hair. After she insisted on a “Pat Nixon hair helmet” (quotes for your googling ease) when I was fifteen, I put my foot down and didn’t cut it for the next 25 years.
I loved it. It got down past my knees. Little kids in elevators would greet me wide-eyed. “Are you Rapunzel?” And I would say, “Yes.”
So it doesn’t matter how you rock your own hair. Just rock it.
My mother was tricked/forced into getting a poodle perm by her mother’s good friend.
Right before she moved to a new high school (they were moving from small tow, IL to Chicago) her junior year.
In the 60s.
As someone with a lot of tattoos I have to field shizz like this a lot (fortunately not from my parents, though).
CA is 1,000,000% percent correct. You CANNOT engage. You have to shut it down and don’t respond to any attempts at escalating into a discussion about whether your DGAF about her opinions about your hair means you DGAF about her opinion in general.
What has worked for me is just to repeat that the topic is not up for discussion and then to respond to any further comments with a slow stare and silence. Let it be awkward!
Also, just be prepared, at the next Family Gathering she’ll bring it up and try to enlist other people to support her opinion about your hair. IT’S A TRAP!
Since the weather’s warming up, right now I’m struggling with how to respond to people who have questions about my tattoos. Most of the time they’re not rude, but I’m not interested in being your Personal Tattoo Encyclopedia, I don’t want to answer questions about what they mean/where I got them done/where they should go or hear about their big exciting tattoo plans. I’m trying not to be a dick to people and reinforce the idea that Tattooed People are Mean, but sometimes I just want to get to wear I’m going on the subway or whatever and not have to talk to anyone.
I feel this so much. I am also a pretty heavily tattooed woman, and when it was finally 70 degrees out the other day, I wore a dress with no tights and got open-faced stares and questions. I also worry sometimes about reinforcing the very untrue idea that Tattooed People Are Mean, but at the same time, it’s hard for me to not respond with an angry look, or (on a really bad day) to ask someone if I can help them, or what exactly they’re looking at.
It can be exhausting to have to constantly field questions about what the meaning of my tattoos are (especially when most of them are strictly visual and don’t have any particular significance for me, which seems to often freak people out a bit). I don’t really have a solution yet, because while I don’t want to be rude, I also don’t want to have to talk to people. I often defer to the strategic avoidance on the subway (headphones and pretend I can’t hear someone, even if I can).
To this day, when visiting, my mother will STILL remind me to wash my hair. I can be walking to the bathroom, towel and shampoo in hand and she’ll still remind me. Or try to tell me to put make-up on. I’m 31, married, haven’t lived at home in over a decade, and have a job that requires me to show up looking professional. My usual retort is “if I don’t know when to do that by now, it’s too late for you to remind me.” She finally started to phrase it differently–instead of “Put some make up on” or “You need to wash your hair” it’s “Are you going to put make up on?” but it’s still the same criticism. And…what gets me is…I *do* usually put make-up on. I *do* wash my hair. I don’t get why this is something she feels compelled to comment about; she might as well be telling me I need to tie my shoes before I’ve ever put them on.
Weirdly, I have bright highlights (turquoise) and she has never made a negative comment about them. But god forbid I go outside without makeup or go more than 24 hours without washing my hair.
I know things ain’t that simple, but I’d like to try retaliating by asking back. Did YOU wash your hair? Do you need to go to the bathroom, mum? Are your shoelaces tied? Every time she asks. Mum, don’t forget to turn off the light before sleeping etc.
LOL, I have done that, too, but it never worked, because she ignores mirrored advice like that. Reminding her I’m an adult has worked a lot better.
Fortunately, she’s gotten much better about other things; she FINALLY stopped policing my food/weight once I got married (I always knew the only reason she was doing it was b/c she thought I was too fat to be attractive, no matter what she said about health, and I was right, but I don’t even care anymore b/c it stopped), and the things she hasn’t gotten better about (temper tantrums when something breaks, etc.), the Captain has helped me realize that the best course of action is to just walk away, which is what I do now. If she behaves, she gets my enthusiastic company. If not, I leave and don’t come back to visit for awhile.
Once my mum said to me “You could put some make-up on while you’re at it!” when I was already wearing concealer, foundation, eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss. I actually burst into tears and cried all the make-up off, then had to re-do it to cover up Red Post-Crying Face. Since then she’s never phrased it so harshly.
Oh man, I hate that happened to you. That happened a few times with my mom, too. 😦
*fellow-feeling fistbump* Reframing it as “telling another human being to adjust their actual face” makes the unreasonableness kind of jump out at you!
High Five to fellow undercut-haver with judgemental mothers!
My mom just came to visit me, and her very first comment after greeting was “That’s an… *extreme* haircut.” (Oddly, it was the *Exact same haircut* I had last time she saw me, which she complemented, but the undercut part was less grown out this time and I’d bleached it to white, so it looked shorter. This was the first time I decided that I was done timing my haircuts around parental visits. At 28.) I basically went “I know you hate it.” and let her continue. She asked a couple questions, and I matter-of-factly said that I like it, my boyfriend likes it, and work has no objection. Just not engaging or qualifying my choice seemed to work.
The best part was when we went to tour the local JCC, and our tour guide (A woman about my mom’s age with a similar seeming personality) complimented me on my hairstyle, and my boyfriend and I both chuckled while she seemed a bit taken aback. She’s complimented it once since, so I think she’s convincing herself that it’s not an issue, now that someone other than the “alternative” set has approved it.
This piece is far too apt for me not to share it: “Why you should NEVER EVER EVER get a tattoo (but having a baby is fine)”
Aw, the Ugly Volvo is a great writer and a neat person.
Here’s a script that has worked with my mother, who has medaled in the Inappropriate Behavior Olympics:
“Mom, we’ve had this conversation before. I know what you’re going to say, you know how I’m going to respond. Nothing has changed since the last time we talked about this. Why don’t we just skip it, talk about something else, and enjoy our visit?” Immediately followed by “Hey, how about that Completely Different Subject on Which We Agree?”
I had to use this twice. The second time I added, “I’m serious, if you bring this up again I’m leaving. So, how about that Completely Different Subject?”
OH it is 2006 and I am phoning home from Berlin and happen to mention to my (very lovely) mum that i have bleached my (usually naturally dark red) hair very artificial blonde:
“Why’ve you done that then?”
“Because I’m 27 and it’s my hair and I can?”
She never liked it, and even after I’d told her a couple of times that it wasn’t any of her business she used to look at my and sigh. I only kept it for six months before I got it all cut out, so it wasn’t long, but it was very tedious while it lasted. Me and my mum were actually very close, which made it more annoying. As I’ve said above, it was something about her so feeling that my body was some kind of extension / alterna-version of hers, and getting my (tiny!) tattoo and my (very mild!) piercings were some kind of rejection of her. I think there was probably some crossover with her unhappiness about me coming out too.
My mum got cancer in 2009, and died in 2010, and now I’d love to have her disapproving of me. But! The moral of this story is not “life is short, don’t set boundaries with your parents because blah blah blah”, but “life is short, set boundaries”. When my mum got ill, she was really annoyed with herself for having worried about things like that, and grateful that I’d firmly set the boundary and stopped here going on about it and it had only been a tiny bump in our relationship.
Don’t really comment here much, but here goes *lurker mode off*
If it makes you feel better, I too have and love my undercut. And I work for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term care in an office position. No one has told me that it’s unprofessional; in fact I get the exact opposite. My one co-worker uses Manic Panic dye in his hair and has had it green, red, purple, pink, blue, orange and a tye-dye sort of combination since we started there. He has to come in early the day his hair is a new colour or else he doesn’t get to his desk on time. A reminder that professionalism is more in your skill set and actions than in your hair might be a good add on if you get dragged into a long discussion on the topic again (obviously you don’t want to. But I find it to be a relief when someone else shares views like these and to know that others share similar experiences. Easier to go “actually people with x don’t typically experience that problem but thanks for the concern!”).
Mom: [out of nowhere] I just want you to know your hair will grow back.
Me: When you’re done explaining to me about how hair works we can take a minute for me to explain to you how courtesy works.
BOOM. Mic drop.
My mom does this kind of second-guessing on me a lot for all kinds of things–haircuts, resumes, ANYTHING. I interpret as her having a was of anxiety about me and my life stored up and she sees me and BOOM it just all blows up all over the place into “I’M AFRAID YOU’RE MAKING BAD DECISIONS AND RUINING YOUR LIFE.”
This spring I found myself saying a lot, “Yes mom, I worry about that too. I’m also anxious that I’m making bad choices and ruining my life. I worry I’m going about my job search totally wrong. I’m afraid my haircut makes me look ugly. I know how you feel. But I have learned that letting those worries totally derail a normal day does not actually make me any smarter or more employable or cuter. We are going to have to deal with the anxiety that is trying your best and hoping it all works out.”
Wow, this is 1000% my mom. I have the same hair texture as hers, which is wavy/curly, fine, and very full – the sort of hair that tufts up into pyramidal shapes if layered at all. When I was a kid, she would forcibly cut it short so she didn’t have to deal with it. It looked like crap and I would cry afterward. As soon as I left the house I figured out how to make it look better (basically, grow it out as long as it can go, frequent trims, minimal layers, taming products). It’s still not my best feature, but years ago I decided to make peace with the fact that I would never have beautiful hair and that my goal should just be to have it look nice enough so that it wouldn’t detract from better features. To this damn day, when I go home she comments on my hair, how long it is (it’s really not that long), asking when I will get a hair cut, pushing the piece that falls in my face naturally because I have no forehead and it drives me UP THE WALL. And this is hair I am not doing anything “weird” to – no shaving, no funky colors. I have told her that I simply don’t want to talk about my hair because it make me uncomfortable (which upsets her). Once in a while when she gets really into it I ask her if she wants my opinion on her hair. That upsets her too. I just can’t get her to drop the subject.
She does the same thing with clothing but there I have more success. I, for example, have one pair of weathered metallic golden boots that are incredibly cool. I love them. I get stopped by strangers in public who love them. But they are broken in and my mother cannot handle the fact that they look “old.” Every time she sees me wear them she asks if I am going to get rid of them. I tell her that not only do I love them, but people who actually make their living in art and fashion love them too, so I am going with the assumption that many people with good aesthetic sense find them pleasing, and also I have told her the same thing 25+ times already. When she starts in on my clothing, I tell her that if she gives me $200 I will go out and buy an alternate outfit to wear that day. that usually shuts her up.
Here’s the thing. Generally my mom and I have a good relationship but I am 35+ and it is so exhausting to go through this shit every time like I’m a middle schooler. Why do parents do this? Do they gain some kind of satisfaction from this? Is this inevitable?
I offer sympathy – I have a coat which was a gift from my partner, and which I love. All my design friends tell me it looks great on me, and random strangers will say how much they like it. My mother hates it. I am careful never to leave her alone in the room with it, as I’m pretty sure she would burn it given half a chance. (Along with some of my geeky t-shirts, a band hoodie or two, and my pencil skirt with the snake pattern on it.)
As to why, the most charitable interpretation I can offer is that she may be stuck in the mindset that she’s responsible for what you say and do, so if she thinks you’re dressed “weird”, it’s her job to stop you making a fool of yourself. When this runs up against, “but Mom, your sense of style is twenty years out of date”, things can get…interesting.
The last haircut I got was The Most Unflattering Haircut I’ve Ever Gotten In My Whole Life. I got through the growing out period by telling everyone how much I loved it and posting about a billion selfies on my Facebook with captions about how cute my hair was. Because by God, nobody else was going to tell me how ugly it was when I was the one living with it.
People with any sense of courtesy just hold their tongue when they don’t like your hair, and they certainly know to do it when you’re happy about the way you look. Anything else is just rude, so rude. Who does that?
Your hair sounds amazing LW, I’m sorry your mom is on your case about it. I hope the Captain’s scripts help.
My rule for bad haircuts is Let Them Speak First About the Hair. You don’t know if a person loves or hates their new hairdo, so do not mention it until they cue you on whether to offer praise or sympathy. This rule is a corollary to Let Them Speak First About the Pregnancy.
The good Captain is correct: set the boundary, then enforce it.
Some boundaries are easier than others (when my mother slapped my butt and proclaimed “that’s not a size 5 rump” as I pulled out a pair of panties at Harriet Love in SoHo it was surprisingly easy to shut her down “Ma! What the hell is wrong with you? You slapped my ass and called me a fat liar. In public. Never do any of those things again!” She hasn’t.
But I’m in my 50s and she has only stopped telling me to get highlights in the past 5 years)
Anyway, I bet you look awesome with your undercut. I bet that when you say how great it makes you feel, and how having this convo makes you want to not be around her, she will change.
Dear LW, if the Captain’s suggestion works – great. For my own mother I have found a different solution. If I told her to stop bugging me about grandchildren, my hair, my job choice, whatever her answer was always “I’m allowed to speak my mind in this family and I won’t stop.” Arguing doesn’t help. So at some point I decided to stop arguing back.
“Your hair will grow back, you know.”
“Yes, mom, I know it will.” or “Yeah, probably.” or just “Yeah.” and then immiediately another subject: “How’s the weather in your nick?” “How’s the garden?” “How’s dad?”
My mother loves to talk and not to listen. Giving her an argument is her highlight of the day because then she gets to talk endlessly and also gets the feeling to win. So I’m taking that away while still letting her talk.
On the other end of measures: I don’t tell her anything about my choices any more. She doesn’t have to know if I want to switch jobs until it’s a done deal, or if I cut my hair. Who knows, when I next see her it may have grown back anyway. It’s her loss and she sometimes complains she doesn’t know anything about me any more, but I found it the only way I could live in relative peace, and she only loves to know so she can argue anyway.
Good luck to you and I find undercuts extremely cool!
This is me. Plus, any attempt to be direct results in her telling me how very much her feelings are hurt by my boundary setting.
However, my hurt feelings by her bugging don’t matter apparently?
Safe topics FTW.
Yes, all the direct confronting with their inappropriate behaviour is very nice in theory but it only results in more grief with some parents, unless you’re prepared to cut bonds completely. The other way seems to work with mine and I learned that I won’t be able to change them. If I don’t want them to change me, the same should be true in reverse. I need to navigate around them…
On the other end of measures: I don’t tell her anything about my choices any more. She doesn’t have to know if I want to switch jobs until it’s a done deal, or if I cut my hair.
OMG, this one idea alone has saved me SO MUCH GRIEF from my mom. That and living a couple hours away.
I just wish I could get my brother to embrace the idea, b/c she still drives him crazy over his choices (and tries to drive me crazy over his choices, too, but I fend that off with a “that’s between you and Bro” or “Bro is going to do what he wants, and he’s not going to listen to us” whenever possible). I keep telling him “dude, it is a lot easier if you don’t tell her about stuff until it’s a done deal”, but he just keeps telling her. Then I have to be all “dude, you KNOW she’s going to argue with you. It ALWAYS happens. Why did you think this time would be different? Don’t complain to me anymore; this is between you and Mom.”
Surviving parent makes inappropriate concern-trolling remark despite having been asked not to do so.
I reply that this has gone on long enough now and it is going to stop.
Parent says “But I HAVE to say this…”
Me: “Well, we all have to fart too but some of us go into the next room to do it!” (for the record, parent does not)
…Long, loud silence–and the subject has not come up again.
My experience with moms (which I naively hope is no one else’s experience!) is that they just. don’t. listen. I no longer shave my legs, and my mother who once went on and on about how our French neighbor was “so brave” for having body hair has decided that leg hair is equivalent to burning puppies and comments on it every. time. I’m. there. (Even if I’m in pants!) And you know? None of those “my body/my choice/jfc you can’t even see it/you used to love Brigitte’s!” has gotten her to stfu. So I just say “ok.” To everything. Just “Ok.” and maybe I redirect or maybe I leave but if she brings up leg hair “ok. ok. ok. mhm. ok” until something else happens and she goes away.
I’m delurking JUST to comment on this. My mother will go on and on about how damaging it is that men are growing up with these artificial expectations of what women are supposed to look like, particularly regarding pubic hair. Fine, great, I agree, we’re both outspoken feminists, these conversations are great.
A few months ago, I decided to stop shaving, just because. Winter in Canada, why not. When I remarked to her about how amazed I was at just how long it got – apparently all those times I’d thought I’d let it grow long, I really hadn’t – she got super upset. Her voice got tight, she did her “mhmm” thing that indicates severe displeasure, and she straight up told me how disgusting it was that I wasn’t shaving. Like, I think she was legitimately more upset by that than she was when I told her I was getting divorced.
When I was little – about 12? – I wanted to get my hair cut, just a little (I didn’t even get trims). I would get into these huge fights with my mom, where I, frustrated and angry, would yell “BUT IT’S MY HAIR!” and she would jokingly (?) say “No it’s not, it’s just on loan”, and that would be the end of the conversation. This went on for yeaaaars.
Now, at 27, she hates both my undercut and my 2 small tattoos. She keeps saying things like “do you hate them yet?”, or “did you faint?” (I did not) “Oh too bad, I was hoping you had fainted REALLY BADLY so you would never get another one”. Or, “Oh well thankfully it’s growing out a little bit, before it looked like you were BALD”. Like…thanks?
My partner has blue hair, and when I went to my sister’s wedding it turns out one of my aunts emailed all my cousins with young kids to warn them that I had “a shaved head” and my partner had blue hair, so they might want to, I don’t know, talk to their kids before hand? Not bring them at all? I am not sure, but luckily my cousins thought this was hilarious
I try just repeating “well, I like it” to every negative comment about me or my partner, but I will try to get up the nerve to set an actual boundary. I’m planning to come out soon (about me as queer, my partner as queer and trans), and I guess that will be the ultimate boundary setting test of our relationship! I am notoriously bad at setting boundaries with anyone, but especially my mom. Perhaps partially because I was allowed no autonomy at all as a young person? Hmmm..
This doesn’t have much of a point other than to say – I feel you.
Good luck! You can do it!
Now I picture one of those shitty abstinence guide places cranking out pamphlets on “How To Talk To Your Children ABOUT BLUE HAIR” and I am laughing.
This really resonated with me because, after I cropped my hair last summer, my mom took to Facetiming me and opening each video chat with commentary about how awful my hair looked — what was wrong with the stylist — etc. Surprise — she has never supported my being queer. And — surprise — once I finally started growing my hair out, she stopped Facetiming me.
I still feel really angry when I see a call from her on my cell phone. I’ve changed her contact name to Momzilla to help bring a little levity to the experience. And, I do limit contact.
I really hope that reading Captain each week will make me a better parent when my kids (5 & 8) are grown.
Although some of it must be rubbing off, because I had a discussion with my son last night after his martial arts practice where a new kid was making sure he was in line behind my son and then kicking him in the ankles/back of calves the whole time. I watched it happen, I saw my son tell him multiple times to stop. After class, I asked him about it to make sure I’d seen what I thought I had, then advised him to go tell the kid in front of his mother, who hadn’t watched the class, very clearly what was wrong “I am here to learn, and I cannot concentrate with you kicking my legs the whole time. Don’t do it again.” Then in the car, I told him that if it happens next time, he should be loud about it. “OUCH. STOP KICKING ME THAT HURTS. I TOLD YOU LAST WEEK TO STOP KICKING ME.” And that bullies/people who want to assault you don’t like it when you’re loud about it, and that it didn’t matter why the kid was kicking him (bad homelife, had a bro crush on my kid, just nasty, etc.), it just mattered that he stopped.
And then I realized that I’d probably quoted lines from four different CA posts and had to giggle at myself.
That’s great! Did your son get an opportunity to apply your advice?
I am a big fan of one warning, then walk away as a general strategy.
But when you aren’t feeling that, I’ve also become a fan of responding to all criticism with a sincere, nodding “It’s hard being this awesome. Yeah, it’s a real burden.”
Well-intentioned people who are just running off their mouths without thinking usually laugh and stop. Boundary-ignoring critical people are usually too confused to much respond. Or they say really outrageous, easily ignored things.
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