Dear Captain Obvious,
My mom has always been on about how I look, but since I’ve turned 16 it seems to have gotten worse. She got me a fitbit that she makes me use (which I hate because it tells me I eat too many calories a day, even though it’s the recommended amount), made me diet with her, and constantly makes comments on how “I should go to the gym more,” even though I’m a perfectly healthy weight for my height. If i’m about to leave the house with no makeup on, she says “Oh why don’t you put a little foundation and mascara on before you go?” and is visibly embarrassed if she sees m in public wit none on. She also hates me wearing my glasses, as they “cover up my beautiful face” and will make more comments on them if I wear them outside the house instead of my contacts. My boobs aren’t very big, but my thighs are, so she’s always pushing me to wear push up bras and slimming clothes. It’s gotten to the point where I’m embarrassed to not be made up, am starting to obsess over my weight, and am just downright lacking in self-esteem. I’ve tried bringing it up before, but she either plays the victim or pretends like she never did any of that. Any advice on what I can do?
I’m only 16. I’m not a model.
Dear Only 16,
Your mom is well on track to eff up your body image for life (not to mention your relationship with nutrition and exercise). By insisting that you comply with her rules for your body, she is also grooming you to believe that you don’t have the final say about your body and what happens to it, which can lead to all kinds of badness. I am glad you wrote and I am glad you are taking this very seriously. Since I’m detecting a lot of narcissism in your mom’s behavior (treating you like you are an avatar and extension of her in a way that overrides your own autonomy and well-being), the right answer to your question might partly involve you keeping your head down and surviving until you are able to get out of the house and be out from under her authority and her nitpicking in a few years. So I’m going to suggest some scripts for talking with her and also some strategies for that survival.
In addition to a lot of “You’re not allowed to wear makeup”/”Why can’t you put some makeup on for a change?”/”Don’t you want to look nice so boys will like you?”/”Don’t let boys near anywhere near you!” mixed messages, my mom put me on a 1,000 calorie/day diet (The Gloria Stevens Diet, if anyone’s wondering – it’s a total shitshow) when I was an active teenager who played multiple sports and I’ve never really forgiven her for it. Because 1,000 calories/day was NOT FUCKING ENOUGH and it led to all kinds of disordered eating behavior, increased propensity for sports injuries, feeling dizzy, and worsening concentration and attention problems I was having. Instead of teaching me “how to eat healthy,” which is what she thought she was doing, the diet disconnected me completely from my own appetite and intuition about food and nutrition. So now, when my mom tries to bring up weight & health, it’s like, hey, you are literally the last person I will ever talk to about this, ever, stop it forever! And now, as an adult, I have the power to hang up phones and leave rooms and buildings when it comes up, and believe me, I do these things in order to maintain a relationship.. But I didn’t always have that power and I feel for you very keenly. I’m going to try to be the person that I needed someone to be when I was your age.
I have so many questions for your mom. Who is all this push-up bra wearing and makeup reminding and dieting and monitoring for? It’s clearly not for you, since you don’t want to do it, and she’s making it impossible for it to be any kind of fun intergenerational bonding experience between you since she’s predicating everything on you not being “attractive enough” and is acting ashamed of you when you don’t conform to her standards.
I don’t know that this script will work to convince her to change her behavior, but it might be important for you to say it or write it in a letter as a basis for further boundary setting, to be able to remind yourself that you’ve tried to go about this in a mature, sincere way. I’m starting with the fashion comments vs. the food/weight comments because it’s a little easier to address. See what you think of this as a draft for a discussion:
I’m 16, and I want to start experimenting with finding my own personal style. That could mean makeup sometimes, and no makeup other times. That could mean wearing my glasses sometimes and wearing contacts sometimes. That could mean wearing clothes that you like and think are “flattering” and sometimes wearing clothes you don’t like at all. It could mean messing around with my hair with different styles and cuts. The most important thing, to me, is that I want to be able to decide what to wear and how I want to look on any given day. I have my whole adult life to think about “what looks pretty” or “what looks professional.” Right now, while I’m a kid, I want to have fun with how I look and figure all of that out for myself over the next few years.
When you look me over before I leave the house and tell me to change something about my appearance, it makes me feel awful. It doesn’t want to make me change my clothes, it makes me want to avoid you for the rest of the day because it hurts my feelings. It makes me feel like you don’t love or like me unless I look a certain way. I hate feeling like you’re ashamed of me and how I look! But I also don’t think that not wearing full make-up or a push-up bra makes me look awful, or that I have to look dressed to the nines all the time!
I promise to shower regularly and make sure whatever I’m wearing is clean. I also promise to think carefully about the occasion and what’s appropriate – for instance, I’m not going to wear ripped jeans and old sneakers to family weddings! In return, I need you to promise stop criticizing my appearance. I’ll remind you if you forget. Thanks for listening.”
Think of this as you giving her a chance to behave well, even if she doesn’t understand or agree. She might say “I just want you to look your best!” or “You could be so pretty if you just …” or “I’m your mom and I know what’s best for you!” or “I don’t criticize you, you’re imagining it!” or “I wish my mom had cared about me as much as I care about you!” or “How are you going to learn how to be attractive to boys if you don’t figure out how to be as pretty as you can be?” or “Do you know how embarrassing it is to be seen with you in public when you are dressed like an urchin?” or “I pay for everything and while you’re under my roof you will obey my rules!”
There are many flavors of nasty and oblivious things she could say in that moment. I suggest that you not try to argue with the details of these responses and try to end the conversation as soon as possible, like, “Well, now you know how I feel, and I am going to keep asking you to stop commenting on my appearance, so, thanks” and get out of there for now. The next time she reminds you about the power of mascara or whatever, I want you to try saying “Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll think about it” and then not adding mascara if you don’t want to.
Mom: “Don’t you want to put on a push-up bra?” You: “Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll think about it.”
Mom: “Shouldn’t you put on a little foundation?” You: “Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll think about it.”
Mom: “Are you sure you want to wear that? Wouldn’t you look better in something else?” You: “Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll think about it.”
Be a broken record. Don’t use sarcasm. I know it’s counter-intuitive to say “Thanks, I’ll think about it” when someone makes a suggestion that offends you or hurts your feelings and you’re feeling zero percent thankful, but I want you to think of it this way:
- It’s good to say something back and not just take it silently.
- The words themselves are polite and there isn’t anything to really fight with.
- It’s a mature, reasonable contrast to the teenage response she expects you to have.
- It has the advantage of being true – you will think about it (and then you’ll do what you want about it).
If she pushes further or follows up, like, “I thought you were going to change your top,” you can say, “I thought about it and I don’t want to.”
- “I thought about it and I prefer this one.”
- “I thought about it and I prefer not to.”
- “I thought about it and this works for me today.”
- “I thought about it and I’d rather just get going.”
If she orders you to change, or you worry that it will result in punishment or escalating abuse if you push her, then use your judgment and not mine. Keeping yourself safe while you work this out is more important than proving a point! You may not change how she feels, and you may not stop her behavior, but you may be able to keep reminding yourself that what she’s doing is not okay and carve out a little safe space for yourself to own your own choices here.
Now. Let’s talk about food and your body. What your mom is doing is not okay. She is actually hindering you from developing a healthy lifelong relationship with food and exercise. In fact, there is a model for raising kids with a healthy relationship with food that might interest you to know about. I don’t think your mom is going to listen to arguments backed up with science, because it’s not about that for her, but it might shore up your confidence to know about healthy practices. She’s making a thing that’s hard for a lot of people even harder by being so overbearing about it -you not only have to figure out how you want to eat, what exercise is enjoyable and right for you, but you have to survive her controlling behavior, too. At your age, you should be able to say, “I’m still hungry, I’d like more” and “I’m not hungry just now, thanks” without getting a ton of resistance from your mom. I recommend that you try those scripts out and see what happens, as well as, “When you monitor my food and exercise this way, it makes me want to do the opposite of whatever you want me to do – can you give me some room to figure this out myself?” But you might need other tactics as well.
If you trust your doctor, maybe ask if you can have an appointment without your mom to talk about the weight and nutrition thing. Doctors are NOT always cool about this stuff because of the prejudice against fat and fat people in our society they can even override the science that would help you, so proceed cautiously and feel your doctor out to make sure they aren’t gonna undermine you and make things even worse. But maybe you could show your doctor the data from your Fitbit, talk to them about the “diet” you are on, explain how it’s making you feel. Your doctor could screen you for eating disorders, give you a referral to a nutritionist who specializes in “intuitive eating,” and might be able to make some specific recommendations to your mom in a way that she can swallow better than if it comes from you, because someone with authority and age said it. If you have a school counselor or other adult you trust at school or in your extended family, you might want to raise the issue with them, too. Possible script: “My mom is really obsessed with my nutrition and exercise – she makes me wear a Fitbit, which makes me uncomfortable. She also monitors my food intake in a way that feels really controlling and scary. It’s making me feel really bad about myself and confused about what to eat.” The more informed you are, the more you can take care of yourself around her strictures on you and make sure you’re getting enough food.
Thank heaven we didn’t have exercise trackers when I was your age or I would have been right there with you with a monitor strapped to my wrist and daily checkups on my activity and intake. Your mom is turning what is supposed to be a data-driven way to give you information about your choices into a vector of control, and it is really not okay.
I know I’m going to get some pushback for telling a teenager that it’s okay lie to her parents sometimes, but when you are in an abusive situation sometimes being able to fake compliance while preserving your own autonomy is a survival skill. If asking sincerely doesn’t work, and trying to enforce boundaries doesn’t work, and getting science and other adults to stand up for you doesn’t work, you might have to find other methods to protect yourself. By which I mean, is there any way you could repeatedly lose the Fitbit or “forget” to wear it – like, leave it in your locker at school a lot, like “oops, I took it off when I showered at the gym, don’t know where it went!” Could you break it? Develop a very serious, very fake rash/allergic reaction at the site? Are there ways to hack it and mess with the data so that it stops being useful (like, have your friends take turns wearing it in gym class so it looks like you ran a freaking marathon that day?) Get the teacher or principal to “confiscate” it? Can you wash off makeup/change back into your glasses/keep alternate clothes at school so that you can spend the day feeling more like yourself? You would not be the first nor the last kid to do stuff like this, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. It sucks to be pushed into having to deceive someone because they can’t see you as a separate person from themselves.
In addition to talking to your doctor and trusted adults and possibly having a Fitbit rebellion, I want to suggest some other ways of cultivating a healthy body image and surviving the next few years with your sense of self intact. There’s a pretty good list here, from the National Eating Disorders Association:
Appreciate all that your body can do. Everyday your body carries you closer to your dreams. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you – running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
Keep a top-10 list of things you like about yourself – things that are not related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about you.
Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not skin-deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you – as a whole person.
Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.
Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message.
Do something nice for yourself – something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax.
Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, or weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.
To expand on #8, the images we see affect our sense of ourselves profoundly. Especially when you are feeling down, or when your mom has been at you, steer clear of media that values only one kind of body. Glossy girly magazines can have lots of cool articles and ideas for makeup in them, but seeing one type of body (white, thin, able-bodied, cis) over and over and over and reading articles about “body flaws” and “problem areas” again can really grind you down. Instead, look at images of all kinds of bodies, if you can. Here’s the Body Positive Art Tag on Tumblr, for example. Gabifresh is basically the coolest person, and there are some great people writing at Rookie. Try looking at strangers and people you know with kind eyes, where you practice looking for things to compliment about them instead of picking apart their bodies or clothes. You can retrain your eye and your mind with some time to see that all bodies are “good enough!” bodies.
To expand on #5, don’t do that thing that girls and women are socialized to do where they bond by tearing down each other’s bodies and food choices. Even if people do it to you and near you, you can make the decision not to do it yourself, and you can speak up for other people, like, “Hey, let’s only talk about our own food today, thanks!” and “I think you look great, and I really hate that thing where women tear themselves down. Can we try not to do that?” That can be really, really hard to do in the high school fishbowl, but I guarantee that there are other kids in your school who are dying for someone like you to stand up and change the culture in your own tiny corner of the world. Be the person that you wish your mom would be for you, the one who sees beauty in others without immediately trying to reshape it.
I’m sending you all my love and support. You are not alone and you will get through this! Be really nice to yourself and realize that your mom might have a lot of her own issues with her body and with cultural beauty standards and patriarchy that are influencing how she behaves towards you. That’s not an excuse for what she’s doing, but I hope it helps you recognize that you are already 100 steps ahead of her by recognizing now that this is not how you want to live.
Moderator Note: Please refrain from offering weight loss advice, diet tips, and from mentioning specific weights, sizes, and measurements in the comments. Even if it’s normal and routine for you to talk about, it might be very upsetting for someone to read, so this rule has to be pretty iron-clad.
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411 thoughts on “#824: “My mom is obsessed with my looks and my weight.””
Oh, LW, my heart goes out to you. I think the Captain’s advice is 100 percent excellent.
You do you. Period.
You said exactly what I was thinking.
LW, my heart broke a little reading your letter. I hope this advice works for you, I think it was really spot on. And know that you are not alone in the world!
If you are interested, ways to mess with a fitbit (from someone who has used one for years)
1) if your model cant handle being submerged, “forget” to take it off before showering or swimming other waterrelated activities.
2) lose the charger behind furniture, or give it to an animal to chew on.
3) dont autosync it or stay away from the syncer for long periods of time when your battery is low. it could be a day before you realize the battery died.
4) if its an arm, not on your body: move your arm back and forth a lot. it counts those as steps. (it undercounts like woah if you walk *without* moving your arm at all or are carrying things or are pushing things like shopping carts or strollers)
5) get it caught in a tight sleeve and come off accidentally while tugging on clothes
serious fitbit caveat: its not the best pedometer and its calorie calculation is very weird and mysterious (it always thinks i’m sleeping when i’m biking, even when i tell it after the fact, and its active minutes tracker is also mysterious). i would never trust it to give accurate and actionable health information. I use it for “good enough” info. I’m so sorry that your mom is doing this to you. :(((((
Some models will also count steps if you tap your fist against a hard surface (a table, your leg), while you’re not actually moving. I’ve got a Flex and it definitely does that.
My husband’s Fitbit counts shifting gears in his car as going up stairs. So on days he drives a lot in traffic, the Fitbit tells him he climbed halfway to the freaking moon on stairs. Then it gives weirdly inaccurate counts on days he is out in the field, doing strenuous manual labor and often hiking to the job site (If you ever wondered where your favorite hiking trail or park came from, it’s people like him). I like the idea of a tracker, because I love data, but I have yet to find one worth a damn. My Polar, for example, insisted I had been standing still for two hours when I was in fact walking all over Disneyland, and there were no real lines because Super Bowl Sunday is actually a pretty empty day for the park. So…taking these things as absolutes is a Bad Idea.
Derail to thank your husband for his work as a hiking enthusiast and also to file away that info about Disneyland during the Super Bowl. If the Broncos weren’t in this year’s, I’d totally be making a field trip!
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming of hopefully helping the LW stay safe.
Oh I’ve always wondered who maintained some of the areas I’ve been to that are at least a day’s hike from any road. Thanks Mr Cellphonetyper!
One morning I synced my Fitbit and saw I took roughly 15,000 steps when it was on my very flimsy nightstand which I keep an oscelating fan on. Something about the fans vibrations and the cheap nightstand made my Fitbit think I was walking. So weird.
During a recent Fitbit hacking competition, the best success was setting the thing on a subwoofer and playing house music. Marathons registered daily!
oh my gosh. that just answered a question for me! I was house sitting some time ago and put my fitibit on the drawers (next to a fan) and wondered why I had apparently walked 20 000+ steps that night…
Huh, so could you just put your Fitbit in a dryer on the delicate cycle to simulate a workout?
Here’s something to laugh over. Remember that pedometer that came with a pokemon game a few years back, that you could download pokemon onto from your game and go walkies with them? I STILL come across articles mentioning that as the most accurate pedometer available.
Sounds fun, too. I wanna walkies with Bulbasaur.
I put a new battery in mine, my arcanine hangs out with me every day! Sadly he will be trapped in there forever…
My 19-year-old brother still carries that thing in his pocket. Even changes out the Pokemon once in a while. And yes, it is an extremely accurate pedometer for some reason. We used it on our trip to DC to track how much walking we all did. (An absurd amount.)
I have a friend who wears something like that not for dieting reasons but because she has a wonky heartrate and she needs to track her heartbeat.
She finds it hilarious that, ah, *special happy alone time* with her husband basically registered once as like, going for a jog.
Some fitness devices will work in water, but you’re not supposed to push the buttons while they’re submerged. Nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I mean? ;-D
I would be careful with considering tampering the fitbit. If it’s the case that the mother is controlling her activity AND her body weight, and sees that more exercise does not translate into weight loss, she might try to reinforce an even more restrictive diet.
This is very true and I really want to amplify it. The best I’ve been able to come up in terms of damaging the FitBit is attaching it to more electricity than it needs to charge, but I’m not sure about the best way to do that. Maybe introducing raw car-battery voltage through the charging port would work? Wall voltage would probably be too much – we want a mysteriously non-working FitBit, not one which explodes.
The Captain might have been thinking of building an informed support system, but if the LW involves other people in gaming the device, that support system will inevitably contain a rat, who will take the tale back to mom. And suddenly all the high ground disappears! Not really, but that is the way the ‘you lied to me!’ convo would go, and it might be best to avoid a foreseeable consequence of all that subterfuge.
This might be a leash worth setting aside openly. Use a neutral third party in the conversation, if possible. Go right ahead and say that it is a violation of your privacy, because the way its being used, it is. It doesn’t seem as if this is the detail that needs to be dealt with through deceit. It’s an electronic leash that no one should wear without consent. It’s a good idea to involve someone outside at this point, but openly. Protect yourself from giving in to fear and setting yourself up to be “caught”. This is a concrete issue on which to set a boundary. Using it to connect to outside support shows that you understand strength in collaboration (not to mention having a witness to your attempt to deal positively with over-reaching authority) and gives you practice in handling a fraught issue maturely.
You’re going to need all the practice you can get, because in just a few years you will be taking control of your life out of your mother’s hands, and every detail you’ve supplied says that she is not going to be happy about it.
It absolutely isn’t your job to help your mother deal with the fact that you are actively adulting. But since you are adulting, sixteen is a good age to begin choosing how your relationships grow and develop. Your mom is the first of many difficult relationships you will view ambivalently — the effort involved will always be at war with the lack of return. Narcissists are vampires, you don’t get a lot back unless you’re a vampire too. When you’re an adult with a front door lock, it will be time to handle this relationship with iron-willed training and unflinching consequences. Until then, you’ll need the safety of diplomacy and outside support while you renegotiate your prison term. Drawing a line might be emotionally draining and scary, but the ability you will develop to appropriately enforce boundaries without anger will be an extremely valuable skill in business. Parents. Always looking out for us.
Start looking at putting aside the money and household goods you’ll need for a place of your own, while you carefully and openly move the boundaries. If you start now, by the time you have kids grandma will be trained to keep her opinions about their bodies to herself. Sixteen is a good age to begin learning how to adult, and to recognize the ploys the narcissist you love will use to try and stomp boundaries to smithereens. Luckily, every ploy comes with a simple counter-ploy; learning to say ‘No’ to anyone’s demand that you give more than you are willing to give is training that will pay off forever.
You can’t change people. Your mom will always be body-obsessed and toxic. You aren’t. You’re fine.
I’m not a fitbit expert, but I’m betting that ‘accidentally’ sending it through the washing machine would break it. You could also just be very ‘forgetful’ when it comes to entering the caloric content of your food. I hope that things will be better for you in the future.
You could also stuff it in a sock and put it in the dryer on no heat/air mode. I’m sure that would register a lot of steps.
As someone who accidentally did send a Fitbit through the washing machine twice, that…might or might not work! Some of the old models, at least, were remarkably sturdy. Conversely, sending it through the dryer can do very strange things to its record of steps.
OP could lend the fitbit to my dad. He borrowed my fitbit to see if he liked it and lost it in the woods within 18 hours. (He did offer to buy me a new one but honestly I wasn’t that sad that it vanished into the woods…)
This made me laugh! We have an engineer at my place of work who has lost every GPS and at least three phones that he’s ever been given down holes. But he’s so senior that no one says anything.
My FitBit One went through the washer *and* dryer and is still perfectly functional, so it definitely might not work. (The battery was dead at the time, though, so no circuits were active.)
My FitBit Zip went through the washer and dryer and then synced while I was folding the laundry. The display cracked a little, but it was convinced I ran a marathon.
Chuckling at that, because I can see the little pixel faces mine likes to make giving you a thumbs up.
^___^, etc.: “Wow, human, you ran 65 miles today! WTG!”
I was actually thrilled because it had been missing for weeks (I tossed the pajama top it was clipped to in the laundry and forgot), and I find it pretty useful as gauge of overall activity, plus it’s kind of great after going to this one field site with a steep grade to have it tell me I climbed the equivalent of like 20 flights of stairs, like, hell yeah I did, go legs!
I’ve got plural anecdata that sending the blasted things through the washing machine won’t break them (although the dryer can be rough on the clips if you use clips).
But your FitBit will think you have taken a lot of steps if you do that. OMG a lot. 😉
I broke a fitbit by putting the little tracker thing in backwards after charging it. I didn’t mean to, either, but it snapped the wristband by the plastic bit that the lights shine through. It was a flex, I think? Anyway, if you think that breaking it might work you can try that.
Honestly, I think “losing” it would be better. If it’s obviously broken, then there’s a chance her mom might by a new one, but if it’s just “lost, I don’t know, it was somewhere around here, darn…” well, then, it might turn up again. Don’t go out and buy a whole new one.
It also kind of feels out what her mom’s reaction to that would be. I tense up at the idea of destroying an expensive piece of equipment, because that’s the sort of thing that could get me repeated angry lectures about how irresponsible I was. Losing something isn’t *much* better, but at least you can go, “Oh, here it is, look, must’ve just fallen behind the night stand. Wacky, huh?” if things get bad.
Since the LW is 16, one of her friends could help. Just explain to her mom that the fitbit was loosened somehow and fell off in the middle of the street, where a car or cars ran over it. Her friend could help by actually running a car over it a few times. Similar disasters could happen to all fitbits purchased for her. Re: the contact lenses, I had a similar problem with my mom insisting on contacts for years. I woke up with “eye infections/irritations” every morning for a while. If the LW is taking at least one chemistry class in school, she could tell her mother that she refuses to wear contacts because of the irritating fumes and the fact that her eyes are not protected unless she wears glasses. My major in college led to that explanation and it had the virtue of being actually true. Playing a sport can also be a good reason to not want to wear contacts. The LW’s mom will continue to deny being a nagger and a pest, so I advise recording her mother and playing it back to various people (maybe other, more sympathetic family member?) who might be able to call her on this behavior. To someone like the LW’s mom, public humiliation is a powerful weapon.
Wouldn’t chemistry class require safety classes if necessary anyway? I was always told not to depend on normal glasses because they don’t protect from fumes and there’s no protection from flying debris coming from the side.
Even though you wear safety glasses in chemistry, wearing contacts is frowned upon. If you do get chemicals in your eyes, that can become trapped under your contact lens and then it won’t rinse out properly at the eye wash station. I took a lot of chemistry classes in college, and we were told not to wear contacts, and if you wore glasses, you put big safety glasses on that fit over your glasses.
Safety glasses are awesome for impacts, and the side panels are definitely a requisite part of that. But they don’t protect against fumes anyway – you really want a sealed face mask or more generally, a fume hood. The fumes rational is still a good one – when I worked as a lab tech at a major chemical firm, contacts were banned because “you could be working with stuff that can bond your contacts to your eyeballs”. *shudder*
It’s unlikely that high school chemistry experiments use those sorts of compounds, but ‘better safe than sorry’ is still a compelling argument.
Oh, I meant wearing safety glasses *over* normal glasses — that was always what I did in chemistry class because I didn’t wear contacts.
I think you’re imagining a reasonable parent here. Just because “accidents happen,” it doesn’t mean that LW may not have to bear the brunt of her mother’s displeasure at an expensive electronic being destroyed. (The idea of one “just falling off in the middle of the street” and being run over by cars also seems drastically implausible and overly complicated too.) It doesn’t matter even if the destruction IS plausible, it can still result in punishment. (And if each thing gets destroyed, either the mom gets suspicious, or decides LW is “irresponsible.”)
Also, sports are actually a good reason *to* wear contacts, most of the time–better periphery vision, less likely to get them knocked off–or slammed into your face resulting in scratches (I switched to contacts when I started playing soccer. That’s not a good excuse for LW to use. An eye irritation could work, though. I stopped wearing contacts after I had to deal with computers for hours in school–it hurt my eyes.
Given the craziness of this poor kid’s life anyway, if I were her, I might risk the punishment. Whether or not glasses are better for sports depends upon the nature of your vision problems. Although you have better vision with contacts, you have less protection if you get hit in the eye, which I was warned would result in a detached and torn retina for me. Also, high school chemistry class might not result in toxic fumes, but often enough, you have stuff on your hands that could be transferred to the eye (since we aren’t exactly dealing with scientists at that stage.) My major in college was fine arts and I remember distinctly having nitric acid splash on my glasses, which could have gotten in my eyes. We didn’t wear safety goggles or really, do anything very sensible to ensure safety at that point. The LW’s alternative is to either go along with her mother’s BS like a doormat or tell her mother where to stuff the fitbit, which will certainly result in punishment. I say run it over with a car!
I say run it over with a car!
I gotta agree. While one part of me is mainly concerned for LW’s safety, I’m not sure that being “mostly-nice” to Mom isn’t issuing an invitation for further attempts to control and abuse. It may be like the old joke about the mule – first you have to get her attention!
I imagine that most things which would do for a phone will also do for a fitbit, right? So, from personal experience:
Drop it from a 4th floor window while reading something
Drop it in the toilet
Leave it on your desk in a public library (or gym?) then proceed to not pay any attention to it for a few hours
Mess with it on the bus, nearly miss your stop, leave it on the seat in the panic
Drop a jacket with it in the pocket on the floor, wait for someone to step on the jacket
Or alternatively, tell your mum that you’ve decided you’re only going to wear it when you’re actively exercising, since you don’t really need the data the rest of the time. When challenged, follow the Captain’s scripts with a comment like “Thanks for reminding me, but I’m actually just going to the shops, so I don’t need it! Bye!” (The usual caveats about you are the best judge of how your mum will probably react apply here, of course)
Mine has survived being mauled by two ferrets and their little destructive fangs. The rubbery wrist strap didn’t pull through as well, but the actual device is (sadly?) no worse for wear. I’m guessing only an old school Nokia is tougher, as someone else in this thread reports one that survived a laundering cycle. 😀 It definitely held up better than my phone, which was sitting next to my weasel-purloined Fitbit, and which they managed to cache under the bed and separate from its case in about three minutes flat. I’m just lucky they didn’t ferret-dial someone or post pictures of my bedsprings to Instagram.
It’s awful and hard to have parents who want you to look different than you want to. In my case I wanted to look like a goth-ish girly-girl in skirts (even if black and ankle-length) and dark makeup and my parents wanted a tomboy (in my father’s case) and a popular preppy girl (in my mother’s). I got a lot of push-back against going out looking like I wanted to look for a couple of years and through a dedicated campaign of “yes this is what I want to wear” and accepting that I was going to get chewed out about it they finally gave up.
It’s so, so hard trying to figure out who you are when you’re a teenager but I think you’ve made the first of what will hopefully be many excellent decisions by coming to the good captain. I’d like to suggest you check out the friends of Captain Awkward forums for people that it’s safe to come talk to. Be strong and know that you’re not alone.
It’s reassuring to read about someone else who wanted to wear goth like flowing black skirts. EVERYONE wanted to stop me to do that. My grandmothers would tell me black was a mourning color and young girls shouldn’t wear it. My dad also wanted a tomboy. As a little kid, he forced me to cut my hair short when I wanted long feminine hair. Kids at school asked why I always wore dresses.
It takes a lot to push back against parents. My heart goes out to you, LW.
Parents of teens are fitted with a program which makes them say, “Who died?” if they see their offspring wearing black.
Not just parents. I showed up to a school event in black and one of my classmates asked “Did you come from a funeral?”
(Ahhh memories, picture a line of girls in gap khakis and pastel tank tops as long as the eye can seee, and there stands me in a black flowing dress and my sister in JNCO jeans and a black t-shirt.)
Fun fact – JNCO is selling jeans again. If your sister is interested. 😛
Oh Hly, we so know. She is bringing the 2 liters to our next movie date. hehehe.
My father used to joke about cutting or shaving our hair all the time — not in a coercive way or anything, just like “hey look how short my own hair is! it’s so convenient!” Then I actually shaved my head and he was lost for words.
There may have been other factors to the reaction, I still don’t know. It was a fraught time.
My grandfather once actually shaved my mother’s head when she was a child.
Grandma and Grandpa W had 5 boys and 2 girls. Little 6-year-old momwolf was standing around watching while Grandpa W did his monthly barbering of all the boys. This being the late 50s, and Grandpa W being a WW2 vet (picture a Catholic, somewhat less overtly bigoted Cotton Hill with his shins still attached), they all got buzz cuts from their first haircut to the age of 18, which is why one of my uncles will never cut his hair above shoulder length to this day. Well, Grandpa grabbed my mom and stuck her on the stool and had half her head done before she could get him to listen to her that she was Karen and not Ken. Then there didn’t seem to be anything left to do but to finish the job. (These days she could have showed up at school with half her head shaved and been perfectly stylish and trendy.)
She was pretty upset during the grow-out.
I, too, had a narcissist mother who monitored my appearance and pushed me into clothing that was not “me.”
Notable failures of motherly pushiness:
* Talking me out of a purple/lavender dress that complimented my coloring in favor of the identical dress is a peachy-orange which looked like shit. I went to a dance she forced me to attend and felt hideous and awkward.
* Refusing to let me wear black because I was a natural blonde and “too young” for it, even as a teenager. It’s one of my best colors and my wardrobe now is 99% black things, though I do typically wear a shot of color with them.
* Insisting I get a spiral perm. This was a horrible, horrible decision. My hair is pretty good-ish when left alone, actually. A spiral perm turned good-enough hair into a triangular orangey-yellow Brillo pad, and that texture was just not flattering on me.
* Buying me preppy clothing, including sweaters with ducks, khaki pants, polo shirts, penny loafers, an Add-A-Bead necklace with three sad little beads on it, barrettes with ribbons on them, and those weird round purses you button covers on and off of. At best, when in khakis and a polo, I looked like a middle-aged woman heading off to my job at Best Buy or Target. I was 13 or 14. At worst, I just looked terrible and dumpy and plain. I started wearing thrift store stuff, jeans and my dad’s Air Force jacket, short skirts with colored tights and boots, funky solid-colored artsy sweaters or turtlenecks every day, and that was more me. But for most of high school, I looked like a sack of potatoes and I was about as big around as a drinking straw at the time. Preppy clothes were an abomination on me in every way imaginable. Bad colors, bad cut, bad fit, bad style.
* Chopping all my hair off into a Mia Farrow pixie cut because she tired of brushing it. I was tender-headed and she was rough, yanking out hanks of hair after every shampooing. I was white-blond with thin baby hair and looked bald, and my ears were unfortunately prominent. I have not had my hair cut shorter than my chin since high school, and no shorter than my shoulder blades since adulthood. I will never have short hair again.
If you can tough it out through high school, following the excellent advice you received from CA, I can vouch for college (especially if you live on campus and out-of-state) being a great time to do your own thing without anyone giving you shit for it. I was so beaten-down emotionally by my mother pushing her ideas and will and tastes onto me that I actually grew three inches within months of being away from home, which may be a coincidence as I was slow to mature anyway (didn’t get a period until 14 or 15), but at the time I actually could FEEL I was standing up straighter, with my shoulders not curled up protectively around my ears all the time, and feeling lighter. So I have my suspicions. And as your classmates will typically be from all over the place, what was “in” in their school will be different than what was or is “in” at yours, and so people are not really bothered by folks dressing how they like. And after college you’ll be a legal adult in all senses of the word when you hit 21. This was also a huge comfort to me at the time.
You’ll get through this, and you are perfect exactly as you are.
Senior year of high school I packed outfits in my backpack to change at school and kept my black lipstick in my locker. I tried about three times to explain to my mom that it wasn’t about depression or some kind of obsession with death, I just thought this looked pretty. Then I gave up.
LW, my mother treated me and my younger sister this way. I got off relatively lightly because I was considered “slender” but my sister was a chubbier little girl and my mom’s interference with her diet caused some serious problems for her, including an eating disorder. When my sister was your age she started complaining of gastrointestinal trouble. Instead of taking her to a doctor my mother, who was convinced she wasn’t feeling well because of her poor diet, took her to a bunch of different nutritionists to convince her to get serious about weight loss.
The gastrointestinal trouble? Turns out it was cancer. Cancer that might have been caught if my mother had taken my sister’s concerns seriously from the start. I wish I could say that throughout my sister’s treatment my mother had let off about diet and weight, but she just doubled down, and it all became about “health” instead. It took a conversation on my sister’s deathbed to get my mom to stop. I miss my sister every day and I’m still mad at my mom. If she hadn’t been so obsessed with weight, maybe my sister would still be alive.
I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. I’m sorry there’s not something less cliche to say.
Jedi hugs, if you want them.
It was horrible when my grandma and mom got cancer at the same time. Cancer sucks and I wish you had more time with your sister.
I am so sorry. Fuck cancer, and I hope your mom is eaten alive with guilt until the day she dies.
Ugh, the whole thing was just appalling. I think Mom *is* eaten alive with guilt, and will be for a very long time. On the one hand, every word of what I said up there is true; on the other hand, Mom also genuinely thought “eating better” would help my sister fight the cancer, and some of my sister’s doctors backed her up on that. As surely as I believe that Mom was wrong, I also know she loved my sister fiercely and would give anything, anything at all, to have her still here with us. And she learned it all from her own mother, who was and is even worse about weight policing. It’s vicious and awful and partly her fault and partly not and I’m still working through how to feel about it with a therapist.
Mom also hasn’t said a word to me about my own weight since my sister was buried, not even to say I “look good” (which used to be her code for “skinny”), which is … nice, I guess.
Really? Are you really wishing that particular pain on someone?
I just lost my husband, and it’s complicated but there are definitely ways that you could blame me, and ways that you could blame his parents. We made some huge mistakes and we have to live with that guilt forever.
Starsandgarters’s story filled me with so much sorrow. I am sorry for your losses: of your sister and of the relationship that you should have been able to have with your mother, which she squandered. I am sorry that she lost those things, too.
I am very, very sorry for your loss. And starsandgarters has the absolute right to their feelings about their loss of a sister and towards their mother.
But I think there’s a world of difference between looking back and seeing how we might have done things better with 20/20 hindsight, and being someone who actively placed their self-absorbed needs over the life of a child they were bound to protect. YMMV, of course.
I’m so sorry. What a terrible loss.
That’s terrible. I am sorry that you lost your sister. Although it sounds like your mother’s obsession contributed to what happened, I would also say that if your mother had taken your sister to a decent nutritionist, they should have alerted you sister and mother to the existence of a more serious condition and told your sister that she needed a doctor. As a diabetic, I have dealt with a number of nutritionists, and honestly, I think about half of them are anorexic or themselves have some other eating disorder and really unqualified to advise anyone.
Nutritionist is not a medically protected term, so anyone can call themselves one without needing any qualifications/licensing. Dietician is the medically protected term. Anyone claiming to be a nutritionist is both unqualified and trying to mislead you about this fact.
I know at least one who announce pretty loudly on her webpage that she wasn’t a registered dietician, and made it clear that the distinction was the licensing.
(She’s since gotten her dietician’s license, though.)
(Which is not to say that a nutritionist can’t do a hell of a lot of damage if they’re both unqualified and giving bad advice, just to say that…)
(…ohgod, I’m doing #notallnutritionists. Sorry.)
No kidding about the nutritionists. (Which is why I’m so glad the Captain specified a nutritionist specializing in intuitive eating, and added a cautionary note about doctors also – sadly, some health care providers have really messed up, unscientific attitudes about weight that lead them to give really damaging advice to patients.) I don’t want to fall into diagnosing someone else, so I’ll stop short of saying “they have EDs”, but I’ve certainly run across nutritionists that made me wonder about how healthy their motivations for picking their field might have been.
LW, if you do see a nutritionist, don’t hesitate (if at all possible) to ask for a second opinion/try out different providers if the first one seems dicey.
Story time: I was referred to a nutritionist during my pregnancy because I have some food restrictions that made my midwife worry about whether I got enough protein. The first nutritionist I saw glossed right over the protein thing and immediately zeroed in on cutting my calories to slow down my weight gain (I had been overweight/borderline obese before my pregnancy, and had gained a bit more weight than recommended during my early pregnancy; neither of these issues were seen as problems by my primary physician, my OB, or my midwife, who knew my detailed medical record). She drew me up a meal plan (saying things like “I’ll allow you X starches a day”) with a specific calorie maximum. The number of calories she wanted me to eat per day I had once eaten in my sordid past while dieting, at a much lower weight and while not pregnant; back then, I lost weight at a good clip on that few calories. Like HELL I was going to eat that little while in my second trimester, trying to nourish a growing fetus!
Thankfully, my midwife shared my bafflement and referred me to a different nutritionist right away. This one actually listened to my concerns, believed me when I said I wasn’t concerned about my weight gain, and focused on the protein issue. She walked with me through what I currently ate on a typical day, calculated my protein intake and showed me that I wasn’t doing that badly after all, and then recommended some very practical substitutions/additions that worked both with my busy schedule and my limited budget to help me close the gap to a healthy protein intake. Looking at my healthy baby, I’d say it worked!
a) There are some terrible nutritionists out there, so be careful and look at their advice with a critical eye.
b) There are also some really good nutritionists out there; they’re worth looking for, so go for second/third opinions if needed.
She drew me up a meal plan (saying things like “I’ll allow you X starches a day”)
Run. Fast and far. From anyone who loves controlling food, behavior, feelings, or anything else. They are trapped under a very low glass ceiling.
Run. Fast and far. From anyone who loves controlling food, behavior, feelings, or anything else. They are trapped under a very low glass ceiling.
Who is managing the “needs to be cross-stiched and displayed prominently” spreadsheet? We got a live one right here.
When my mother put me on a restrictive diet* and took me to some kind of food expert to validate this choice, she said that if she could have done it all over again she would have become a nutritionist. So. Yes. Undoubtedly there are some good and sensible experts out there, but there are almost certainly also versions of my mother who found their calling.
*The kind where one of the few allowed indulgences was a glass of red wine per day. I was 11. Hi, Kids Forced to Diet Club, how are those membership badges coming along?
And startsandgarters – I have no words for the sadness I feel at your story. I am so sorry. All my condolences.
“I have dealt with a number of nutritionists, and honestly, I think about half of them are anorexic or themselves have some other eating disorder”.
On a site that is against negative body talk, shaming, and diagnosing others over the internet, why is this comment acceptable?
It isn’t acceptable but it made it through before I saw it. Good catch.
Oh wow. That’s just horrible. I’m so sorry.
I can’t even imagine. I am so sorry for you and your poor sister.
That’s horrific. I’m so sorry you and your sister had to go through that. I send you deep condolences for your loss.
Like … wow.
I am so, so sorry to hear this. 😦 Condolences on your loss.
I’m so sorry for your loss
I’m so sorry.
This story was on my mind all weekend, so I cannot even begin to grasp what you are dealing with.
I’m so sorry for your loss. Jedi Hugs if you want them.
With regards to gaming fitness trackers – they’re pretty dumb and only track rhythmic movement that seems enough like a step. I can tell you from deliberately fooling The Walk (a fun fitness type game that I would recommend to anyone looking for a low impact type one) in order to finish a mission with just 5 minutes left to go, you can just tap the thing up and down on your knee once per second and make it think you’re walking.
So if you need to falsify some data here to get mom off your back and have to sit in a lecture in school, just take it off your wrist and tap it on your thigh/knee. Or stick it in your shoe and quietly tap your foot. It’ll fudge the numbers.
I used to have the Pokemon one and figured out the rhythm to just swing my hand back and forth while doing something else like reading to rack up the appropriate number of steps to catch the Pokemon I was after.
ISTR at least one person who’s come away from an hour of knitting on the couch with their tracker convinced that they’d taken 3000 steps.
LW: I`m so sorry you`re being hounded like this.
LW, I am so sorry that your mother is doing this to you. You are 16, so with a little luck the end is in sight, but that’s a long two (ish) years. In addition to the Captain’s really excellent advice, I would say, start thinking about your exit strategy, which might be college but might be whatever other means you can take to get the hell out of your mother’s house.
Also: be very gentle on yourself. You may have to do and say things that are disingenuous or feel awful, but the important thing in the long run is that you make it through this as physically and emotionally intact as possible. Maybe you feel bad about not being the daughter your mother wants, maybe it feels unpleasant and undutiful to sabotage your mother’s spy gadget and her attempts to mold you into someone else, but in the end your responsibility is to yourself and to the person you want to become. Future You will be happier if you are kind to yourself now about doing whatever you have to do to get out the door.
Her control over your body has an expiration date, and she knows it, which is why she’s stepping up her manipulation and control now, before you can leave forever and tell her to get fucked. But she has already lost her control over your mind–you have looked at the situation and you know it’s messed up and not right. Hang on to that. You might be surprised how far it will go in helping you deal with the very unpleasant situation she’s put you in.
Seconding making plans how to get out. You might not be able to execute them for some years, but it can feel freeing to do something about the situation, even if it doesn’t actually get you out just now.
Also, if there isn’t someone you can talk to about all of this yet, please find someone you can confide in who supports your point of view (you should be able to wear, eat and exercize what/however you want). If no one offline comes to mind, I second the recommendation up-thread to check out the Friends of Captain Akward forum. There are a lot of nice people who would be more than happy to support and validate you.
I was contemplating possible exit strategies for the LW myself. LW, I don’t know if these would be options at all due to finances, parental consent issues, etc., but could you maybe look into skipping your senior year to start college early? There are some significant drawbacks to thus approach if you feel you wouldn’t be ready for it academically or emotionally, but it would be an option for getting you out of your mother’s house. Alternatively, could you look into opportunities and scholarships for spending a year abroad? One of my friends from high school spent her senior year in Germany. Again, this is something to take with a giant grain of salt, as I know these options are not available to everyone.
If those wouldn’t work, do you have any friends or other relatives you could stay with, either just for a weekend here and there as a break or as a permanent home base until you do graduate? Do you know anyone who could maybe vouch for you to do some house sitting work? That is a seriously toxic environment you’re in, LW, and you are getting closer to freedom, but if you can spring yourself any sooner, I’d say to go for it.
You can also minimize the time you spend around your mother.
If your mother wakes up later, then wake up earlier and leave before she’s up. If your mom is an early riser, do homework in your room until right before you need to go. If your mom currently drives you to school, try to carpool with friends. Join afterschool activities or just study in the library after school.
I did all these things and I would go days without seeing or talking to my mother.
I second making plans for escape. Don’t even consider any colleges closer than 1000 miles :-). Start thinking now of excuses why you need to move clear across the country, or better yet to another continent. Investigate scholarships now, and work hard in school so that you will have the financial means to escape. Study a foreign language assiduously. Think of professions that require world travel – geologist, archeologist, marine biologist, interpreter?
I also like the idea of thinking over what relatives might take pity on you and spare you another couple years of this torture. There are Aunty Mames out there, and I have known several over the years who’ve been the saviors of their more unsavory sibling’s kids. Think of it this way – any aunts and uncles have grown up with your mother, and so they’re well aware of her failings. Look especially to your father’s family, as they’re more likely to secretly disapprove of her behavior. And especially look to any relatives that aren’t around much, or who themselves have fled far away, as this likely means they’d be more sympathetic to your cause. Can you attend some remote family event and get to know people again as an almost-grown-up person so they know you’re not just a clone of your mother? Being public about the electronic bracelet and food police should get you some sympathy right off, even if you’re not openly complaining about it. I also encourage you to explore the many ways to mess with the fitbit, but i’d advise making the results erratic in both directions so you can avoid being put on a stricter diet.
I survived toxic teenagerhood with people who were openly evaluating me for the marriage meatmarket and finding me wanting (well, they were right, I was, but that’s another story). Some of it was escape fantasies (and getting damn good at math, which turned out unexpectedly useful). Much of it was passive resistance :-). I read quite a bit about the French Resistance in WWII for some reason, and applied lots of sabotage methods to humiliating my relatives with my appearance. If you feel up to it you can go full goth or shave your head or something as suggested :-). But failing that you can do merely dorky – badly combed hair, glasses worn crooked, clashing colors, the wrong size bra, ratty outer layers, worn socks falling down.. Take up biting your nails! The possibilities are endless, and can be quite entertaining if you view them as fashion play. Play dumb when she wonders why you aren’t getting her instructions. You can also simultaneously practice what many teenagers the world over do- the quick change as soon as you get to school, so you reserve your dorkiest for your mother’s presence, but can still look mostly like yourself around your peers. You can probably find others doing the same, and make it all one big game/support group together.
Hang in there, LW! I know two years seem like an eternity at your age, but you’re almost there. And life WILL be so much better.
Fitbit scamming– if it is not the heart rate kind, shaking back and forth slowly (120 beats per minute, there are online metronomes) will add steps. If it is the heart rate kind it’ll need to be on your wrist, I suggest learning to conduct music via Youtube vids. Also, there is a setting in the Fitbit web interface for wrist-worn ones, if it’s set for non-dominant wrist, put it on your dominant wrist. Petting my cat with these settings will get me several hundred steps.
I learned all these through my own Fitbit use. Good luck LW!
I like the doctor idea. You already have a pretty good idea of how many calories/how much to eat works for you. When your mother starts to bother you, you say “Doctor said I’m healthy” alternating with “Doctor said this sort of meal is good for me” and finally “You’ll have to talk to Doctor about that.” When Mother sends you out to the gym, you really can go anywhere you want. You can even read or study in the locker room. (Don’t ask me why, but the lighting in locker rooms is always excellent in my experience.) I suspect that Mother would do anything rather than exercise herself. She’s having too much fun pretending to care about you while underhandedly insulting you. So, while it’s a gamble, there may even be something in saying “Come on Mom; take a walk with me.” It means she has to work to insult you.
“You’ll have to talk to Doctor about that” – I’d suggest changing that to “I’ll have to talk to my doctor about that”, because the implies room for your mother’s interference in what should for the most part be your own private health business, and you don’t want her thinking she can get involved in your medical stuff without your say-so (depending on where you are you have doctor patient confidentiality stuff starting from about 16y/o). But also because honestly you don’t WANT. A doctor who will talk to your mother about ANYTHING without your permission, so it’s probably a good idea to shop around for a doctor who you think will respect those boundaries of “my mother is interfering in my health in a way which is impacting me negatively so I need her out of my primary care business”. Maybe you have a Women’s Health centre near you? Also beware using the family doctor. While after you reach x age it is against dr/patient confidentiality laws for them to tell your parents stuff you haven’t given permission for them to do, some flair doctors will see it as very natural and appropriate to talk to your parents about your health concerns because, after all, “faaaaaamily”. I had a friend who had a horrid shock when her mother confronted her about the friends new use of birth control – as told to the mum by the family doctor the friend went to. If my friend had been inclined she could have brought a serious complaint against the doctor for this illegal sharing. And in your circumstances, you don’t wanna risk your mother and doctor conspiring.
Apart from that, I always felt lucky that my mother seemed to accept me for who I was. I thought I’d always be beautiful in her eyes. Then I put on some weight (after being seriously underweight due to illness, which was actually exacerbated by her being too cautious about what I ate during recover so I kinda…was accidentally a little starved during that period? Just from mum not wanting me to eat bad stuff so sometimes I couldn’t really eat anything?) which wasn’t really probably even a lot of weight. But I got some snide comments and I was like so confused at first? Especially when birth control was brought up? And it broke my heart because, wow. You always made it seem I was enough but now I’m not? Gee, thanks. Thanks so much. Oh and I swallow food incorrectly and too loudly too. Now you wonder why I have seriously no interest in eating near you, and bring my own food when/eat before I visit, and hide food, and don’t talk to you about that stuff? Totally bizarre….
LW I wish you the best and hope you find your peace with all this – it truely sucks. You’re awesome and may you come to know that in every fiber of your body regardless of what Morher Dearest has to say about the issue.
When I was a kid, my mom talked about her weight ALL THE TIME, and always in a really negative way. Thank goodness she didn’t turn that on me, but she instilled some pretty disordered thinking about weight and the numbers on the scale without even meaning to. Since I have a couple of inches on her, and have been physically bigger since I was 13 or so, there has been a lot for me to unpack once I hit adulthood, figuring out what’s healthy for me, both in terms of eating and exercise. I have also had to unpack a lot of years of, “Why can’t you be more feminine/wear more makeup/look prettier?” from both of my parents, as I tend to prefer a more androgynous appearance.
The good news is that it can be done! You can find a way to do you and have a healthy relationship with your body, and your appearance. It takes time, and you’ll probably run up against little negative voices for a while, but it’s doable.
The piece of advice that I would offer, in addition to the Captain’s, is learn to cook, and offer to cook at home. Not only is cooking a skill that will serve you well all through life, but it can really help to reset your relationship with food if necessary. Find new, delicious things to try, experiment with different cuisines if you can, and find new combinations. The thing that really, really helped me reset my relationship with food was just that–I started cooking, and I got familiar with techniques and ingredients. I learned to love spices and veggies and all kinds of proteins and experimented with vegan and vegetarian fare. Plus, you can sneak in some really delicious things.
All the *jedi hugs* LW. So many of us have been where you are, and I want to say how awesome you are for recognizing the disordered thinking now, and doing what you can to push back against it. You’re ahead of the curve, and I wish you all the love and luck in the world.
Cooking, yes! A great way to learn to respect and value food for what it is. Especially if you explore the creative side of it. There’s a reason the French have a healthy attitude towards food. (And alcohol while we’re at it.)
Honestly, I’m not sure if it would work for the LW at home because it seems pretty possible the mom might go, “What’re you making? How many calories is it? That is WAY too much olive oil. You need to learn some fat-free recipes!… I want you to cook only recipes from Weight Watchers.” Giving her one more thing to police… might not be worth it. Or it might. But even if doing it at home doesn’t work out, she could still do it a) in some kind of safe space now (a friend’s house? I dunno), and especially b) once she has her freedom.
Another wonderful thing for tossing American culture’s super-weird-guilt-obsession-virtuous-food-evil-tempting-food thing (hereafter referred to as THE GUILT) out your personal window is: growing your own. At least a little. No doubt pretty impossible for the LW right now… but you never know! You can grow a little basil in a window-box and put it on sliced tomatoes, or you can grow a little mint or lemon balm & make your own tea whenever you want it. On a patio you could grow a pepper plant in a planter; anywhere you could hang a hanging basket of flowers, you could hang a grow bag for an upside-down tomato plant. With a little more land (in the future perhaps?) you can do more. It’s a wonderful thing to learn for so many reasons.
– Vegetables are awesome. THE GUILT labels them as unpleasant and virtuous things that you must eat, but they. Are. Not. They are varied, beautiful, multicolored gleaming objects to be picked perfectly ripe and brought home proudly and displayed in a basket and cooked up into delicious recipes that do not skimp on the oil for Virtuous reasons but use it to bring out the true deliciousness of what we’ve brought from the generous soil with our hands. Also, when you’ve got a little experience you can explore which varieties taste best to you. Look up “heirloom seeds.” The veggies in the store are usually bred for lack of flavor (also known as shelf life. Cardboard has a long shelf life too.) No wonder people don’t like ’em.
– Gardening is exercise, ha ha. You know what? Screw exercise. It’s part of THE GUILT. You know what gardening really is? It’s USING your body, for real, using your whole body to do something that changes a little part of the world, instead of working away on a machine that is intended only to change your appearance and get rid of what you ate. It takes THE GUILT’s balance sheet of eating = calories in = bad/exercise = calories out = good, and turns it on its head and shows you how that was never meant to be a balance sheet, it’s a cycle, and a beautiful one. You work (good, because good work is good, it gives fulfillment) and this provides you with good food to eat (good, because eating is good, it gives us pleasure and strength and health) and that eating gives us energy to continue our work. That’s the true relationship of food and physical work/”exercise” : very good things that enable each other to exist and continue. Not THE GUILT’s nonsensical vice/virtue dichotomy, which seems to me like the direct source for the awful notion that the thing to be truly proud of would be to stop eating entirely.
– Because you use your body for real, it can help you love your body. There are so many good things your body can be other than “packaging carefully kept in socially-approved shape in order to attract a sexual partner”–and this is one of them: a strong body that has the power to swing a hoe and stick a shovel in the ground to turn up sweet potatoes, a body that can bring out of the soil delicious, valuable things that weren’t there before. There are all kinds of reasons to love your body, but this can definitely be one of them for anyone who gardens.
– It can help you go back to viewing food as precious, to be given thanks for (to a deity? to the earth? giving thanks helps, anyway), and to be enjoyed. To “eat your vegetables” because they’re truly YOURS, with pride and pleasure instead of grim virtue–and then to have that slice of chocolate cake for dessert without a second thought because chocolate cake is ALSO precious and good–is wonderful.
Best of luck to you, LW. Kudos to you for resisting your mom’s screwed-up treatment of you, and resisting THE GUILT.
This is lovely.
Me too! Screw the guilt!
On the same vein – it may help when your mother makes comments about your body to have some phrases that you can repeat to yourself. I found it helped me with negative body stuff – focus on what your body can do, rather than what it looks like.
Eg. for me, my body is strong – I can lift a hay bale/do martial arts/cycle
My body is skilled – make knitted things/type or write excellent writing
My body makes me feel good – breeze on skin/hugs/petting animals.
Basically anything that you do with your body. Focus on what it does and how it feels, rather than what it looks like – which is what your mother seems to be doing. She cannot see your strength or how you feel but you can. Use that to shut out or quieten down the impact of what she says – as she is seeing such a small aspect of what your body does.
If that is tricky – remember all the comments from the people on here – what matters about you is who you are which is nothing to do with what you look like. Maybe if you have a trusted friend who can help by repeating you some of the above-type phrases (it can help to hear it from another person, even if you’ve asked them to say it)
You are strong and clever and wonderful LW – you’ve got much more awareness about this stuff than I did at your age.
Good luck and I hope you get free of this horridness as soon as you can and that you have the support of people that value all of you while you get through this.
I certainly agree that cooking can be helpful in this regard, but personally I found the patriarchal expectations around cooking to Not Be Worth It and refused to show any interest in cooking until I was an adult. (Of course, if LW wants/likes to cook, that’s a different situation.)
Same (and I won prizes for baked goods when I was younger, so it isn’t inability). I can feed myself properly, but there are a lot of personal issues around cooking and gardening and other “female-coded” activities that are a struggle to handle at the moment. (It’s on my list of Personal Growth Things To Tackle, though, and I learned to knit last year after rejecting it for years, plus I just bought a wok!)
Oh, LW. Jedi hugs if you want them.
I’m 26 and my mom still thinks she gets to make decisions about my body. Before I was married, she told me to lose weight for my boyfriend, and when I said “I’d like to marry someone who loves me for my mind, not my looks,” she said “That’s too much to ask of any man.” Surprise surprise, I married that boyfriend, and two kids and sixty pounds later he still loves me. Point being–she’s full of shit. So is your mom. Being skinny/conventionally attractive/fashionable is not some moral duty, it’s not the rent you pay to live in this world, and it’s certainly not meant to help YOU. I give you permission to opt out of the whole sick system.
The science says it’s drastically unhealthy for children and adolescents to diet, and that restrictive dieting at any age leads to long-term weight gain. The science says that if you’re eating and exercising a healthy amount for YOUR body, listening to YOUR internal signals, your weight has little to no correlation with your health. The science says that, if you control for poverty and other conditions that cause both health problems and weight gain, fat people might actually live LONGER than skinny people. But hey, who cares about facts, amirite? “Health” is and always has been just an excuse to police other people (mostly women)’s weight.
So listen to the Captain, and do what you can not to internalize these messages your mother and our society are sending you. They’re wrong as wrong can be.
Wow. I was talking to my dad after I got engaged, and he said, “Jeff doesn’t really love you,” and I, shocked, said, “Yes, he does,” and my dad said, “No, he can’t love you because you’re fat.” That was a real sledgehammer to my face, as it really meant my dad didn’t love me because I was fat, and also it explained why every conversation I had with him for any reason ended with, “You’ll feel better if you lose weight,” which I then realized meant that my dad would feel better if I lost weight….
Yeah, my now FIL told my husband, back when we were engaged, that he shouldn’t marry me. Because I’m fat. Fortunately, my husband didn’t listen, because we recently celebrated our 10 year anniversary, and we’re both pretty damn happy.
My weight has yo-yo’ed a number of times in the last decade, and it seems like the only time my FIL is ever genuinely interested in talking to me is when I’ve lost weight, and that’s all he’ll talk about. Honestly, it has made my husband think less of his father, and I’m certain that wasn’t something he was hoping for.
Why must people insist on sucking? I’m so sorry your dad did that to you. Yay for finding a life partner who doesn’t get hung up on that bullshit.
I can relate to growing up as an improvement project of my mother’s. Aside from the eating/exercise issues (which were not something I have faced), focussing on making you more sexually attractive while denying your own bodily autonomy and not discussing or teaching you the necessary social or relationship skills to handle the attention you might subsequently receive is a recipe for disaster. I’m not going to go into details of my own experiences because it makes me feel a bit sick even thinking about it. I’ll just say – do what you believe is right and comfortable for *you*, whatever you need to do to feel that *you* are in charge of your own body. Doing that now is important for your physical and mental wellbeing for the whole of the rest of your life. Set boundaries, and if she doesn’t respect them, lay low until you can find a better place. Stay safe.
Can you put your makeup in a bag in your purse, and wave it at her and with a “yeah, don’t worry I’ve got it with me!” when she pushes the makeup thing? Maybe conveniently lose the parts of it that you don’t ever want to wear?
Might be a good time to start waking up “late,” like the kind of late where it’s “FFFFFF GOTTA BE AT SCHOOL IN TEN MINUTES.” Because you can’t put on makeup at home if you’re late, yes? But *of course* you’ll put it on at school, mom!
I LOVE this idea! You can combine it (as Dizzy says) with “running late!” or even just working extra hard on homework – because it’s hard for even a terrible parent to argue with “gotta do well in school Mom, just studying for the quiz tomorrow, I think I’m gonna ace it!”
The Captain has great advice but I have an issue with one thing. Don’t try to break your fitbit if your mom will get really mad about it. It is a fairly pricey little gadget for some people. And even if it’s considered “your fitbit” the minute it gets broken your mom might blame you for “breaking the fitbit that she bought.” As for tricking it, right on.
True, but that one fight might be worth getting rid of the microaggressions involved in keeping it. Use your judgement, LW.
A gift you don’t want that is making you sad isn’t a gift you need to feel bad about breaking, imo. 🙂 Speaking as someone who grew up in a very controlling household, I would break that thing without compunction. But my parents’ controlling behaviours included physical abuse, so I knew I was going to be punished for something all the time anyway, and it honestly just stops mattering what the excuse is.
[cw: abuse] Yeah, this was my idea, as well. I had parents similar to the LW, and if I deliberately lost, broke, or otherwise damaged something like that, there literally would’ve been hell to pay. Even if it were accidental. If you’re reading this, LW, please do what you need to be safe. The problem with people like the LW’s mom is that you don’t ever know what might set them off to escalate, know what I mean?
And now I’m going to go snuggle the cat and hope my heart stops racing and my palms stop being sweaty.
I agree, especially since schools tend to provide a convenient place to “forget” items that you can eventually retrieve them from, unharmed, if your parents get too annoyed about it.
I really did not want glasses when I first got them, so they spent a while being “forgotten” in my locker. Not broken, not lost, so no reason for them to be replaced. They’d be remembered for a while, then “forgotten” again. Also, generally, by the time I got home, school was closed, so I couldn’t go back and get them.
Possible Bonus: If the fitness tracker is established as not being worn consistently, mom may stop trying to rely on the data to monitor the LW.
I did that too! I really resented having to wear glasses, even though I could see the actual board for once, so I “accidentally” left them in my locker every day.
Eventually my eyesight got worse so now I have to wear my glasses every waking moment pretty much, but I got contacts so I don’t mind as much.
Speaking of the contacts, LW if you don’t want to wear them it can be very easy for things to happen to them – [potential squick warning] for some reason a few times I’ve woken up convinced I still have them in and actually tipped my contacts into my sink, only to realise what I’ve done the next morning when I found them completely dried up. You could do something like that when you’re running low and then forget to mention that you need to get new ones? And/or you could keep a case and some solution (at least where I live you can get a travel sized bottle with a regular sized one) in your locker and then take your contacts out as soon as you get to school and put your glasses in?
Maybe have a look for a part time job that fits around studying. That’d give you money, which is always useful and an excuse to spend time elsewhere.
Great idea. If you do so, have a good thought about where to stash the money so your mother cannot take it away from you.
If you store your money elsewhere, make SURE you also put in a password. My mother was semi-controlling, and once I got out from under her, she used to call my bank to find out what my balance was, because of course she knew my ss# off the top of her head. USE A PASSWORD. And never write it down where she can find it.
From my personal experience with having my money stolen by my parents, some additional tips:
Don’t keep checks around the house. If you can avoid it, just don’t have checks at all; you can do withdrawals in person with a withdrawal slip.
Make sure your PIN for your debit card (if you decide to get one) is not your birth year or anything your parents might easily guess.
If you can, don’t have the statements come to your house. Most banks will be thrilled if you opt for electronic statements, meaning you can view them online and nothing comes in the mail.
Finally, don’t talk about your finances with them. Don’t tell them how much is in the account or what you plan to do with the money, except in reasonable situations (they may want you to chip in for family vacations etc – ask them how much they need, then tell them if you can afford that or not, don’t volunteer amounts that might hint to them how much you have saved)
If you already have an account, like a savings, that has one of your parents on it – open another account in just your name and keep most of your money there. If they ask you prying questions about where your money is, you can lie (‘I spent it’) or if that won’t go over well, say upfront that you opened a special savings account and you’re putting it in there.
Set up direct deposit and if your workplace gives you pay stubs, shred them.
This all might sound really paranoid, OP, but at your age I never suspected it of my parents either and was dealing with a similarly awful mom – this kind of controlling behavior is a red flag for them thinking they have a right to your money. My parents stole over 17k out of my account with forged checks, leaving me with no savings to move out with.
And if it turns out that they’re honest people, then they’ll just be surprised and happy for you when you’re getting ready to move out and have several months rent already saved up and a cushion to fall back on.
Using a different bank than the one your parents use can help as well. Banks shouldn’t give out information about your accounts regardless, but they’re really not going to share information with someone who isn’t a customer.
If your parents have access to your email account, then it’d be a good idea to create a new email account (and make sure the security questions and password aren’t things your parents could guess!) specifically to handle stuff like this–bank statements, job-related things if you’re applying for part-time jobs, etc. If your parents ask why (assuming they know/learn about it), just tell them that you want to keep personal email separate from more “official” email, that you want a more professional-looking email address for jobs, something like that. (Actually, I think this is good advice for anybody–I do this and have all of my accounts forward to a single Gmail account that automatically tags and organizes all my emails. My personal email addresses have kind of silly names, so I have a “formal” one that I use for jobs, etc.)
And, of course, be sure not to save the password in your web browser. (also good life advice, for the email you use for financial information!)
And here I put in my plug for two-factor authentication. Use it whenever you can. These days you can get a crappy burner phone that’ll let you do text messages, and that’ll work just fine. If your mom, LW, happens to social engineer her way into your bank login, etc, the TFA should stop her in her tracks.
Also, if you have security questions, don’t answer them with anything that could be found on a background check or details your mom would know. Use random words to answer them that have nothing to do with the question. Favorite color? kleenex. First pet? monkey shoes. This means that you do have to remember them, though.
LW, speaking her as a mom who has raised three kids through the teenage years? I enthusiastically cosign EVERYTHING the Captain said. What your mom is doing is absolutely wrong and it is not a healthy or normal way for a mom to treat her daughter. It is not even on the same planet as ‘annoying things my parents do that they think are Good For Me’, like trying to encourage you to read boring books or asking why you don’t play outside more. It is actively wrong. Your mom is being selfish and cruel.
It is 100% normal for girls your age to experiment with different looks, and to want to make decisions about whether they will wear makeup and what style they will have. The appropriate thing for parents to do, 99% of the time, is to let them. (The few exceptions are things like poor personal hygiene or safety. If you were going rock climbing in shorts and flip-flops, it would be OK for your mom to say that maybe you should put on different clothes. If you were going for a driving test and you are severely nearsighted, it would be OK for your mom to tell you to put on glasses.)
Your parents can and should get up in your business if you are engaging in seriously destructive behavior, like setting fire to other people’s houses or coming home drunk at 3 a.m. on a school night. They should stay the hell out of your business when it’s “I don’t want to wear makeup” or “I like sweatpants, thanks.”
I hope that you are able to keep yourself healthy and safe despite your mom’s entirely awful behavior.
You know, what really pisses me off about this situation (besides, well, frickin’ everything) is that LW sounds like she has boatloads more self-confidence in her appearance than I did at her age. Going down to even the corner store without contacts and makeup? Oh hell no, someone from school might see me and pass judgment! I even had a mother who was supportive of whatever look I tried, and it still took me years to realize that the whole femininity thing was not my bag at all–though I ditched the contacts, makeup, and bras that weren’t of the sports variety in college, it wasn’t until a decade after I graduated high school that I realized I’m actually nonbinary, though my mother passed before I started grappling with that one. And here’s LW rocking the the I’m-awesome-just-the-way-I-am look in the confidence-undermining cesspool we call high school, and her mother trying to tear that all down? Goddamn, I’m raging so. hard. at that woman.
Yeah, it cracks me up that the LW might put on makeup and risqué clothes, and then change when she gets to school. Isn’t that backwards?
I hope the LW can focus on the fact–and it’s a fact–that she has a good level of confidence in her appearance, and that she can come to hear her mother as if Mom is one of the grownups on the Charlie Brown cartoons. “Wah wah wah-wah-wah.”
And maybe the LW can find a way to feel a little sorry for her mom, when Mom starts in on this. Mom’s got some big issues and some big insecurities. And Mom is going to LOSE BIG-TIME!! Because the LW is going to do what she wants.
So if LW can say, mentally, “poor mom, she really struggles with this! I’m not going to do what she says, but I know she’s saying it because of her own wounds, and not because she’s right, or something.”
It might help the LW stay strong in her own decision about glasses (or not), and it might help her to not internalize Mom’s anxieties.
I have a number 11 suggestion, which may or may not work for you, LW – when you look at other people, eithe strangers or your friends, notice when you see something attractive about them! Not in a competitive, compare-y kind of way, just because, yay people and their brilliant variety and prettiness! Not “Laura has such great hair – not like mine, which is always …”, just “Laura has such lovely hair! Yay Laura!” “Geoff always wears such cool tshirts! Yay Geoff!” “That lady in the blue top has such a great smile! Hooray for her!”
If you don’t tend to notice other people’s appearances anyway, there is no real need to do this – there’s no particular need to train yourself to notice appearances! But if you find that you do, and you do it in a critical or self-comparing way, then deliberately forcing your inner monologue to say positive things about other people can very quickly re-train it. After a while, you’re can find it’s a habit that applies to yourself too: when you look in the mirror, you’re more likely to notice that your eyes are fab and that your posture is good (or whatever!) instead of zero-ing in on Whatever Is Wrong. You also realise that you look at your friends and see beautiful people because you love them … and you realise that the people who love you (and don’t do it in the weird “something about how you look reflects on me”, the way your mom does) look at you and think you’re beautiful too!
Yes, this really helps! I know that I was raised in a similar way to LW and it made me so critical of everybody else, in addition to myself, because I was always looking to find ways I could somehow be “okay” — that when people were prettier than me (which was always, given my self-distortion), then was there something about them that was not perfect, that coudl make me feel at least okay? It’s so corrosive.
And it turns out, you can unlearn it. Now I no longer internally criticize or negatively-judge others clothes or hairstyles or makeup or what-have-you. And that helps me no longer do it to myself, either. And not thinking about myself negatively then makes it easier to see what is great about others without feeling like their prettiness makes me useless. It’s a self-reinforcing positive cycle.
They can wear what they like. I can wear what I like. They choose how to do their makeup. I choose how to do my makeup. They do their hair whatever way they want. I do my hair whatever way I want. I can accept others as who they are. I can accept myself as who I am.
I’m in the middle of training myself out of this habit, of silently criticising random strangers. I never applied it to myself, and I would never in a million years say anything to anyone, friend or stranger, unless SPECIFICALLY asked for my opinion, but it’s still a bad habit.
Like I said, I’m mid-training, so my thoughts currently go along the lines of “Jeebus, look at that lady’s top, that does not flatter her…. but she probably loves it, and it matches her shoes, so whevs, You Do You, lady.”.
LW, I agree with all the counting-down strategies. Make an exit plan, cross-hatch out the days on your calendar, be free and live happy. If you’re happy and healthy, then screw anyone else’s opinion.
I like this, and it’s something I do myself. After a while, it becomes the default – and by not criticizing others in my head so much, I eased up on criticizing myself.
Now when I walk down the street, I think, ‘Oh, that person has such flowy hair!’, ‘Omg their smile is so cute,’, ‘What a fantastic nose!’ and all of these without a trace of sarcasm – I genuinely like these things about them.
There’s rarely a time I can’t find anything I like about a person, now, and it’s so much nicer.
A small tip: (Assuming you have a Fitbit brand tracker and aren’t just using that as a generic brand) you can change the “goal weight” on the Fitbit.com website, which changes what caloric requirements it offers. If you set the goal weight equal to or higher than your current weight, it might stop nagging you all the time, which can help with your mental energy tremendously. I stopped entering my food into my fitbit to shut it up, but that might not be an option for you.
Good point! You also don’t have to tell it the truth, which for me, can take some pressure off following the directions of the technology, since I know I fed it garbage input to make the output definitely wrong. (I got tired of my Wii Fit pouting and sighing over my weight, and since I couldn’t change my weight or convince it I was fine with it, I just changed my reported height until it stopped judging me. Why yes, I am definitely eight feet tall, thanks!)
a special Jedi hug to you Captain. I’ve been reading you long enough to know how hard this subject is for you.
Thank you for telling your story, and your compassion to this poor tortured girl– Who is already a world-class, bad-ass mammajamma, to have been able to find you and then written her letter to you.
“I just want you to look your best!” or “You could be so pretty if you just …” or “I don’t criticize you, you’re imagining it!” or “I wish my mom had cared about me as much as I care about you!” or “How are you going to learn how to be attractive to boys if you don’t figure out how to be as pretty as you can be?” or “Do you know how embarrassing it is to be seen with you in public when you are dressed like an urchin?”
I have heard all those things, especially “I don’t criticize you, you’re imagining it!”, which strikes me as a form of gaslighting, and “Do you know how embarrassing it is to be seen with you in public when you are dressed like an urchin?”, which has pretty well fucked me up for not just…feeling gross, and thinking of myself as inherently embarrassing to be around. Mother knows best, after all. I wouldn’t say that my mom is a abusive, but someone like me – closeted then, insecure, uncomfortable in their own skin as a trans person, and pretty well just trying to survive and not draw too much attention – I’ve internalised ‘you’re gross’ to such a degree that I can never really get rid of the lingering shame. It’s shitty that your mom is acting like that to you, she sounds narcissistic. The captain’s advice holds.
I’m going somewhere else now, I didn’t realise how much reading this all would fuck me up.
*offers jedi hugs if wanted*
I’ve internalised ‘you’re gross’ to such a degree that I can never really get rid of the lingering shame
In case it helps, this random internet person thinks you have every right to call your mother abusive if you want to. It is absolutely not normal and not even a little bit okay to tell your child that it’s embarrassing to be seen in public when them. Not cool, inveterate grouch’s mom!
Thanks. I still wouldn’t call her abusive – she’s done a lot for me (really), and she’s changed a lot in the past five years. She’s one of my best supporters in being trans. Paraphrasing Sirius Black, I think there’s a whole continuum between Ideal Parents and abusive ones which includes ‘has shown poor judgement on a matter’. She’d say she was ‘just concerned’ – and I think that was true, she was concerned, but telling your depressed, autistic child with OCD that they look gross is just giving their jerkbrain something to say forever, and especially coming from a parent – it starts sounding like truth, and ‘you look gross’ (which is shitty enough) turns into ‘you’re gross’. Augh. I’m pretty obsessed with personal hygiene, and I know that I actually look like an adorable little hipster boy, but I will never stop worrying about looking gross.
She can do/have done a lot for you and still be abusive; the two aren’t mutually exclusive. That said, you are the one who gets to define your relationship with her. Just wanted to point out that she can be both.
I’m in the gender non conforming\fluid crowd, and even tho my family has always been pretty cool with my choices, the whole ‘you’d look so nice if you just did or wore X’ still (and probably always will) get on my nerves; because it’s very different from a simple sugestion, because deep down you know the message is not ‘you’d look so nice’ so much as ‘you’d look so much more pleasing to me and the rest of the world’. A lot of the times people do it with the best of intentions, thinking they’re helping you fit in and be less awkward, hell I’m very priviledged being skinny when it comes to fashion choices (androginy is considered more acceptable), and then you realize how it’s still a crapshot because since you have the “right” meassurements suddenly you’re supposed to have this obligation to dress and look a certain way. If you don’t, people jump to weird conclussions: you’re too picky, you have to learn more about fashion, you’re just insecure,blah,blah… I’M ALLOWED TO BE PICKY! MY SENSE OF FASHION IS NON OF YOUR BUSINESS! MY SELF ESTEEM IS FINE, AND YOU ARE NOT MY THERAPIST TO QUESTION IT! I JUST LIKE WEARING WHAT I WEAR!!! And then we go back to the ‘but you’d look so nice if you just…’, and that’s when I’ll just grumble and roll my eyes thinking ‘geez, I didn’t know my sense of style and self was so hideous’ *sarcasm*.
And once again, I am completely aware of my priviledge (skinny, able, can pass for cis*), I mean, if I get some serious crap on occassions, I can’t even imagine how much worse it is on other people without the same luck as mine.
* tho is shouldn’t really count as a priviledged so much as a right, sadly, a tolerant and supportive family
I am so sorry she is doing this to you.
“Why don’t you” and “I don’t know why you didn’t” were some of the most dreaded ‘put me on the spot’ words in my dysfunctional relationship with my textbook narcissist mother.
It took me years to sort myself out so that I could respond by saying simple obvious things like ‘because I didn’t think of it’ or ‘because I didn’t want to’ or ‘no, thank you’, no, thank you nothankyounothankyou a million times no, thank you. Once I finally let it be about her behavior, instead of mine, I was able to answer only the question and not the implications. When she did not get the defensive response she stopped doing it. Can you believe that? If only I had figured that out twenty years earlier. If only.
Food is a major control tool for many people. When a parent is depriving a child of food they are abusing that child. [Calorie rec redacted by moderator]
And LW, you might need more. Or less. Or that number, but the values you are carefully noting down as corresponding to the food you eat might not represent the kilocalories you’re actually eating. Those sorts of dietary guidelines may (may!) apply across a population, but they can’t be applied to any individual person. If your mother is attempting to implant disordered eating in you, an excellent strategy for her is to focus on numbers, because health is about something totally different than those kind of numbers, and bodies are complex systems, so anything that focuses on numbers is by definition going to make you obsess over numerical values that have no direct and simple relationship to the goals she’s trying to represent with those numbers.
I have an eating disorder. I’ve learned to live with it at this point without letting it hurt me too much, but I’ve been living with it since I was a teen, and my mother gave it to me, and in general both the meatsack that my brain wears *and* my head would be in better shape if I didn’t have it.
“Teen girls like yourself need about XX calories a day when living a sedentary life style.
Please, let’s not give caloric recommendations in numbers for a person whose health, lifestyle, and other needs we don’t know, especially as the person’s diet is already being policed by numbers. I had an eating disorder in which I obsessed over numbers, including ‘healthy’ numbers, and it was an important step in healing to stop measuring and counting. CA gives great advice and links on checking in with a healthcare professional and learning about nutrition and mindfulness around hunger. I think numbers are unnecessary and potentially harmful in this thread.
… and to add, as someone who studied, researched, and now works in a food systems field… the best food advice is that which talks quality over quantity: diversity of the food you eat, meeting key nutrient requirements, working with your lifestyle and body to feel satisfying and allow you to do what you want to get done, amount of ‘whole’ foods vs processed foods, safety issues, and perhaps the relationship of the food to the world (labor, animal welfare, environmental impacts) etc.
Good catch, I have redacted the info.
I am so sorry. I was freaked out by the number the mom was requiring so I looked it up and I ended up doing the same bad thing mom was doing. Criminy!
I often think parents should be forbidden from using the word “why.”
My husband would say to the kids, “Why did you do that?!” when they’d dropped something, or made a mistake, or done something stupid.
I tried to always take him to task. I’d answer: “Because. Just because. It seemed like an idea at the time.”
It’s such a waste of energy. It’s demanding that the child scold herself.
LW, I was another one who was pushed into dieting when they were a teenager – my mother started worrying about my weight around the age of twelve, when I started growing up. As per the Captain, I suspect if Fitbits or similar had been A Thing back in the mid-1980s, I would have been required to wear one. It took me ten years (and my mother moving out of the family home) before I was able to give up dieting successfully, and I’m still living with the physiological and psychological after-effects of those ten years.
So, some of the things people forget about weight-loss dieting:
The first thing is: dieting is actually a medical procedure, and should be performed under medical supervision. You wouldn’t perform cosmetic surgery on yourself with no medical supervision – don’t diet without it. Insist on your mother taking you to the doctor’s office, and getting a full check-up, to find out whether there is a medical need for you to undertake this particular procedure (a procedure, I should note, with a very LOW rate of success: the long-term success rate for weight loss dieting is about 5%, and that’s for a definition of “long-term” which covers about 2 – 5 years). Insist your doctor checks things like your blood sugar levels, your thyroid hormone levels, and gets a full history of your periods, as well as checking your general fitness levels, and your overall health (cholesterol levels, iron levels, blood pressure etc). Also see whether you can get things like your stress, depression and anxiety levels checked.
Then, if your mother is going to keep insisting on you dieting, you keep insisting on medical monitoring of the dieting process – which means regular check-ups every six weeks to two months, checking all the things you had checked the first time. Including (particularly) the stress, depression and anxiety levels – because one of the less-mentioned side effects of playing with our eating is that it quite literally messes with our heads. If you’re going to “get serious” about dieting, you’re effectively playing around with a self-induced form of an obsessive disorder, and it can be very psychologically harmful (eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, bulmarexia etc are all on the obsessive spectrum). Tell your mother you’re saving her the money on potential therapy bills if she wants to quibble about it.
A known side-effect of dieting is that dieting plays fast and loose with adaptations designed to deal with food insufficiency – things like famine or seasonal shortages. This means when you lose weight, your body will start taking measures to deal with an assumed shortage of food, and the first measure it takes is to become a lot more metabolically efficient. It will start getting more calories out of every meal, it will start storing more of the energy you’re taking in by default, and this will start manifesting as you firstly, stopping losing weight, and secondly, putting the weight back on again. This is part of why weight-loss dieting is so ineffective (and incidentally, part of the reason weight-loss dieting is a multi-billion dollar industry). So I’d advise setting a “failure standard” (such as a 5 – 10lb [2.5 – 5kg] gain over your current starting weight) at which point you will stop dieting. (Don’t, I beg of you, do what I did, which was waiting until my weight had actually doubled before admitting this whole dieting thing wasn’t working for me).
Finally, a few keywords to throw into a search engine when you’re looking for support and back-up in diet resistance: size acceptance; Health At Every Size (HAES); fat-acceptance; body-positive.
And here’s some science to back up megpie, for anyone who might find it useful. So many citations!
This, so much this. My mom sounds just like your mom, megpie, only she started in on me at the age of 9, and with her help I managed to yo-yo diet my way into morbid obesity.I’d lose weight, and then it would creep back, plus five or ten pounds. Every single diet had that result. The only time in my youth when I had a healthy relationship with food was during a stint abroad in college (b/c I lived at home during college). It’s something I’m still working on.
A friend recently came across some old school photos, and when I saw my picture I was floored, b/c mentally, I’ve always had this image of myself being huge in jr. high school (because that’s what my mom made me believe) but I WAS A TOTALLY NORMAL SIZE, even if I wasn’t as skinny as my mom. I’m positive that if she’d never said anything, I would be fine today. It makes me so, so angry now when I think about how she kept policing/controlling what I ate (and oh my god, she would’ve fitbitted me too if it had been an option), especially when half of my emotional eating was directly caused by her making me feel horrible. And I was a pretty confident person in high school, despite all of that! So don’t let your mom grind you down, LW. You sound like you have a much better handle on this than a lot of people. Trust yourself.
The only thing that ever got my mom to lay off of me was a few epic fights (she loves to use the “but I just want you to be healthy” or “you could be so pretty if” lines) and my getting married–and even that only turned it into her telling me about her latest diet in detail and commenting about what ends up on my plate at family potlucks. But the fights were absolutely worth it to me just to get some peace/quiet for awhile.
I’ve had the exact same thing happen with my junior high photos… particularly one from my 14th birthday. My mom had spent the last couple years forcing me to run outdoors for about an hour every day after school (in Arizona, mind you, round about 4 pm daily), or would drop me off at the gym (alone, with creepy watching men) for an hour or two (and would, no lie, sniff my workout clothes after to ensure that I had properly sweated in them). I was so convinced that I was freakishly huge, and like… I was just tall and had some boobs, that’s it. And then my mom spent the next four years chastising me for being fat and dressing me in brown potato sacks and pastel horrorshows and lamenting that it was “basically impossible” to find size 16 jeans for me because “no one is that fat”. I went up An Entire Size in high school! How dare I!
She spent my wedding reception harassing me about my cleavage being visible. In the dress she helped pick out. She wouldn’t rest until I agreed to wear the Spanx she insisted on buying me under that dress. I live over a thousand miles away and she manages to tell me about her latest diet or workout plan every time she speaks to me.
I’ve fought her on so many things over the years, but this one in particular will never die, because It Is About My Health, especially since she now considers herself a Medical Professional because she works as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, and because I foolishly told her that I am having liver problems. (The hack of a doctor I’ve seen about them insists it is The Fats and that I need to lose 30% of my body weight, but I’m like… preeeettttttyyyy damn sure it’s actually the fact that I was popping painkillers like candy for the year previous to this problem occuring, to deal with working retail with bad plantar faciitis… which is something my very thin and athletic mother and brother also suffer from.)
Oh boy, do I relate to this one. My mother (also with MANY narcissistic qualities) was always on me about my weight/appearance, and focused on them as though they were a reflection of herself. I still remember the screaming fit she had when my kindergarten school pictures came out because the kind of smile I was smiling made me look fat and stupid (and every subsequent school picture, she made me rehearse with her so that every movement/smile/posture would be to her liking). She refused to buy me certain kinds of clothes because “only thin girls get to wear those kinds of things.” She hasn’t stopped as I’ve gotten older (I’m in my 30s and this is still going on)–every time I see her, she says “Why do you have to wear your hair like that? You know I’m going to be looking at you. Why do you do this to me? (my hair is in a perfectly normal style, she just doesn’t happen to prefer it–although it would be a shitty thing to say even if it were something very much out of the ordinary).
Something that really helped me with this (and a lot of her other shit) was when I fully realized that all of this behavior was a manifestation of HER problems. They actually have nothing to do with me. There is literally nothing I can do to fix her problems, and there is no way I can be that would make her not have them. This took me a long time to get to, and it still isn’t easy to deal with her, but it really does help put her words in perspective and lets me hear them as “these are things my mom is saying because she has problems” rather than “these are things my mom is saying because they are true.”
LW, the things your mom is doing are not healthy for her, and they are not healthy to listen to. It is hard when you are a kid and you are subject to the authority of someone who can’t do the best thing for you, and that’s a really shitty situation to be in. But there are a lot of ways to keep yourself healthy and strong until you can gain some more autonomy (CA’s advice is spot-on, as usual). Eat, wear, and do the things that make you feel healthy and good and comfortable, trust your own awesomeness, and deflect as much as your mom’s control tactics as possible.
>a reflection of herself
>there is no way I can be that would make her not have them
This is a thing that has taken me so long to learn. I was raised that perceptions (not reality) were vitally important (as in, literally, what woudl the neighbors think, rather than f*** the neighbors, if they even care at all), and that everything I did reflected entirely onto my parents. So it is to some people REVOLUTIONARY the idea that: What I do I can choose, and what I do reflects on me, and I’m still okay even when I fail, gain weight, stay out late, do dumb things, etc.
I agree with what BiancaSnoozes said: You are a person with self-autonomy, and you have your own life to live, and it is not actually possible for your mom to live your life through you but you cannot “make” her see that, you can only live your life in the way that is best and most healthy and good and comfortable for you. She is really self-conscious about her own weight, and so worrying about that (and concern-trollign you) seems “normal” to her, but there is another way.
There are many reasons why I love my mother, but one of the greatest is that ‘F*** The Neighbours’ is practically her personal motto. It has genuinely never occurred to her – and thus it was bred in me – to give a flying feck what anyone else thinks of our personal decisions.
She never actually said ‘F*** The Neighbour’, of course. What she says – in terms of personal opinions and behaviours affecting only oneself – is:
‘Never Apologise, Never Explain’.
My mother’s motto is “Fuck you, and the horse you road in on” when people are shitty to her.
My mother’s is: “You can kiss my a $$ in Macy’s window.”
She really says that. (Ask my school principal from 2nd grade how I learned that phrase.) lol
Jeepers. You are awesome for getting to such a constructive place.
My mother is also all about appearances and What Others Think, and successfully planted a little seed of that into my head that I work on ignoring (within reason, as I don’t have any desire to deliberately upset anyone, either). But my mom is wrong about all kinds of things. She believes pink light bulbs cause cancer and [insert unexamined classist/racist beliefs here] and that children should be raised like unwelcome guests in their own home. She’s full of shit on a number of topics, and as much as my Inner Good Girl wants the approval of her mommy, she’s not going to get it (unless I am being shown off like an accessory to friends in public), and her approval is always conditional and may be withheld for stupid or illogical or bad reasons, because she is a narcissist and a selfish know-it-all jerk. 🙂
You won’t die if your parents don’t approve of something. It’s their loss for choosing their preferences and weird ideas (etc.) over having a nice relationship with another human being who is not an extension of themselves but a separate person.
Hi poptarts! I deleted another comment from you b/c you were talking about your own diet – gentle reminder that you should do you (but we don’t actually care what your diet or exercise program is).
Quite all right! Sorry I goofed.
“…that children should be raised like unwelcome guests in their own home…” Yeah, so I just burst into tears here on my lunchbreak. Welcome to my stepmother’s childrearing philosophy. 😦
LW, it is okay to do whatever you need to do to protect yourself and survive the next couple of years. If that means finding another place to live, or lying to your mom, or arguing with her head-on, whatever strategies that have been suggested here or elsewhere or that you invent on your own: do whatever you need to do to stay safe and healthy. You sound like you really have your shit together, despite what your mom is doing to you. Hold on to that good, essential, wise self and do what you need to do. Enlist allies. Write or paint or do whatever creative work you might have going on. Get your own doctor, if possible. Stay as safe as possible while still stretching out of this crappy situation.
I’m sorry that poked a wound. She’s trying it on my nieces, but my SIL and I are both aware that she’s being an asshole and shield them from that crap.
No worries. I was just amazed and taken by surprise at how accurate and succinct your description was. Good for you and your SIL for trying to protect the nieces from that toxicity.
Oh wow. Same here with my mom and the smiling thing. I happen to have full lips, and my mom used to take issue with the fact that my upper lip curls up when I smile. So she would make me practice doing this horrible, prim smile where I pressed my lips together, and when we were in public, she would give me signals when I was smiling wrong.
She would also come into my room every night to choose the outfit I was going to wear to school the next day. This went on well into high school. If I went out and bought an article of clothing with my own money and she didn’t like it, she would find the tags in the trash and return it while I was at school the next day.
She put me on a diet when I was in fifth grade, and a perfectly healthy weight for a fifth grader. Thank heavens there were no such things as FitBits when I was growing up.
And you are so right – all of this shitty behavior was a reflection of my mom’s own discomfort with herself. This was a revelation for me to discover as an adult, when I realized that she actually really resents me for not being a do-over of herself.
These days when she criticizes my weight or what I’m eating, I turn the conversation right back to her weight and her habits, and that usually shuts her up.
My mom didn’t actively criticize me or anything, but I grew up with very unhealthy views towards food/appearance because of what she modeled (she had an eating disorder) and her comments about other people. I did, however, get the criticisms from my Catholic school teachers and clergy. I want to say that I think that it helps a LOT to be aware of the problem and to know that what you’re being told to do isn’t right. So good on you for recognizing it.
Even as you’re being criticized or told to do something that you’re uncomfortable with, hold onto the feelings, and it will help you when you have the freedom to do your own thing. I mean, don’t be furious/ragey all the time because that’s not useful, but don’t let yourself forget. It took me a very long time to even realize that my own behaviors were a bit fucked up, and then when I did, holding onto that “this is fucked up” was really important to not sticking with the habits and to learn better ones. In your case, it will be to not let the things you’re being told to do become habit, if that makes sense. Nothing’s worse than a habit that you hate and which makes you unhappy.
Also, I have to say from my experience, hiding your eating doesn’t go well. It teaches that you have to hide to eat to your satisfaction or hide food that isn’t “healthy” or “approved”, which is very very very easy to lead to disordered eating. If you’re not getting enough to eat, just eat more at meals your mom isn’t present for, or at set meal/snack times, and just don’t tell her everything that you’ve eaten.
This won’t help in the short term, but might be worth remembering: your mother is consistently proving that she will lie to you rather than change, defend, or apologize for how she’s treating you. That says two things to me:
The first is that she at least suspects that she’s wrong, or she would say “I push you to wear makeup because Reason” or “I did X intrusive thing because I care.”
The second is that you can’t count on her telling the truth later on, or about other things. If she tells you that it’s going to rain Thursday, you check the online forecast. If you’re wondering how another relative is, call them yourself, don’t take your mother’s word that she talked to Grandma and there’s nothing much going on. A lot of this can be low-key: you don’t tell her it’s not going to rain, you just wondered how much rain/when it was likely to start. You know there’s no major news, you just want to hear your grandmother’s voice.
She may not consciously be trying to mislead you, but if this is partly “you have to diet because I don’t like my body” (which “diet with me” strongly suggests), it may also become “Uncle Jim is your favorite uncle” (meaning that she likes him better than your other uncles) and telling you and everyone else that you’re going to major in business with a minor in French literature whether or not you care about either of those things.
LW – I’m so sorry, but also super proud of you that A) you’re identifying this as Not Your Problem and B) you’re asking for help figuring out how to deal with it. I don’t have much to add beyond what the Captain and the other comments have said, but you are being really smart and thoughtful and this internet stranger wants to give you a high five.
A point that I don’t think anyone has brought up– It might be easy to think in the back of your mind that your mother would lay off if you just lost weight or wore make-up or did what she’s telling you to do. It’s great that you’re not willing to do it, but if you’re thinking even subconsciously that this is an act of rebellion and that you could please her if you wanted to, remember that if you can’t and she won’t. If you did everything according to her definition of right, you would still be wrong because that’s how these boundaryless people work. Nothing will ever be good enough for her. She’ll just find something else to nag you about. Giving up now is the only hope.
This is true. Her game does not have a win condition. Skip the part where you try to make her happy, dig in to that teenage “rebelliousness” you’re supposed to have (actually intelligence and determination and ideas of your own), and start working on ways to get yourself through in one piece.
We’re all rooting for you.
Yes! Someone like this always moves the goalposts.
Yes. Especially added to a set of cultural norms that mean NO woman can ever look “perfect” or be “pretty enough”, even if you could magically transform yourself into an exact physical duplicate of today’s hottest supermodel, LW, your mom would find something to pick at. Because it’s not about YOU and YOUR BODY, it’s about HER.
This is true. If you lose weight, she will not be happy, you will be “too thin.” She will then need you to gain weight.
It doesn’t end because you are being treated with an extension of her own body image problems, which cannot be completely resolved with physical change, only psychological change, which *you* cannot bring about. You have, unfortunately, become the arena for a conflict between her and herself. Remember that you won’t win, both because it’s impossible and because it isn’t your fight.
I agree with this:
“If you did everything according to her definition of right, you would still be wrong because that’s how these boundaryless people work. Nothing will ever be good enough for her. She’ll just find something else to nag you about.”
But I might also say: this is how these WOUNDED people work.
So, your mom is wounded. But you don’t have to be, and you don’t have to buy in to her damaged worldview.
I can vouch for this.
When I was thinner, I was “too thin” and she’d nag me to eat more and “slow down a bit.”
When I moved out of the house, and visited for meals, I clearly wasn’t eating enough vegetables.
When I was vegetarian for a couple of years, she served ham and only vegetables I have hated since birth.
When I was heavier, I was “too fat” and she’d nag me to eat less and exercise more.
When I had straight hair, she forced an unflattering perm on me.
When I dyed my hair dark red, she lamented the loss of my natural blonde hair.
When I went back to blonde, she complained that my hair looked brassy.
When I was single, she said I should date more.
Whenever I had a boyfriend, she made snide comments about them.
It’s not you, it’s her.
I like the cooking dinner idea. If nothing else, you can nibble while you cook. Not ideal but will keep up the calories.
A real gift from my disability was that “calories” become needed, vital things, like friends. “This food has calories” has become a statement of, “This food is good and will contribute needed fuel to my body,” and “it doesn’t have many calories” turned into “This will not nourish me, so I’ll only eat it if I enjoy it.”
LW, first off, I was you at that age. We might have had the same mom. I’m going to check and see if mine had secret children much later after me.
So you know, I am now 40, and living proof that you can get out of this and be really happy and confident. Like the Captain said, you might need to keep your head down some until you can get out. I had to. But you are also farther ahead of me at that age in that you are questioning what this is doing to you while it is happening. Give yourself a BIG pat on the back for that.
This might not be your case, but I realized in my 30s that my mom was jealous as hell of a young woman growing next to her, and this woman did not want the same life she wanted, and was bright and offbeat, to boot. I suspect you are, too. You are thinking deeply about this and you are more insightful than the person causing the problem. To this day, I am the only one that gets how screwed up my family dynamic is. If that is you, it will be frustrating at times, but you will go out into the world and realize how many of us there are. Your people are out here and we are waiting for you. We’re all always waiting for the younger ones coming up who get this insidious verbal/emotional abuse from people who don’t know what amazing kids they have in front of them. (Sry, got a little emo, there.)
Anyway, don’t fight too overtly if that will make things worse. But you need to keep a constant dialogue with yourself about how your mom’s statements are NOT reflection of reality, and likely she doesn’t even believe them either. I bet she is threatened.
Also, keep always doing the stuff you really love that makes you happy that has nothing to do with weight and food. Keep those other parts of yourself alive. For the longest, I believed nothing good would ever come because of how I looked. Not true, both in that no one else was paying attention to how I looked for life stuff, and also because I looked fine.
You’re going to be okay if you follow the Captain’s advice, and you will get way beyond this some day.
“But you need to keep a constant dialogue with yourself about how your mom’s statements are NOT reflection of reality, and likely she doesn’t even believe them either.”
Exactly! She can say all kinds of bad things about you, LW. She can’t make them true.
Holy hell yeah the moment when as an adult you realise your own Mom can be jealous of you is liberating. I grew up feeling crap about myself, and despite cutting that woman out of my life over a decade ago am still dealing with the damage she did. When I realise the motive was jealously the nonsensical abuse she heaped on me made sense ( I was screamed at for STUDYING @_@).
OP only you can figure out the path that works for me, but maaaan the push up bra thing is weird and I’d honestly be tempted to loudly bring that up.
Absolutely. If she could crush me, I wouldn’t be better than she was. So she would crush me to feel better about herself.
LW, may I suggest in addition to the Captain’s excellent advice here, that you also consider writing down, or texting yourself, one thing that you love about yourself every day? Seriously. When someone is actively undermining your confidence and sense of self (which, intentionally or otherwise, your mother is), doing this simple thing can help shore up the things you love and value about yourself.
It can be anything “I love that my hair looked great today.” “I love that I’m smart.” “I love that I’m really good at X thing.” It’s a little thing, and it may feel weird or cheesy, but sending yourself positive messages to counter the negative ones that your mom is sending can be very helpful in maintaining your outlook (one of those things can even be “I love that I’m not weird and controlling about food like my mom”).
You can program your phone so that positive affirmations pop up as reminders.
Good luck to you LW! You are so close to being out of your mother’s control, and then you get the rest of your life to figure out who you want to give your valuable time and attention to. In the meantime, I hope you can find community that will give reinforce positive messages about you to counteract the messages from your mom.
You know what? Who’s on Team You? Do you have a friend who can text you each day with something positive? Or who will make it a point to walk up and say, “Those glasses look good on you”? Or “that shirt fits nice across the shoulders” or “That little gold bracelet is really delicate.”
And maybe sending yourself those text in a “NOT ‘I’ ” format could have some power. Not “I love that my shirt looks good,” but the non-objective, “This shirt has a nice collar that looks good on me” way, as if that is an independent, verifiable FACT. Because it is.
And you could give those sorts of compliments to your tribe, and maybe pretty soon they’d be sending them back: “Your glasses make you look smart.” “I like when you part your hair on that side.” or “your new haircut shows off your eyebrows” or “You have great fashion sense–those socks are so cute.” or “So fun when you wear something so unexpected!’
Maybe do that exercise someone upstream suggested–where you notice something positive about other people. But extend it to the people around you, and say it out loud to them. You might spark a habit in the people you hang out with that would help to balance the criticism at home.
LW, so, so many hugs to you. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this, have been dealing with this. You are so strong to be pushing back, so insightful to realize that “Hey, this isn’t right”.
This isn’t right, it isn’t okay, and it SUCKS when the people who are supposed to love us/care about us/be safe for us are not.
[CN: ABUSE via food, dieting, calorie counting, fat-hatred, body-shaming, forced dieting, forced eating, starvation, and attempted suicide, seriously it’s not cool, will mark where CN ends as well]
My mom is still into fad diets past 60 and growing up we “dieted” with her (along with some other really horrible food insecurity, deciding that if she only made enough for 4 and there were 6, we’d eat less instead of bolting our food so we could get a little more, and constant fights at the dinner table about cleaning your plate when you were NOT hungry. They do this to their grandson now, too — make him eat until he throws up because he has to have “x number more bites” before he’s excused. Because a 5-year-old knowing his tummy better than they know for him is impossible). Food is control for them.
She decided to take my sister to Weight Watcher meetings with her… when my sister was 12. It absolutely destroys every possible bud of self-esteem, and I watched my sister spiral into body hatred and self-shame. We found her diary from that time a little while ago… it says on almost every page “I don’t want to be the ‘fat girl’ in high school” and talks about her exercise and calorie counts.
My sister attempted suicide at 14. Fourteen. I found her. She was in the hospital for a week and despite our parents swearing up and down things would change… they didn’t. She dropped out of school and for the next 10 years her entire identity was wrapped up in her body and self-hatred.
She got out of this, through a lot of methods (including surgical intervention that means her body will never, ever be like other peoples’ and that if she’s not constantly vigilant about supplements etc, monthly blood draws, etc, then she will get seriously sick). She’s not yet 30. She is one of the most wonderful, caring, compassionate people I know, one of the STRONGEST to go through things like EMT and multiple surgeries and deal with the permanent after-effects. She got her GED. She’s going to college. She loves who she is.
LW, I want you to be able to love who you are without those steps in between.
I didn’t come out unscathed either, although my body dysphoria was more focused on gender and wearing baggy clothes that disguised my body. My Ex has an ED. Through a lot of unfortunate events and misplaced good intentions and both of us suffering from depression, he became in charge of food because he wanted to “diet together” the way his sister and brother-in-law did as they had “great results” and honestly I thought that maybe him being in charge of meal planning and food prep would help with his anorexia if I was having to check off on stuff. The first few months were okay. Then he started inventing new rules, new ideas, that came from his head and perception of “enough” calories and not from the guide we’d been following. I do not like to name numbers but we were subsisting on less than 1/3 the minimum recommended calorie intake on ANY guide anywhere. We were starving. And because I was complicit to it, I had completely internalized it and hated myself that I was always looking for food, always hungry, always begging for an extra 6 almonds, “cheating” with 1/4 of a meal replacement bar. And hating myself because I wasn’t losing weight (because my body WAS STARVING) and so all of this suffering wasn’t even having results.
I’m okay now. I’m not in that relationship anymore, and I called the “diet” quits when I realized that I no longer loved my body (which was something that had taken decades to happen), I hated it, and I knew none of this was okay. No one knew about the starvation until much later because I was so ashamed, both at failing, and at letting it happen, and being complicit in it happening. My Ex is seeking treatment for his ED.
I’m okay. My relationship with food is a little rough but once again I love my body and my shape and have a positive relationship with food. Living in a place where I could try things from all over the world means I’ve found tons of things I enjoy. My method of dealing with it is listening to what my body wants and then giving it to it, and you know what? I’m okay and it is working for me. My doctor says I am in perfect physical health every year when I have blood tests done etc, and I have double genetic risks for diabetes and heart disease, as well as genetically high cholesterol (we found that out when I was 20, heh). I am happy, I am as physically active as a fairly new physical restriction allows me to be, life is good. Also, let’s hear it for doctors who not ONCE in the last 5 years have ever, ever, EVER said to me “Have you thought about losing weight?” or “You could stand to lose some weight” or attributing ANY of my medical issues to my weight… because none of them are related to the size of my body, only what’s up in my brain or my back. I don’t own a scale anymore. I don’t want one because that number is not important to me.
I want this for you, LW. I want it for you now, and in 2 years, and in 20 years, without interruption. I want you to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and smile, not spend years unable to look yourself in the eye as I did. You are worth being happy, worth loving the outside of yourself as well as the person within, worth being able to celebrate the things you like and figuring out who you are (because that’s your job right now, you know that? Finding the lines of separation between you and your parents, learning the shape of those lines that define you as a person). You are incredible at 16, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for you.
It’s a lot of words, but my last wordiness! Look at posts here prior about the Worst Thing In The World. Disappointing/angering/going against your mom may seem like the Worst Thing In The World. You are a good person, a good daughter, you follow the rules because you have been taught that good people follow the rules, bad people do not, and that if you follow the rules you will be safe. The rules do not define who you are, do not reflect upon who you are, and do not keep you safe. Younger-Trundlebear sees some of the advice and recoils because they too followed the rules and the idea of intentionally losing or destroying something, even a thing I DID NOT WANT, horrifies me because of the consequences. It’s okay to break those rules. We’re given rules when we’re younger so we don’t put peas up our nose or get hit by cars. Right now, you can make most decisions yourself, and the rules are about helping you make informed decisions. If the rules are not doing that, then they aren’t rules, aren’t good rules. It’s okay to break them.
It’s okay to break ALL the rules. No one gets to tell you how to define yourself, through your concept of yourself to how you express it. That is no one’s decision to make but yours. If your safety is a concern (and I know mine was if I broke The Rules that were not good rules, not rules to help me become an adult and person, but rules to keep me afraid and tiny and as not-Trundlebear as possible) then you may have to swallow this a bit longer, although I hate telling anyone that because I did and it was hell and I almost didn’t survive it. Find people who will help you, who will listen. The people who will say “This is not okay”. The people who will say “You be who you are inside and we will love you no matter what”. If it means anything from spending more time with friends with understanding parents, do it. If it means joining stuff after-school or getting a job (yep, mopping floors sucks but you’re NOT IN THE HOUSE while mopping floors!), do it. If it means that you have to leave and live with a friend for the next two years, do it. Sympathetic Outsiders: they’re a thing that save so many people from their heads being completely spun by abusive situations. Sometimes that’s a friend or the parent of a friend. Sometimes it’s a therapist or a doctor. Sometimes it’s people on the internet. Maybe you’ll need therapy later in life to help you deal with this (and if you do, that’s okay, it’s no personal or moral failing to ask for help. We all need help sometimes). Maybe the support of people who care about inside-you, you-you, will be enough for you to weather through until you can get out and not look back.
It will be okay. You’re going to be okay. No matter what your brain tells you that defiance is the Worst Thing In The World, the sky won’t fall, and you’ll still be there. Focus on your survival — not just of your body but of your self. You’re just learning the shape of that self, inside and out. That self is precious. That self is important. I want to live in a world with THAT self, not the doll that someone is trying to dress you up to be. We are here for you, we are always here for you, we will always be here for you no matter what you do.
>>They do this to their grandson now, too — make him eat until he throws up because he has to have “x number more bites” before he’s excused. Because a 5-year-old knowing his tummy better than they know for him is impossible
Ohhh, that makes me so sad. 😦
Forcing someone to eat until they vomit is ABUSE. Yes, I realize that children need some oversight over their food choices, but it absolutely enrages me when people force children to eat more food than they want or to eat something they don’t like.
*CN – food-related abuse
As a child, I hated tomatoes. Hated, hated, hated them. I was not a picky eater and would eat most anything else, but I couldn’t stand tomatoes. I realize now the acidity in the tomatoes made my stomach hurt, but as a child didn’t make the connection.
Instead of focusing on everything I would eat, which was pretty much anything you put in front of me, my mom decided that forcing me to eat tomatoes would magically cure me of hating them. She finally stopped when, during a visit by my grandmother, she forced a weeping and shaking child-me to eat lasagna- which I promptly vomited all over the dining room table.
I cannot imagine what thought process makes a person think it’s okay to violate another person’s body with a substance they can’t stand. Making someone eat something they hate is, IMHO, tantamount to forcing them to swallow handfuls of glass or sawdust. It makes about as much sense.
I took care of a toddler for about two years, and she was allowed to eat what she wanted, within reason, and to stop eating when she was full, and to have a snack when she was hungry. If she tried something and didn’t like it, she didn’t have to finish it. I personally don’t think this makes anyone a picky eater, she was game to try pretty much anything because she knew she wouldn’t have to choke it down if she didn’t care for it. What a novel fucking concept.
A bunch of the foods I “hated” as a child, which earned me a reputation as a picky eater and made me spend a lot of very long evenings sitting in front of a plate of congealing food, I turned out to be allergic to. I didn’t have the ability as a tiny child to connect feeling bad and eating specific things, and even if I had I’m not sure I would have had the words for it. But when people tell me they make their kid eat something even though they hate it because [some bullshit], I always say “have you considered they might be allergic?”
Not one of them has ever considered that.
One of my sisters was a very picky eater as a little kid, and my parents used to try to force her to eat stuff (meant in good faith–she was PAINFULLY skinny), until they finally were like, this isn’t improving her life, we need to stop trying to make her eat the same stuff as us and start finding stuff she WILL eat. When she was in high school, she/we finally figured out that she’s lactose intolerant. It was like magic–everything made sense now, why she just had never liked certain foods, why she got sick a lot, even why she was fussy when being fed as a baby! My mom has privately told me how much she regrets not putting two and two together earlier, because it just made everyone miserable when they tried to make her eat stuff, and how horrified she was when she realized that she had been trying to make her daughter eat something that made her sick.
I also have a little cousin who’s… well, he doesn’t have a formal diagnosis, so I’ll refrain from giving an uninformed one, but basically, as part of it he’s very sensitive to taste/touch. (I’m slightly touch-sensitive myself, so it’s definitely a family thing.) As a result, he only eats specific foods. My grandma will occasionally be like “Oh, [insert name], aren’t you going to eat more? Don’t you like [random food item]?” but I think the rest of the family has come around to understanding that he’ll eat when he’s hungry, and he’s plenty healthy so it’s clearly not a big deal.
Anyway, while it’s definitely true that kids can be picky simply for the sake of being picky (there are soooo many things I love to eat now that I just wouldn’t even taste as a kid), there’s a lot of other factors to consider as well. My cousin might not be actively allergic to any of this stuff (that we know of!), but it’s still uncomfortable and unpleasant for him to eat certain foods, so forcing him to eat them isn’t doing anyone any good.
@ Annie Moose, and hell, kids being picky just because probably has an underlying cause, too – humans seem to be programmed to like certain tastes as young children (tastes that map with breastmilk, basically) and hate other tastes, particularly the bitter flavors that are in a lot of vegetables. So it might be a really delicious Brussels sprouts dish, but the bitter taste trips a POISON RUN AWAY alarm in a kid’s brain.
They did it to us, and they do it to him, and it’s just… awful. I’ll sit beside him and sneak bites off his plate when they’re not looking, because they don’t monitor MY eating anymore.
He’s a kid, he gets distracted at multi-generational family dinners at someone else’s house, he has a lot of things to say, and sometimes he doesn’t want to eat everything that’s on offer.
Meanwhile, I’m in my 30s and my folks still try to convince me to “just tryyyyy” seafood. Nope, still not for me.
I developed lactose intolerance due to a medication I was on (the heinous projectile vomiting kind) and my mom kept sneaking milk into foods I was going to eat because she was “just checking” to see if I was actually lactose intolerant, or just picky.
I just. I… no.
If I were the kid’s parent, I would no longer bring the kid to Family Meal Time. “Sorry, but every time he comes over he ends up getting sick, so we’re going to grab some food on the way and show up after lunch.” This story just infuriates me on the little guy’s behalf.
There’s a special place* in hell for people who sneak items into other people’s food without disclosing them “just to check”. I’ve had this done too, and because I’m also emetophobic, I just don’t vomit, ever, which seems to be what people are looking for as verification. When my reactions range from anaphylaxis to hives to migraines to digestive stuff to simply passing out and sleeping like the dead for a few hours while my body copes with the exposure, there’s often nothing obvious about my reaction, or I abruptly leave, and they never see that I went home so I could join the Occupy Washroom movement.
*I like to imagine that this place is in a grocery store bathroom, with no toilet tissue, and raging diarrhea, but I’m not nice.
Yikes! I’m glad she at least stopped when the lasagna made you sick. I can understand parents saying that kids should try at least 1 bite of something (or give them a couple of options, and they have to pick one of those things), but if they’ve tried it before and don’t like it, leave them alone.
My husband is (was?) a fan of the notion “kids eat what is put in front of them and if they don’t then they don’t get anything else” and I’m like “QEWREWQWEFEQWFEAF NOOOOO”. — we’ve sort of come to an agreement for that not to be a policy, I think he still thinks it’s correct, or at least, not WRONG, but is willing to put it aside since I have strong opinions on that one.
I was a picky eater when I was young. It had nothing to do with being allergic, I just didn’t like certain textures and tastes. My parents were like “okay, if you don’t like x vegetable, here is y vegetable, eat that” which led me to eat a balanced diet, even if I stayed away from many food items. However, my grandmothers favourite saying was “you like your mom and dad, you EAT food” (as an answer to “I don’t like X food”). She would passive aggressively tell me this every time we were over there for dinner and I POLITELY declined something (especially when I was an older kid and would just say “no thanks” and not even explain what specific thing I didn’t want, unless she asked). And I got a lecture about “when I was a kid we didn’t have all this food and during the war there were only five things to eat”. She acted like I was trying to hurt her on purpose with my dislike for beetroots or whipped cream. Basically it made me really pissed and not want to eat there, because of the impending guilt trip. It’s the one thing that STILL strains our relationship (I’m 21 now), because eating there still makes me all defensive just in case I get a comment about “pickiness”.
Sooooo, I definitely wouldn’t encourage parents to force kids eat something they really don’t like. Having them taste things is different (that’s just raising a kid and teaching about new flavours), but forcing is not cool.
I have a theory that a big part of the reason I am so happy to eat such a wide variety of foods now is that my parents were so uninterested in making me eat things I didn’t like as a child. After about age 9 or so, my mom got me a lot of convenience foods (canned soup, frozen food, cereal, stuff for sandwiches, potatoes) and said, “Okay, if you don’t like what I cook, you can cook for yourself.” From that point onward I was in charge of deciding what I would have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Somewhat counterintuitively, I think both my parents thought they were being “bad parents” because they were both forced to clean their plates as children, regardless of what was on offer. Nowadays I am way more comfortable eating many more kinds of food than either parent. (It also made the transition to college much easier.)
Wow, LW, if you switched “mom” with “dad” you would have a perfect picture of my childhood. I wanted to offer hugs, and to say that I hope you can nip her in the bud here. I let it go on too long with my dad, and internalized enough to where I’m recovering from disordered eating (binge eating, specifically). [I just realized the problematic phrasing of saying “*I* let it go on too long,” when I was a minor for most of the time in question and his behavior toed the line between health helicopter parenting and abuse, but I’m leaving it to show that I still have a complicated relationship with my dad and the process isn’t done. It wasn’t my fault he was/can be an asshole, and it’s not your fault your mom is/can be.]
I’m in therapy, which helps A LOT, especially because my therapist is working with me to help me accept the way I look right now. Also, I can’t overstate how much moving out helped me. Not being under his thumb all the time helped start the process of getting better. I think it also helped to realize, at least for my situation, that my dad was doing this because he loves me and is a narcissistic control freak with his own disordered eating/exercising issues. He knows that society (unfortunately) judges people who are overweight, and he didn’t want that for me/he also doesn’t want that to rub off on him by association. I’m working with the therapist to deal with the fact that my dad’s love is frequently frustrating.
I think it helped me quite a bit to realize that so many of his goals for me were (and are) completely unrealistic for my body. My skeleton literally would not fit in size X clothes. I’ve got wide hips and shoulders, and even when I was at my skinniest, it wasn’t skinny enough for me or him. Size X was a completely unrealistic goal, and disconnecting that goal from my happiness has been so helpful in my process.
I’ll give you some tips that have helped me quite a bit re: parent managing. 1) I see a therapist. I told my dad I see a therapist. I let my therapist take the fall for unpopular news, even if she doesn’t necessarily know about it. For example: this year, I’ve decided I’m not going to get on a scale other than when I’m at the doctor’s office and they make you get on the damn thing, and even then, I’m not looking at it. I told my dad, and because I tacked on “therapist thinks its a good idea,” all I got back from him was “okay, if you think that’s what’s best.” Now, that okay did not sound pleased at all, but because a mental health professional agrees with me, he can’t say shit. It’s glorious.
2) I’ve come up with healthy goals fitness goals and ways to include him. I’m a swimmer. I love swimming because it’s fun and it makes me happy. I like to sign up for races because it motivates me to get out of bed super early on swimming days (which aren’t every day, because bodies need rest)! The particular race I’m signing up for this summer requires a support kayaker because of the distance, and I’ve asked my dad to do that for me. He gets to go to Key West and kayak for 6-8 hours, I get to have a blast at this race doing something I love, everyone wins. I’ve flat out told him that if I can do the race, whatever weight I’m at when I complete it is what I’m meant to weigh; I’m swimming around an island, fergodsakes. Obviously you can pick more low-key events than a swim around key west, like color runs or yoga events or whatever floats your boat, or none of the above if you think your mom can’t play by the rules. I’ve finally gotten to the point where this is possible with my dad, but that’s after several years of working with a therapist and learning to say “sorry dad, not interested,” when he goes off on lectures about how much I weigh or what I’m eating (and he’s still not perfect, but the number of times I feel like banging my head against a wall has gone down dramatically).
3) Call her out on her hypocrisy. This only works if your mom is a hypocrite, so your mileage may vary, but for me it’s worked wonders. I actually eat healthier than my dad. I’m a vegetarian. I eat more vegetables in a day than he probably does in a week. When he tries to lecture me about food, I call him out, usually by asking him when the last time he ate a vegetable was. This tends to shut him up, at least temporarily. Similarly, he and I both have Celiac disease. I actually comply with the diet (no gluten) and he doesn’t. I also use that as a convenient way to get him to think more about himself and less about me and my eating. [Admittedly, this might not be the most healthy coping mechanism, but nobody’s perfect. I’m just proud to have significantly reduced the emotional eating episodes.]
4) Have a go-to way to feel pretty/good/you after getting hit by a shit-storm. I’m 26. My dad still finds new ways to insult me and my weight and hurt my feelings. I’ve been dealing with this since I was 10 or so, so that’s more than half my life. After a rough phone call or in-person meeting (noticeable lack of comment on how great I look must mean he thinks I look FAT, UGH I HATE MY LIFE WHYYYYY), I try to get myself to feel better by noticing things I *do* like about myself or giving myself home spa days (making silly faces with a mud mask on and sending them to my sisters via snapchat is the best). I do this because it’s important for me to remain body-positive about how I look, and to remember that I need to love myself enough to make other people respect me as I am. Maybe this is meditation for you, or puppy videos, or petting your cat, or coloring in a coloring book. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with how you look if you don’t want it to. I just suggest something that will put you back in your happy place and that doesn’t involve a self-destructive behavior. I like the ones that make something (drawing/coloring, crochet/knitting, mani-pedi, etc.) because then I can look at them and think to myself that I was upset, but still made something beautiful that makes me happy. YMMV.
TL;DR: You’re not the only one with a frustrating, borderline abusive parent. Many hugs.
LW, I think your mom really doesn’t like herself. It sounds like she doesn’t like the way her own body looks, and that she’s really trapped in the cycle of What Real Women Look Like. (In the world I live in, where it’s a lot calmer and way less mean, real women look like a huge variety of traits and sizes.) I think she’s trying to bring you into her sad, mean world. I’m not sure why. For company, maybe? Does she think that if she hurts you deeply now, she’ll save you different pain in the future? Any time someone has tried to make me look like a Real Woman, ya know, instead of myself, it’s generally because they think only Real Women have happy futures. I would argue that it’s not a happy future if I’m sad and hungry all the time.
I’m not necessarily saying this to make you be sympathetic towards your mom. You can decide if that’s something you feel like doing. I’m saying this because she may be able to belittle you, she may be able to keep you hungry, but she can’t force you to think like her. The fact that you reached out to the Captain is a very, very good sign that you don’t want to share her misery. You know the things she’s doing are bad things, but when you’re in a dangerous situation, it is so, so hard to hold onto what you KNOW to be true.
Right now, you need to be thinking in terms of survival. Right now, a sad, mean person is trying to force you to do things that are harmful for you, so please, please forgive yourself for any guilt or shame you’re carrying. Do whatever it is that you need to do to keep yourself as safe as you can, and start plotting for how you’re going to go to college 3,000 miles away from her. Find the thing that you love, and make it something that keeps you out of the house as often as possible. Find kind friends whose parents are like yours, because the children of mean sad people are out there, and it is so, so much easier to carry the burden together than it is alone.
One day, you will be free, and you will not have to wear makeup, or contacts, or clothes you don’t like, and you will be able to eat what you want and exercise how and if you want to. I know it feels like a long way off, and it is, but it’s not an interminable amount of time. It’s survivable. That future is out there, and you can, and you WILL, get to it.
There’s a ton of good information here, and I hope things work out for you, LW. Please also consider using your school as a resource. For example, there might be rules about student dress or make-up that you could invoke (“Sorry, mom, foundation’s not allowed at school, there’s a rule!”), or banning Fitbit-like devices (or which could be interpreted that way). Do you have a gym/health teacher, coach, or nurse who is good at listening to students’ needs and concerns? In my experience (which is not in your school, you know best here), teachers take problems like this seriously. As well, do you have any relatives in the area (particularly female ones) you can confide in? You’re not in a good position to say, “Mom, what you’re doing is not okay” but Aunt A can say, “LW’s mom, I can’t believe you just said that!” It’s horrible that your mother is not on Team You, but hopefully people around you will be able to give the support you need.
+1 talk to someone at school.
I came here to say this. I used to be a high school teacher. It’s practically in the job description to be a “responsible adult” who can do things like find resources. LW might not know which person (counselor or nurse or random coach) at the school can help, but a teacher would (or can find out). School officials can call the parents and be like “LW seems to be lethargic/distracted/etc. We recommend she see a doctor and/or nutritionist, because we think her energy levels may be related to her diet.” A good counselor or nurse or teacher understands that a 16 year old is a near-adult and will work with the LW on a plan to get her to a doctor who will help.
Most teachers become teachers because they care about kids. They can help. Not all teachers will be good about this (in the same way that not all doctors will be), but most will be.
My mom never did anything remotely like this, but certain appearance comments still heading me 30 years later.
I love Ragen Chastain’s Dances With Fat blog – body acceptance + loads of links to actual medical research and strategies to relate to urges about eating and weight.
I was coming here to mention Ragen’s blog. It is pretty awesome. Also I recommend Shapely Prose and the Fat Nutritionist as other sources for the OP (and anyone, really) to read. They all come at the same issue from slightly different angles.
Checking in with an anecdote about how doctors may not be on your side. I used to go to a GYN who scolded me about my weight, despite all my health numbers being really good, and my strength and endurance being commendable, and my habit of regular exercise. She even, unprompted, handed me a referral for weightloss surgery. And apropos of nothing said, ‘it’s okay to eat a bagel once in a while as long as you feel guilty about it!”
So yeah, nope right out of there if you get/have one of those.
This reminds me a bit of me at 16. My mom was not as extreme, she merely let me go on crazy diets like Jenny Craig while I was on the track team running 10 miles a day.
This was in the 90s when heroin chic and protruding sternums were all the rage and there was no bootylicious Tumblr counterprogramming.
Really I think she was just as brainwashed by the culture as I was but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bitter about having my body type be out of fashion when my self-image was being formed and more acceptable now that I’m an old married who doesn’t GAF anymore. 😛
Oh- and I’m pretty sure my Mom still wishes would wear contacts, flat-ironed highlights, and a skirt instead of chunky frames, Betty bangs and a Hex Bombs tee. Sorry I didn’t grow up to be a basic bitch Mom!
I’m sorry that your mom was shitty to you too.
But it’s mean to call people who wear what your mom would like “basic b*tches”. I’d rather not have gendered slurs on here and the LW is already being told that certain appearances are bad, we don’t need to do more of that.
My apologies. I’m sure many of them are basic very nice people.
Yeah. I do like to think I am. Thanks.
Acidic bitch myself. When I get together with basic bitches, we get the fun sort of salty.
Nice–we should hang out in solution sometime. 😉
I am GUFFAWING at this — my sides aqueous?
I do find that a person’s response to terrible chemistry puns are an excellent litmus test of whether we will find hanging out enjoyable. (I should apologize, but I can’t bring myself to do so.)
Wow. Maybe try not to be the younger version of the LW’s mother?
Shaming other women for following a particular style while following a fairly common style yourself doesn’t give you any moral high ground.
This whole exchange makes me think of a comment I made recently to a friend: “I’m so normcore, it’s almost subversive.”
Also, if “You Do You, I’ll Do Me” isn’t already on the Captain Awkward Cross-Stitch Short List referenced above, it should be. Telling your mom to eff off (nicely or otherwise) and you will wear what you like, aww yeah. Dripping disdain for anyone else who happens to dress the way your mom would prefer, aww nope.
The thing that really makes me laugh about these particular criticisms of femme, normative-presenting women is that, inferring from her attitudes when I was a teen and young woman, my own mother would love it if I were less femme, wore jeans more and skirts less, and didn’t wear makeup or style my hair.
So when someone talks shit about a normative femme presentation, gosh, it feels just like home. 😉
All I can think of is the Feminist Taylor Swift twitter:
She wears high heels / I wear sneakers / We’re each expressing our gender identities in ways that make us feel comfortable / Date me
I’m here to harp on the fact that it is absolutely okay to lie to your parents for your own protection. If your mom wanted to hear the truth, she would make it safe for you to tell it. What she’s doing right now, on the other hand, is basically forcing you to lie to keep yourself emotionally safe and get enough to eat. You cannot be blamed for something you were forced to do to keep yourself safe!
Yes, absolutely. I had a mom who could not take truth for an answer. She never weighed more than 114 pounds in her life. She would look sadly at my chubby body, and tell me to “watch it”, then she would later remind me that there was a fudge whipped cream cake in the refrigerator. When I bought Bermuda shorts for summer, she mentioned that I should have bought the short shorts. She is long dead, but I still am not comfortable with my body, because I find it hard to love a body that was never acceptable to her. And I do not know how to eat the amount of food that will normalize my weight. I find food much too comforting.
I’m so sorry your mom is doing this, LW. I’m going to strongly endorse the “lie to her” strategy. Lie to the Fitbit, too. Tell it you’re eating nothing but salads. If your mom watches what you put in when you’re at home, you can develop a case of Teenage Huffiness: “GOD, Mom, I think I know how to enter corn flakes into the Fitbit by now, it’s not like I do it every morning or anything.” But ONLY if that’s not going to lead to reprisals from her.
It’s okay to lie to someone who’s trying to harm you. Your mom probably isn’t deliberately trying to harm you, but that matters a lot less than people like to pretend it does. If the effects are harmful, then the person responsible for them is causing harm. It’s okay to put on make-up at home and keep make-up remover wipes in your purse to use the second you’re out of her sight. It’s okay to accidentally put your push-up bra through the dryer and ruin it. (Again, only if that’s not likely to lead to reprisals. If it is, and if your push-up bra has an underwire, did you know that underwires sometimes break? It’s uncomfortable as hell if it happens when you’ve got it on, and it renders the bra unwearable. I bet you could fatigue the metal on one by bending it back and forth a lot.)
There’s no mention in your letter of another parent, biological, step-, or otherwise. Is there one? Can you enlist them on your side?
There’s no mention in your letter of another parent, biological, step-, or otherwise. Is there one? Can you enlist them on your side?
This. A thousand times this. As a father, I’d be pissed as hell if this was happening to my daughter, and you can bet I’d do something about it. If dad/stepdad/other Mom/grandma, etc., is anywhere in the picture, see how that person feels and make them your ally if possible.
Also, are there school counsellors or someone similar you can talk to?
Aunts & uncles can be allies as well, sometimes. The right aunt or uncle, of course.
That underwire thing? Just keep pushing it into the edge of the casing under the cup. It’ll pop out after the casing wears down enough. Can be helped along by jamming a pencil into it or snipping just the very end. Produces a lovely shiv-like piece of boning that no one should wear, and, my goodness, if it happened to multiple push-up bras? Why, the LW just isn’t shaped for them and should wear something that doesn’t try to shank her.
There’s usually a place right on the outside edge kind of where it sits in your armpit-area where you can gently pick at it and cut it open just enough to slide the whole thing out.
I just recently had to sew over a hole right there that mine popped out from. Not as bad as when they snap, though. That hurts so much.
I want to preface all this by saying that (a) your mom is 100% wrong and (b) I endorse the Captain’s advice. But as someone who took way, way too long to figure out why my mom was acting like this with me (and to some extent still does), I want to talk about narcissism — and the fact that it can, paradoxically but powerfully, coexist with crippling self-doubt. My mother’s obsession with her appearance has her still getting plastic surgery in her 70s, when she can ill afford it and it takes so long to heal. For the longest time, I saw this merely as shallowness and vanity. As I got older, however, I realized how sadly insecure my mom is. She works so hard to present an idealized image to the world because she has never learned to trust that people will love and value the person she really is.
Understanding that did not make me instantly shed my own vanity/insecurity issues I developed because of her “helpful hints.” However, I found that having empathy for my mother helped me understand her comments as symptoms of her own insecurity rather than as true judgments on my appearance and individuality. It also allowed me to realize that the best way to put those issues behind me was to focus on what helps me feel most confident, generous and relaxed.
Your mom’s issues may not be my mom’s issues. Even if they are, they’re no excuse for how she’s treating you. I offer this only in the hopes that, if the situation actually is similar, you may find more peace and strength dealing with this from now on.
Your post reminded me of an ex’s mother, who was still (and probably is still) competing with her daughter and granddaughters for the attention of men, including plastic surgery in her 60s, because of her insecurity. It was very annoying when I had to deal with her, because I although I present as highly feminine (long hair, make up, skirts, heels) I am also very non-“traditional” (career, feminism, refusal to have children) and she and butted heads quite a bit. Now that I have some distance from her, though, thinking about her just makes me sad. It must be terrible to be in your 60s and 70s and have your physical appearance be such an obsession. Every time I see Oprah on those WW commercials, I think how awful it must be to not be happy after all she’s done and been.
LW, the fact that you’re aware of this now sucks, but it’s also good. Because it means that even though you’ve got a rough road ahead, you’re not going to be starting down it when you’re 65 or 70. You’re going to have a good long time to enjoy being you.
LW, when I was a teen, my mom stayed on me constantly about my weight. Drove me nuts. What I would suggest is keeping a journal. Write down what she says and how it makes you feel. Then write what you wish you could say back to her. Don’t worry about being polite, just say whatever you’ve been dying to say back to her. Get out all your frustrations.
Also, I would get sticky notes and write things on them that you like about yourself, such as your smile, sense of humor, your eyes. Put them all over your bedroom. It will remind you how awesome you are.
The only caution I’d add to this is, if your mom is likely to read your journal and punish you for what she finds there, don’t do it. Or keep it in your locker at school. Or keep it in a password-protected file on a USB drive. Whatever you need to do to be safe is okay.
Or just destroy the letters after you’ve written/typed them. You don’t have to keep them. The point is to have an outlet when things become overwhelming.
Yep. I had my journals/blogs found repeatedly. ~Keep it secret, keep it safe.~
I’ve used Tumblr, set up a password-protected side blog, and then written entries but saved them as the side blog’s drafts instead of posting. I don’t do this anymore because she stopped creeping and I’m less paranoid, but it should still work.
Also be careful about which computer you use to write, or even what you used to email Cap, as keyloggers are a thing.
I wonder if keyloggers could be defeated by learning the Dvorak layout? It would depend on whether the keylogger registers what keys are pressed, or what output the screen is giving you. Typing QWERTY on a Dvorak layout gives you nonsense like this:
QWERTY: Hi! I’m a Dvorak keyboard!
Dvorak translation: Dc! C-m a Ekrpat t.fxrape!
Which might maybe be impossible to decode. Just a thought?
If Mom is using keyloggers, LW should just start transcribing The Beauty Myth in her private, please-nobody-read-this-ever sooper sekrit journal file. M will either get bored or woke af.
Daughter of a narcissistic mom here. Yes. Please. Keep your journal secret and safe. Took me YEARS to realize that she wasn’t just very intuitive about me but was, in fact, reading my diaries.
I want to echo the Captain’s advice about magazines. Stop looking at magazines. I feel so much better about myself when I don’t look at magazines. I also avoid fashion adverts and advice and any mentions of special diets or exercise programs designed to make your body look a certain way. It can be really hard to find strength training routines designed for women that focus on strength rather than toning some so called problem area.
I only read cooking magazines, so my only magazine-induced issues are a crippling case of Gas Range Envy and a desire to make my own charcuterie.
You kinda gotta be careful with the cooking magazines, though, too. Food guilt seems to be popular in many.
That’s why I love Cooks Illustrated — each recipe is its own story of repeated failures, from which they learned how not to do it, until they finally figured out how to do it. It always makes me feel better about myself: these people are professionals, with a dedicated awesomely-equipped test kitchen, and they regularly end up with results that weren’t what they wanted.
Cook’s Illustrated! They don’t put ads in their magazines at all, and while every once in a while they may do a “lighter” or lower-fat version of a recipe, they don’t harp on calorie content or “healthiness.” Their magazines are all about how to make stuff taste good/fail-safe recipes.
Yeah, it especially gets weird if you’re looking for veg*n recipes or dairy-free or whatever. Some, though, like Saveur, are all about enjoyment and it is great.
My brother got me a subscription to Wood magazine; I read about workbenches, and shelves, and saws, and planes….
Also I want to point out that I stopped reading non-cooking magazines when, after seeing my fiftieth ad for some product that makes your eyelashes longer but may also alter the color of your eyes, I developed a crisis of confidence re: whether my eyelashes were sufficiently long, thick, and plentiful.
And then I was like FOR PETE’S SAKE IT’S EYELASHES AM I SERIOUSLY BEING INSECURE ABOUT EYELID HAIRS and ragequit magazines.
The eyelashes thing gets me too! I moved from Los Angeles to Portland, OR six months ago and it’s amazing how much less people are into their appearances here. There are eyelash extensions places every three blocks in LA but I don’t think I’ve seen a single one here. I can’t stand when I watch cop shows and the detectives are wearing false eyelashes!!!
It has also helped me to embrace my “natural beauty” more so to speak. I got really into seasonal color analysis. It sounds a little hokey but it’s a fun way to look at what hair, makeup, and clothing colors will be the most flattering for your complexion. I’m a soft season, so I look better in muted colors and don’t look quite right with thick black eyeliner and red lips. It’s not that I’m barred from trying different styles, but it helps to embrace what looks best on me. It’s nice to look at the different color analyses of different celebrities and notice that they are all gorgeous in their own way, even though they are different. Not that being gorgeous is really important. It’s just helped me feel more comfortable having so called mousey features.
there is one eyelash place up here 🙂
but i only know of, like, one.
Hoooooooo boy LW have I been in your shoes. And still sort of am, because my relationship with my body is massively effed up and I know it’s going to be a long haul to fix it. So here’s some advice from the trenches:
You need friends to survive this. This can be peers, or it can be a trusted doc or a guidance counselor just someone who you can rant to or get reality checks from. (I regularly call my bestie to ask “um this thing that happened to me is this reasonable” and I rely on her brutal honesty and know when she says “no wtf are you okay that’s horrible” she damn well meands it) PSA: Friends who react with “your mom is just trying to helllllllllp. She’s so niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice. Listen to her she has a point” [glances obviously at your body] are SHITTY FRIENDS. DUMP THOSE FRIENDS.
Sometimes seeking forgiveness is better then permission. If you feel safe, and think it wouldn’t incite physical threats or verbal/emotional abuse beyond the point of toleration, maybe just… do the thing? I did this in high school a little, putting a little makeup on or changing my clothing up at school and then coming home without changing (“why would you wear that” had a lot less power over me then “don’t you dare leave the house like that”) I waited years to dye my hair because I thought if I just waited long enough or came up with the exact right argument my mom would let me do it. And then, five years into college and sick of waiting, I just did it. She hated it. But my hair was already permanently purple, and it was leave it this way or shave it (which I really want to do but my mom hates even more) so it’s still purple.
ps: my favourite body positive blog is http://curiousfancy.com/ she’s so. good. at outfits. i want to be her!!!
As someone who also had a hyper-critical, somewhat narcissistic mother (although my appearance was not an area of concern for her, thank god), I’ve got to say I can’t imagine a letter like the one in the answer being a remotely safe thing to actually say or give to her, especially as a teen. There is way too much vulnerability in there, and the shitty response could easily take the form of a major guilt trip about how bad you made her feel with all those things you said she did (which she may or may not admit to, but it will be ugly either way), that makes you feel totally unheard and damages your self-worth even further.
I really like the rest of the response but, LW, I’ve gotta say, if you’re thinking of saying those things to your mom please be prepared for the outcome where she doesn’t hear you or show any caring about your feelings at all. It’s okay to choose not to put yourself through that. If you feel like experiencing that, yet again, during such a vulnerable moment, will do you harm then it’s okay not to say those things. You can just skip straight to the next steps.
Yes. Agreed. When my confused, hurting younger self began to realize what my mom was doing was Serious Abuse, and didn’t want my younger siblings to go through the same – i thought maybe she just didn’t realise – i wrote a letter such as what CA suggested. No really, i read it recently. It was well thought out, not inconsiderate, not remotely rude, just a heartfelt request to Stop Doing A Thing Please… But she didn’t listen. She did the opposite of listen. She did the whole… screaming at me over the phone and then not speaking for months while spending her spare time crying to ALL MY RELATIVES that i was an ingrate, and of course they believed her and the damage is irreparable, probably. If i thought relatives like that were worth trying to amend things with.
LW, you know your odds best. I am telling you this because sometimes, in some situations, sadly keeping your head down might be the best option for you. If you think flying off the handle is something she might do; if she has a history of not taking Polite Suggestions For Change well – you may be best off silently working on Project You while following the rest of CA’s advice.
Yes — this letter is a good letter to write to a basically reasonable and kind person. It sounds like LW’s mother is probably not such a person.
Holy crap, this could have been written by me fifteen years ago.
Dearest LW, know you are in no way alone. My mom still does stuff like that to me, and I just look at her and say “no”. I used to try to argue with her, but it never worked, so I just stick with a straight no. Once you realize it’s about her anxieties about herself and not about how she views you, it gets easier. And it is 100% about her, I promise.
As a 16 year old, your job right now is to be figuring yourself out (in addition to school, I guess), so you just go ahead and do you. Doing hobbies/extra curricular are a great way to get out of the house and have an excuse not to do what she wants – “Sorry mom, can’t wear make up to go swimming” or “haha, yeah, not going to wear a push up bra to build sets for the play”. You’re going to get into stupid arguments with your mom anyway, and you might as well learn how to stick up for yourself with regards to something healthy rather than staying out past 2 am on a weeknight to suck face with Frankie McCuteButt. Also it’s fun to be able to say “Mom, my teenaged rebellion was [something relatively minor, like refusing to wear a fitbit]” when she tries to guilt you over as an adult for not doing something she wants. (Mine was, I was too lazy to change out of my uniform after school and would do terribly embarrassing things like wear it to the mall!)
Honestly, you sound pretty awesome, and I think you have the basics figured out.
Is it weird that I’m ridiculously happy I wasn’t the only kid who wore their uniform everywhere because “I’m already in these clothes, why would I get more clothes dirty today?” My school uniform bottoms happened to be regulation Girl Guide colours and throwing my t-shirt on over top was ultimate lazy-genius.
That was my theory. I mean, I spent most of my time in my room doing homework anyway, what difference did it make? I probably looked pretty awkward when I went out, though, since not only was it super obviously a uniform, they were pretty frumpy too (looser = more comfortable). My mom still groans if it somehow comes up! 🙂
LW, I think all of the Captain’s advice is spot-on. One other thing you might try as a way of taking care of yourself would be to set yourself some personal goals which have absolutely nothing to do with how you look. Choose one or two things to pursue that involve learning new skills — stuff you think you’d really enjoy being awesome at. Learn how to parallel park like a champ. Get a summer job or internship doing something you’ve never tried before. Learn how to roller skate backwards. Learn about computer programming and become proficient in one language. You can pick whatever you want, but pick stuff where you know you’ll feel really proud of yourself when you make progress with it.
This sounds like such a toxic situation to be in, and I can totally see why it would undermine your self-confidence. And one of the best confidence-builders I know of is to watch myself be awesome at something. Think of it this way: you’re arming yourself. When your mom makes some gross controlling comment about aren’t-you-going-to-the-gym or whatever, instead of feeling guilty you can say to yourself, “Who cares if I didn’t go to the gym today? This week I learned how to use the subjunctive tense in Spanish! Clearly, I’m awesome.” I’m betting your mom’s weird bs about your looks will be a little easier to tune out when you have something you can point to and use to remind yourself that you’re strong and smart and capable.
Good luck, LW.
Also! Apparently Fitbits pose a security risk.
“Mom, look at this article! Gosh, I don’t think I feel safe wearing this anymore. It’s making our PCs vulnerable, and we keep sensitive information stored on those.”
Or if you think she’d want you to wear it anyway, you could just hack it to change your stats. The article at the link above says it’s possible and summarizes how it’s done, and the proof of concept video shows you the actual code someone used to do it. You can find more information here:
This will take some research if this sort of thing is new territory for you, but the info is available — hackers are notoriously generous about sharing their work.
If I’d watched Tasngled as a child, I might not have left home asny younger but I wouldn’t have looked back half as much.
I sadly had to have a discussion with my own mother last winter around this time when she was out here visiting for a week – and I’m closer to 40 than 30. It was hard to have to tell her “Mom, it hurts my feelings when you say things about my weight. Would you rather I continue to be stable or should I stop the meds and lose those last few pounds that you keep pointing out?”
The thing is, her mom was always picking at the weight thing with her, I watched it happening while I was growing up and I know it hurt her feelings – I used the words I did to remind her of that so she’d know what it was doing to me to be dealing with that from her. The whole issue was like having to figure out how to get over a huge crevasse with only what we had on us and that being not much – but after the discussion I think we did. Our adult child and parent relationship has seen plenty of really difficult times, but in the last couple of years I’ve done better and she’s listened more than she ever has. Maybe it’s the fact that I use less volatile and aggressive words – when I was 16 – 22 my go to was instant attack, we have different ideas and opinions about much…but I have successfully gotten her in the right sized bra and when clothes and makeup are concerned she comes to me for advice. Life is funny like that.
OP – your mind and your character will be what you must rely upon once the years pass and beauty slightly fades. Be healthy, choose what you like to wear and if you don’t want to bother with makeup then don’t. Makeup is a lot of work (even if you like to be eyeliner panda) and at 16 your level of energy is likely significant but you don’t need to ensure much will be spent at a mirror right now!
I haven’t read other comments yet, but can I add a gentle reminder for the LW that many, many weights are healthy, and therefore “a healthy weight” does not describe a specific body-type? You may have many weights in your life, and many of them may be healthy.
You may also have times when you are unhealthy, and that is okay. You do not owe the world beauty, and you do not owe it health. You can certainly choose to seek out health, and that’s awesome if you do! But there are many ways to do that, and in the end, it is a choice, not an obligation.
She’s probably referring to the body mass index charts, which are a sort of general guideline. Yes, you can be over the BMI for your height and be perfectly lean and fit, and it’s possible for people who’ve dieted for years to be well within and still have too high a body fat percentage, but I think the LW’s point is that her mother is making her burn off calories even though her weight falls well within the “acceptable” BMI, which is just irrational.
Whatever rubric or standard the LW’s mom is using is wrong. Because the only one that should matter is the LW’s own, personal standard — her own feelings and preferences. The LW’s body belongs to her and not to anyone else, and she should be the one who gets to say what happens to it.
Since BMI was invented by an 18th century mathematician, and was randomly readjusted in the 90s and millions of people changed categories from “normal” to “overweight” literally overnight… BMI is pretty BS.
“Healthy weight” is often shorthand for “thin”, and it’s a habit that we should try to get out of whenever possible, since you cannot tell if someone is healthy by looking at them. You can only tell what they look like by looking at them.
BMI was designed to describe averages among a huge number of people, too, so it can’t take into account varying activity levels, body types, or health conditions.
I’ll point out, having spent most of my life technically underweight, that “healthy weight” is not necessarily “thin” and it covers a pretty wide range of shapes. As an arbitrary categorization based on weight alone, it doesn’t actually describe one’s appearance – or, more important, one’s health, wellbeing, etc.
It wasn’t really a huge number of people either, though. It was a number of rich white men. Thanks, Riots Not Diets http://riotsnotdiets.com/post/73994844498/the-tyranny-of-the-normal-why-the-bmi-has
Dear LW, I’m encouraged that you are reaching out and asking for help with this, because that indicates that you have a perspective beyond the lies your mother is telling you. I hope you continue not to internalize them. My mother was a lot like yours and I can’t even see myself as not being fat, even though objectively, I’m not. And yet, I never developed an eating disorder. I don’t fully know how given the mother I had – I guess there were enough mitigating factors. I hope from the bottom of my heart that that is the same for you. Many Jedi hugs and much love.
Oh dear and precious LW, we are all cheering for you. Your mom might be motivated by love or concern, but she’s pushing an agenda of pure weapons grade BS.
My own quick story: When my sister and I were just wee little ones, my mother took us with her to her weekly weigh-ins at a dieting clinic. Not because she thought we were fat kids who needed to lose weight, but just because she wanted to spend time with us, and this was a little errand she could accomplish before she took us to dance class or shoe shopping or to the zoo, etc. But, uh. BAD MOVE MOM.
I am 30 now. I have tried many different modes of eating and exercising and existing in the world with a body. As age and injuries have caught up with me, my physical activity levels have changed, and so has my body. These are all OK things. I was fortunate enough to meet a person who helped me re-learn how to eat when I was 26, and although I still hear the BS messages I absorbed from birth to present day, I can ignore them for the most part.
Sending you warm hugs if wanted. Good luck with your mom, and also with the world. You already have an amazing BS detector. That will help a lot!
Dear LW, I echo the comment further up thread that it is so lucky you live now and have easy access to wonderful CA and to the other sources of online help and inspiration. As this website has amply demonstrated, some mothers seem to see their daughters as proxies for themselves and cannot control their disappointment and desire to control when the daughter shows physical or mental signs of difference. My mother was petite, slim and small-breasted, I was taller, bigger, and in particular had big boobs, which she really hated and constantly criticised. She tried to make them look smaller by putting me in bras which were too small and making me wear clothes with lots of pleats or ruffles over the offending area. It sounds mad but it’s true. When I got to college I realised that no-one else dressed like me and a wonderful friend helped me learn to dress in a much more comfortable and personally satisfying way. Nevertheless years later I still hate seeing photos of myself, and find it very hard to ignore the jerkbrain going ‘great big lump’. Very best wishes to you LW, break the cycle now and you’ll lead a much happier and more confident life.
LW, would this work for you?
LW: Mom, that that you just said/did hurt me. Please stop.
Mom: But I just want what’s best for you! /But I’m doing this because I love you!
LW: I appreciate the sentiment/I love you too, Mom, but [explicit thing she does/says] really hurts me. Please don’t do it again.
*Repeat ad nauseam and/or take yourself out of there*
I think this could be helpful in a number of ways:
– Her reaction gives you valuable info: if she plays the victim (“You’re so mean for expressing hurt! How dare you hurt my feelings by asking not to be hurt by me!”), she’s telling you that she cares more about her control games than you being not hurt. Get yourself outta the room and if possible go talk to someone who will validate your feelings. If she listens to you, there may be hope. She’d have to work not to do that to you anymore for that hope to be solid-er.
– It’s important to validate your feelings. You feel hurt because of something that she did, that’s true and important. Give it a voice. Your feelings matter.
– If you asked for her not to hurt you and she refused, that implies she’s consciously deciding to keep hurting you. That’s important data to have.
– If you already asked not to be hurt by your mom and got told “no”, you’re justified in disobeying her in order to protect yourself. You asked nicely several times, it didn’t work: that’s not your fault, so forgive yourself for doing what you need to stay healthy and safe, since she can’t or won’t.
I wish you all the luck in the world, LW. You are beautiful, you deserve to feel beautiful all the time.
This sounds like really good advice to give to an adult who can physically leave and give themselves time and space to heal from the realization that their parent doesn’t give a shit how they feel. I think it might be too much for a young person who still has to live under that parent’s authority.
I think this is an evaluation that the LW has to make, and make very carefully, for herself.
If mom has a history of being physically or verbally abusive, or dealing out punishments that are beyond anything remotely appropriate, then LW needs to quietly endure and (hopefully) go to a college in another state. On the other hand, if mom is only nuts where food is concerned and is otherwise mostly sane, then the LW has options for fighting back that she didn’t have before. This resistance can range from very subtle to very overt depending on the mom situation.
I have two intuitions about this situation. The first is that there’s something Mom’s thinking that isn’t made clear in the letter, and maybe not made clear to the LW by her mother, and I think the key here is the push-up bra. I can’t help but wonder whether mom has worries about the LW’s sexuality, or a possible lack of sexuality. I’d be really, really curious about whether the LW has a boyfriend or talks about boys to her mother, and what the family script is about homosexuality.
The resistance speech which relates to this is something about how the push up bra makes LW feel like a slut. There’s a magnificent teenaged tantrum in that single thought if LW can get away with it.
Second, I suspect that Mom, along with other issues, is attempting to help the LW learn to dress and put on makeup in an adult, professional kind of way, but is blowing it very badly due to her own issues with bodies and sex. Perhaps Mom is not so much gaslighting when she says “I didn’t do that” as being fundamentally unaware of how bad her issues are. Perhaps LW can negotiate with her mom to have a family member who doesn’t have these issues be her mentor in questions of professional dress, fashion, makeup, and creating allure (when allure is appropriate.)
Going to college far away has been brought up by a few commenters as a way of getting out of the house, so I’d just like to add that this is far from the only way to move out on your own. LW, I don’t know what your plans are for the next few years, but whether or not they include college/university, it will help you a great deal if you can get out of the house and have your own living space.
True, it would not necessarily be college, as my daughter is currently proving. *Troutwaxer sighs.*
“Perhaps Mom is not so much gaslighting when she says “I didn’t do that” as being fundamentally unaware of how bad her issues are.”
That is very possible, and even likely, but it doesn’t really change things. Having your feelings totally ignored and invalidated is just as harmful when it’s done out of your mom’s inability to deal with her own feelings. And you can’t magically make your mom able to deal. Understanding these motivations might help you forgive and move on, but it doesn’t make the behaviour any less harmful.
Having your feelings totally ignored and invalidated is just as harmful when it’s done out of your mom’s inability to deal with her own feelings.
Agreed, but if this is the case, it might provide an opening for negotiations which wouldn’t be there with a serious narcissist.
That is very possible, and even likely, but it doesn’t really change things. Having your feelings totally ignored and invalidated is just as harmful when it’s done out of your mom’s inability to deal with her own feelings.
Agreed, but understanding Mom’s motivations might make some things easier to negotiate.
Yeah, I recognized my own mom’s worries about my sexuality in the line about the push-up bra: I wasn’t dating as a teenager and am still single in my middle-age, therefore there’s “something wrong.” But besides the fact that heterosexuality is a route to fulfilling lots of parents’ dreams for their kids, clothing and looks are simply really important to my mother, and not in a fashion-connoisseur way. Dressing right and looking right were my mom’s way of fitting in, being treated well, and having a good life. For her, my sister and I being outside of that mainstream (in whatever way) meant life would be much more difficult for us, jobs and relationships would be harder to find, we could be treated badly, and so on. That may or may not be a concern for LW’s mom.
LW says that Mom also ‘plays the victim’ when confronted, so no, I don’t think she gets much benefit of the doubt here. And the pushup bra thing may be far less about worrying that LW isn’t straight, than it is trying to sexualize LW and make her “prettier”, given Mom’s obvious inability to separate her own issues about her body from her view of LW.
I think it really depends on the LW’s particular situation. It worked with my mom when I was 15, for example, in that it made her leave off certain actions and sentences that were really hurtful to me. The words “you’re hurting me, and you can no longer ignore this” caused her to do the mental equivalent of double-take-and-plot-new-course. Then again, my mom’s kind of badness was pretty minor (reproducing ways of acting she’d learnt from my far more abusive dad) and it was clear she cared about me.
So, LW, use your judgement. Maybe you need to hear the truth, however bad may it be, from your mother’s mouth in order to plan how and where you want to live for the next 5+ years. Maybe, as Anon says, you need to have a safe place that is away + monetary independence first. Whatever you do, it’s a good idea to have a support network in place: it can take the form of a trusted friend or three who believes and validates you when you say “my Mom did X and it felt awful” and is able to offer a shoulder to lean/cry on. Best of luck!
Dear LW, the Captain has given you excellent advice, and I second the commenters who urged you to consider some other mentor for this stage of your life. Whatever your mother’s trouble is, it is a) not your fault, and b) not your responsibility.
My own mother had a deeply rooted insecurity about making a living, because she had been raised in a culture and time before feminism. So one of her bad moves was to try and force me into a business track in high school, instead of college prep, which is what I wanted. There were times I had to just stubbornly refuse to go along with something I knew was not right for me, and it is a skill you might have to draw upon.
It is a good skill.
Also, be aware that the glamour sold to women on billboards, magazines, on TV and film — it, too, is an illusion. They take an already attractive person and Photoshop them into some kind of near-cartoon creature by smoothing away ten pounds off someone’s thighs and waist, ditching any ripples or wrinkles, enhancing the color of their eyes, and making their skin flawless. This is in addition to the literally hours they can spend fluffing hair, applying makeup, and lighting just the most flattering angles.
Jamie Curtis, blessings on her confident heart, once did a spread on how she had been ‘Shopped for a magazine cover. Putting “magazine photoshop before and after” in a search engine will bring up many examples.
It can help when we find ourselves comparing us, here in the real world, with the highly UNreal images we are shown in order to make us insecure so we buy something. Be alert to such foolery.
That’s a good skill, too.
Wow, this sounds horrible. I agree that your mom could be a narcissist. My mother definitely is, and she had a strange obsession with, of all things, my hair. I was sent for horrible home perms from the woman next door throughout my childhood, because it was “straight and stringy”, and only curly hair was acceptable to my mother. Apparently frizzy and damaged counts as curly. Who knew? When I became an adult she’d actually nag me about washing it too often (??!!!) because “You’re washing all the vitamins out of it!”. I was given a boar bristle brush for a birthday present and ordered to brush it 100 strokes every night before bedtime. It was the worst possible kind of brush for baby-fine hair, but came in handy years later for a pair of longhaired Persian mix cats that I had – they loved it and it got through their dense wooly coats just beautifully.
Unfortunately, because you’re only 16, you’ll have to put up with this crap a little bit longer. Is there some sport you do, better than your mother can? Maybe challenge her to a competition and beat her soundly at it, ha ha! Then the next time she starts in about your body size, remind her that she can’t keep up with you at swimming/running/cycling/tennis/whatever. I know it won’t shut her up for long, but at least it will remind her that bodies are for more than being pretty ornaments.
My mother was the unfortunate recipient of a poodle perm just before she and her family moved from small town southern IL to Chicago. In the 60s. Before her senior year of high school. Her mother’s reasoning was that ‘nobody could possibly like long, straight hair in the big city.’
There is some admirable advice here, from folks who have fought for every inch of sanity and self-respect in a culture (personal, political, entertainment, medical) that tells women pretty much every minute that we are Doing It Wrong somehow.
LW: you, however you choose to do it, are Doing It Right. You are Doing You Right. I promise. Sometimes that you will be happy and comfortable conforming to what people expect from you, and sometimes you will not, and at all times you are the best authority on what is true and authentic and healthy and good for you. No one who lives outside your body and brain and heart will ever be a better authority that you are, and many people will try to claim that they are older, smarter, more experienced, whatever – but you are the only expert the world will EVER have on being you.
I admire the hell out of you, at 16, for calling BS on your mom’s controlling and inappropriate behavior, because it took me a long time to say “Wait a minute, what do you know” to the people and forces that attempted to take control from me (and make me complicit in giving it up, which they did to the tune of an eating disorder when I was around your age). This letter pulls the fire alarm, it says “I see disaster coming and I am getting off this damn train,” and that’s badass. I know that your experience of yourself, thanks to your controlling manipulative constantly doubting you mother, is that maybe you don’t know what’s best for you – but hold on to the person who pulled the alarm, because she is wise and brave and clear-sighted, and she is your best ally in getting through this in one piece with a healthy self-respect.
Just wanted to add, here’s a post from a sewing blog that was written 6 years ago, but I think every young woman and girl should read it:
“You don’t have to be pretty”
As someone who dealt with similar (though I think not as persistent) issues with my mother, I have gotten a lot of mileage out of “thanks mom, I’m glad you’re looking out for me,” and then just doing what I want anyhow. I’m 34 now, and it basically still works. Depending on your own mom’s disposition, this might also work (with mine, I think she was genuinely trying to show care and had no idea how).
I really like these passive resistance suggestions. Giving her the verbal response she wants may well distract her from the fact that she’s not actually being obeyed. And any follow up “but I thought you were going to…” can be met with a light and airy “oh yeah, I decided to do it this way”
Keep it light, keep it friendly, just do your thing.
The Captain’s advice is very thorough and good. I wished I had had the Captain’s help as a teenager!
I wanted to add my support in you deciding over your own body, LW. And add my experience.
I lived in a similar situation to yours for a long time and I would agree that it is survival strategies that applies for now. It is hard to change a parent, as a child that they “know what’s best for”. Hopefully you’ll eventually be able to move away from home, start your own life and your relationship with your mom will also be on your terms.
I am an adult now, but I had to move back in with Weight Obsessed Parent because of Reasons, so I get where you’re coming from. My strategies are basically: Do Not Engage and Walk Out Of The Room.
Eventually these strategies meant that Parent didn’t changed their opinion, but they realize that I won’t engage them in discussions on food or weight. I’m sad to say, I don’t think Parent will ever understand the problem. They’re “just helping”. But remember: Your mom can have lots of opinions, on you, your body, your life, but you have absolutely 0 obligation to listen or engage in it. And in the future you can, if you want to, establish boundaries that shows her you wont engage with her at all if she talks about you like you’re a project and not an autonomous person.
It is always your body. You decide what happens to it.
LW, there are two possible underlying causes for this behavior that I can think of. One of them can be dealt with, but the other just has to be lived around until you can leave. The first would be your mom falling psyche-first into a bucket of unresolved issues surrounding her own adolescence, and attempting to save you from what she went through and/or deal with her own pain by making you into an extension of her past self. Scripts that gently attempt to alert her to her lack of perspective or her boundary-trampling may work in this case, and you might find yourselves moving into a new relationship in which your maturity is recognized. Unfortunately, I think you have the second, and that’s for one reason: reality divergence. She has indicated that the benefits of an assistive device (glasses) matter less than looking pretty. She may also have programmed the Fitbit to demand a calorie intake below the recommended level, because your not being distracted by hunger matters less than looking pretty. This is reality-divergent behavior at a level that people generally can’t be argued out of. In fact, pointing it out tends to prompt a doubling-down response.
It sucks when you realize that your parent can’t even see you past their own needs, and I’m sorry. But when it becomes clear that they do not have your best interests at heart, then it’s time to start protecting yourself.
People rarely receive a formal diagnosis of narcissism, but if they behave in consistently narcissistic ways toward their nearest and dearest, a diagnosis is irrelevant. You may find some help here: reddit.com/r/raisedbynarcissists
Oh dear LW. Have more internet hugs, with feathers, if you want.
I never had it that bad, but my mom did put me through “beauty” procedures at your age that were painful and that I DID NOT WANT (e.g., eyebrow waxing).
I spent over a decade living half a world away and now that I’m back in my hometown, it’s a lot easier to say “Nope :)” when mom says something about my appearance.
I share that to say that even if you have to lie low and survive and then GTFO from your mom for a while, it is not necessarily going to end your relationship forever. If you fear that pushing back, escaping, and so on might cost you your entire mother/daughter relationship, I’m here to tell you that it’s not guaranteed to be the case (unless you decide that’s the outcome you want).
You are already ahead in the mental game. Hang in there.
if you have to lie low and survive and then GTFO from your mom for a while, it is not necessarily going to end your relationship forever.
THIS. ALL THE THIS.
I actually have a really good relationship with my mom these days, and it’s largely because I was able to GTFO and cut a lot of ties. I knew I had gotten where I needed to be when I finally dreamed about my mom going off on one of her tirades, and I looked her straight in the eye and said, “You can’t talk to me like that anymore. I can leave whenever I want to now.” And then dream-me got in her car and drove away. (For reasons known only to my subconscious, this took place in a grocery store parking lot.)
She doesn’t do tirades these days, and I don’t leave mid-conversation anymore. Turns out we really like each other now.
Huh. That was meant to be a reply to Nanani. Oops.
Comment replies: how the fuck do they work? :0
My relationship with mom is still a work in progress, but it’s a fluffy happy cloud compared to when I was LWs age. I also think 10+ years a continent away were key.
Oh, LW. I’m sorry.
The Captain’s advice is dead-on right. Do what you need to survive. My mother was like this — not quite so awful as yours (and it’s awful what she’s doing, it really is). But she bought me make up for my 13th birthday, a whole very expensive set of salon make up and lesson to go with it. And then wouldn’t let me leave the house unless I had it ALL ON. Finally, I just said, “OK, I guess I’m not going to school then.”
If you can safely get the counseling, do it. If you can’t, keep your head down, lie when necessary, read ALL THE BOOKS about narcissistic mothers (and more Captain Awkward), and get counseling the minute you go to college.
You are AMAZING to recognize the problem at age 16 and to look for external ways to stop it. I’m so impressed with you.
Yes, that’s what I was thinking too! Took me much longer to recognise it.
Long-time reader, first-time commenter here. Had to comment as this resonated so strongly. My mum did a lot of the same stuff, commenting on my weight, diet, clothes, makeup, all through my adolescence and still sometimes now when she slips up. It made me feel terrible and gave me some disordered eating habits.
With my mum, it wasn’t malicious though, it stemmed from her own body/appearance insecurities and her fear of obesity-related health problems, which her own mother died of – she was projecting all of that onto me. And when I learned to confront her about it, she was genuinely shocked and saddened that she’d been hurting me. Maybe your mum is similar, or a huge narcissist, who knows.
But here’s the kicker – I am a *literal* model. Not a supermodel, but a paid, published model. My looks and body are pretty damn close to our society’s beauty standards. (I started modelling at 17, and weirdly, it helped with my body issues! Gave me confidence. But that’s another story.) My point is, it doesn’t matter WHAT you look like, mums can still be awful. It’s really not you. It’s them.
Anyway, I’m 21 now. My relationship with my mum is not perfect, but I can shut that shit down very firmly and she understands. I’ve learned to stop looking for her validation regarding my appearance – hard but necessary. I also avoid diet talk in general, even with friends, it’s just easier for me. My lifestyle is quite healthy, my eating habits are pretty good with the occasional relapse. For me, things got better. And it will for you too. Hang in there.
Novel De Vice mentioned this earlier, but I want to echo it: work on your exit plan. It’s so hard to enforce your boundaries when you are dependent upon the person treating you poorly. When you are out and on your own, it will be so freeing to be able to just…leave. To just walk away when your mother starts in on her “advice” and criticism. So, with that as your goal:
If you plan to continue your education after high school, study, join after school activities, volunteer. Bonus: This will keep you out of the house as well as looking good on college applications.
If you have a part-time job, start saving as much money as you can. It’s unlikely that you can have an account solely in your name until you’re 18, but on your birthday, put everything in your name only. Until then, do what you can so that you are the only one receiving notices about the account.
If you plan to work full-time after high school, start thinking about ways you can do that without having to live in your mother’s house. Are there friends you can split an apartment with? Can you crash with a relative in another city? Are there classes and activities you can do now to help your employability after graduation?
Do what you need to do, LW, to survive the next two years.
I’m pretty sure that you don’t have to be of legal age to have your own bank account. Maybe it’s just Canada, but I opened a savings account all on my own when I was only 11. That was in the 60s, but I can’t imagine banking laws have changed much.
I opened my own chequing and savings when I was 17. My mom came with me to the bank, but I don’t remember if she had to sign anything.
It depends on the bank. Some of them have programs for kids and teenagers to learn about saving money. Some of these are supervised by parents, some aren’t.
I’ve had my checking and savings accounts for 14 years. I am 24. /cool story bro
I would be astonished if a bank let a minor open a bank account on her own – probably y’all who remember opening bank accounts yourself may not have known that Mom or Dad signed, or that the bank had rules such that they had the right to open your account at any time. Minors don’t generally have the legal right to enter into contracts. That said, LW may be able to get the help of a trusted older friend.
It does happen. I’m not sure what the cutoff age is for banks to allow it, but it does happen. When I was a teen, at least a couple of years before 18, the credit union my parents opened my childhood bank account at (joint account with my mother’s name on it, because when it was opened I was maybe 6?) was jerking me around, so I closed that account, took all my money as cash, and walked to a different bank to open an account. I did this after school, my parents weren’t there so I couldn’t have put their names on it even if I wanted to, and I told them about it afterward. Fortunately, financial independence was encouraged in my family, so they had no objections.
LW – my mother’s issue about my body was slightly different. I have always had big boobs. I had to start wearing a bra age 10 and went up a cup size a year until I was 20. When I was 14 I overheard some mothers agreeing that I had the biggest boobs of all the girls in my class. You get the idea. My mother’s way of dealing with this was to dress me in clothes at least two sizes too big. If I was swimming in an XXL turtleneck when I really was a M I guess she thought no one could see them. (Ha.) When I was 10 or 11 and didn’t give a damn about clothes this was fine, but from about age 13 this was a battle whenever we went shopping, which wasn’t often since we were broke. Or I’d choose stuff from catalogues but she’d pick the size. I wasn’t allowed to buy my own clothes at all, even when I started working. I still have the first sweater I bought with my own money, over 20 years later.
What made this stop was when I was 17 and trying on dresses for a dance in a high-end boutique in the tourist part of our town. One was a sleeveless black gypsy-type dress (think My So-Called Life; oh the mid-90s). It was loosely cut so you could see some of the side of my bra in my armpits. I thought I looked great, and came out of the stall to show my mother. She said it made me look like a whore.
I burst into tears and proceeded to change back into my own clothes while sobbing at the top of my lungs. I then stormed out of the store, still sobbing, with my mother chasing and trying to shush me. When we were on the street, which was packed, she told me to control myself and I turned and SCREAMED that I hated her, I hated how she made me feel fat and ugly, and I hated going shopping with her and probably some other stuff too.
I screamed so loudly I silenced the street.
She was so embarrassed she has yet to comment on anything I have worn in her presence since. And believe me, I’ve tested her.
So is there some kind of well-timed scene like this that you could stage? I couldn’t have planned this outburst but I was too angry and upset to care and frankly, I was in the right. When you press too hard on something, eventually it cracks. Right now you’re that something. Much better that you put this pressure back where it belongs than internalize it, I think. And if you let other people who care about you know how your mother is making you feel, you’ll be surprised by how many people will be on your side.
Good luck! You’ll be out of there soon. xx
My mother was similar. She was clueless at first (I hit my growth spurt earlier than most and had a chest by the end of 4th grade. Mom had me in training bras way past when they were any use) Then she realized the truth and went the other way. I’m large chested (was D by the time I was in 7th and DD by high school) Mom always bought huge. It was years until I realized that I completely dressed according to her desire of big and loose so as not to emphasize my curves.
I’m still trying to pick apart my mother’s attitudes toward my clothes versus my own preferences and I’m 40 now.
Parents should probably just butt out of trying to buy their kids bras entirely. My parents were generally fine in this arena (past a comment or two about my acne–stupid rosachea) but a couple times my mother bought me second-hand bras. I remember once telling her that one of them was too small. “But I’m an A cup.” “Yeah, well, I’m not.”
(Honestly, it would have been easier to buy bras if I had been…)
I had to teach my mom how to buy bras that were actually in your size. She had no CLUE how to deal with me hitting puberty, for reals.
Thank you, Sears Catalogue.
I learned how to size bras from the internet last year. My mom tried, bless her, but she just didn’t have the newest information. My bras fit okay when I was a teenager, but once I started sizing and buying them myself they’re just… better.
My mom just bought sports bras. And not good ones with support.
That is not a way to live when you have D-cups… at least not for my back.
You can’t see me but I am giving you fist pumps behind my computer!!
I was a flat-chested teenager but I saw a lot of my friends who developed early/were busty go through similar shit, with their parents (especially their mothers) body-shaming them for….having the audacity to grow boobs, I guess? One friend even got taken to a bra fitting in which her mother screamed at her for having large boobs and then insisted she get a bra 2 sizes to small, because no way was she going to have to wear a bigger bra than her mother!
Just a PSA to parents out there – STOP WORKING OUT YOUR FEARS ABOUT YOUR KID’S SEXUALITY ON THEIR BODY. IT’S SHITTY AND YOU NEED TO STOP.
Very minor point in this anecdote, it seems most people don’t know this but g***y is a slur, so please be careful about using it in the future.
Glad you were able to get your mom to back off though.
I’m sorry LW. My mom wasn’t this bad (never this direct/controlling, just a lot of commentary), and her conviction that sweating is “unladylike” meant she focused on food way more than exercise (which turned me into lifetime secret eater, thanks Mom). Anyway, I didn’t start this comment to talk about my own food issues, but to offer a few more strategies.
1) I wanted to second the people above about trying to enlist your father/another family member to help. My Dad wasn’t great, and when I was your age I thought he didn’t help at all, but looking back I realize that without ever going so far as to contradict her in front of me when she made negative comments about my appearance, he was trying behind the scenes to get her to not talk about it so much. Even just having him know how upset these comments made me helped in the moment because when I would leave the room abruptly, he’d distract my mom, change the subject, or otherwise help in another non-aggressive way. Not perfect, but better than nothing. If your Dad or other parental figure is able/willing to do even the tiniest bit of this, it helps, especially if your Mom is as good as mine was at gaslighting you about the tone/nature of her comments. Sometimes even just making eye contact with him and having him nod while this was happening made me feel better because it was teeny tiny acknowledgement that I wasn’t imagining it. Sadly, I wouldn’t expect him to be any kind of savior, but it was better than thinking his silence meant he agreed with her, which was what I’d suspected before speaking to him.
2) Speaking of distraction: Do you get along with your mom otherwise? Outside food/weight/appearance/exercise? If so, I strongly recommend nurturing a hobby or activity you share with her that has nothing to do with those things: gardening, movies, music, chess, books, DIY, whatever. Does she like crafts and is she tech savvy enough for Pinterest? Join together and share things there. As much as what she is doing is fucked up and about her own narcissistic issues, this kind of behavior is also associated with female bonding in many cultures. Viewed through a certain lens, she may be trying to connect with you about things she thinks you have in common (e.g. the “need” and attendant struggle to look a certain way in the world). Ignore the content, but acknowledge the better parts of the intent and try to use it to your advantage. Substitute something/anything else so she can feel like she connects with you and has things in common with you. This will assuage some (not all) of her need for you to be like her and/or a “good enough” representative of her in the world. An actual shared interest would be ideal, but if she’s got any interest that isn’t completely unpalatable to you, fake more interest. Once you guys have an established shared “thing,” it makes the Captain’s scripts even more effective: “I’ll think about it, but did you see the latest post/hear the latest single/finish the latest article/look at the seed catalog yet?” is a really useful redirect and will, to her, feel less like a rejection. If it goes well, this can also help you preserve the relationship so that it isn’t entirely consumed by her appearance harping.
3) Privately and repeatedly name and acknowledge that her opinions/thoughts about your appearance are wrong and unhealthy, and are *her* problem, not yours. In a journal, with trusted friends, whatever. In the long term, this habit helped me develop some empathy for my mom (she didn’t get here on her own, after all) that made it easier to distance myself from what she said. At some point, since the projection was so obvious, when she did this, I began to imagine in my head that what she was saying to me she was actually saying about herself. When she said “I don’t know if you should wear that,” I would recast it in my head as her saying “I would feel uncomfortable wearing that because of my self-abhorrence.” I call it my Dysmorphia Translation System. It helped me feel better about myself, and also about her (which you don’t owe her, btw, but I found useful.).
Today, as an adult, my mom and I have a very good relationship in part because I was lucky enough to be able to do #1 & #2 (#3 is an ongoing struggle). Once I moved out of the house, it was much easier to draw firm lines, so now she knows not to comment on my appearance/weight, but because we’d maintained a few shared interests (murder mysteries for one–we read the same ones at the same time and try to guess who did it), the transition to not-talking-about-how-I-look was much less fraught because we already had other things we liked to talk about.
LW, you do whatever you need to stay safe and healthy. Lie your ass off. Lie to the Fitbit, lie to your mom, whatever keeps you safe. Keep makeup wipes in your bookbag. Carry a change of clothes and your glasses. Hell, carry a comfy bra with you. Eat as much as you want. You’ve still got years of growing ahead of you; you need those calories, you need those nutrients. And you don’t owe her. You don’t owe her your choices, or knowledge about them. Your mother is supposed to love, cherish, and respect you. What she’s doing instead is cruel, petty, and selfish. So you do what you need to take care of yourself in the meantime. Whatever that means for you. She already broke the contract of ‘how family is supposed to treat each other’. You are not obligated to play the dutiful daughter here.
I apologize if this duplicates any earlier posts- if it does, consider it a second or third or more…. Captain Awkward has recommended a book that has been mind-blowingly eye-opening for me. “Will I Ever be Good Enough” by Dr. Karyl McBride. If you can’t buy it, please check your library at school or city. The subtitle is “Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers”. Despite the slant towards the female child, I got my brother to read it, and it blew his mind, too. It’s the most helpful book I’ve read in years, and I’m 53 and read a LOT 🙂 Wishing you all the best, LW. Jedi hugs galore.
LW, like so many other commenters, your letter took me back to my relationship with my mom at 16. Again, you are not alone! My mother had pretty healthy ideas about food and weight, but did she ever get after me about my clothing choices, not wearing makeup, and wearing sneakers all the time, so that I would be “sexier.” One of our famous arguments was over a belt for my jeans, and I asked her why I needed to buy a different belt, and she exploded that it was hard enough to teach me to be “a real girl.” Another infamous family joke was her asking me why I couldn’t at least wear different shoes so boys would like me more. The shoes she had in mind? Brown oxford shoes, which my friends and I then called “man-catching shoes” forever after. The upshot of this was that I developed really twisted ideas about what was sexual and attractive in women, and while my mom thought she was helping me, I actually had a really tough time thinking of myself as not-ugly until I was almost 30.
In retrospect, most of her issues (I think) were coming from the fact that being single was the worst thing that could ever happen to a woman, and that being sexually attractive was a surefire lead-in to marriage. Turns out one doesn’t have too much to do with the other, and deep down she knows that, but she didn’t know how to ensure this for me other than “be more sexy!” Besides that, I’m not the daughter she fantasized about – I completely resemble my father in looks and personality, not my mother – and part of her frustration with me was that our biological relationship didn’t lead to us being automatically connected, or having a special mother-daughter bond. But that’s a lot easier for me to see years later.
Like others have said, what was most helpful was to say to myself, “this is not reality.” And once I went to college and spent less and less time around my mother and with other people, I began to notice how many people are truly attractive in real life, not just in a media-style way. Learning to listen to myself, friends and peers and the outside world made my mom’s voice quieter and everyone else’s louder. And I have finally learned to share important things selectively with my mother (which is tough to do when you’re 16). One of my friends is in her 40s and still struggles with the fact that she doesn’t owe her mother automatic access to her every plan, goal or thought. You’ve got much greater self-confidence and much stronger recognition that this is wrong than I did at 16.
The Captain is spot on. My heart is aching for you. I hope that you are able to help your mother understand that what she’s doing is so, so wrong.
I would definitely wrote her a letter. I’m not sure.of your family circumstances, but if you have another adult who your mother will listen to (father, Grandma, aunt, uncle), maybe send them a copy of the letter as well, and explain what’s going on. Having annadult that your mom likes and respects on your side may help your case.
Hi LW, I wanted to chime in and recommend the movie, “Real Women Have Curves.” It’s from 2002, so it’s a bit dated by now, but it’s about a young 17 year old Mexican American girl (played by America Ferrera) negotiating her mother’s expectations of her, including her expectations of her body and her future. So it deals with body issues, but also race and wealth/class disparities. I don’t think it’s on Netflix, but if you can find it somewhere I think you’d really like it.
LW, I’d like to give you a huge high five (if you want it!) for recognizing what your mom is doing it isn’t okay. I’d also like to congratulate you on recognizing how people react when setting a boundary is Very Telling; when mom (and others) ignore you or make it about them or tell you you’re being So Mean, they’re showing you they aren’t trustworthy.
Which is why I’m going to nth the suggestion to make an Exit Plan, while broadening and strengthening Team You.
Taking leave from difficult (and abusive) family relationships Can Be Done. I’m not going to lie, it isn’t easy. I executed my Exit Plan when I was 19 and I needed a lot of support and it took a lot of me practicing new skills to get it done–and get it done safely.
Some of the things I did to develop an Exit Plan included:
— Find a way to make money and have bank accounts in own name (easier to do once Age of Majority is reached)
— Find an “impeccable friend”; someone who can run interference if/when needed–to get out of an argument or out of the house for awhile
— Find friends/friends’ families who are willing to listen and who validate instincts about what is happening. Bonus, if they’re happy to give you a place to chill and a meal, if needed
— Extended family and older siblings are good for this, too, if they exist and/or are safe.
— Keep a change of clothes and a small set of toiletries not at home.
— Find ways to channel feelings and experiences dealing with Mom and be prepared there will be a Variety Of Stuff to process, sometimes all at the same time. (E.g. Why am I mad and sad and feeling relief all at the same time?)
— If one of these ways you find–and enjoy!–is self-documenting (e.g. writing, journaling, drawing comics, art, etc.) and can be stored securely, DOOO EEEEET. (Back in the day I had two journals, one my parents would occasionally “find” during room sweeps, and the one that was stored in a safe place and not at home. This is much easier to do now, what with the Internet and password managers.)
— Find after school groups and activities. I get it, *everyone says this*, but the benefits aren’t just of the PSA variety: These things get you out of the house; these things expose you to new people, new ideas, and possibly new opportunities…
— And these can be very easily spun as “me, being an adult, and doing something for my future”. Which is true and isn’t a lie. Works like a charm on most Parents Prone to Narcissism ™ and those who pull some sort of “you’re not around anymore/don’t you love me” card. Bonus: If you can stomach putting the extra spin of “I’m doing this for us” as a rebuttal, and without gagging.
— If you can find a low-cost therapist or one who will work on a sliding pay scale, DOOO EEEET. There may be Some Stuff which will come up, and having someone there who is trained to help is super valuable. Do some searching and possibly find one experienced with adolescent-to-adult transitions, dealing with narcissistic parents, disordered eating. If you can’t find one or it’s too expensive right now? That’s okay, too.
— As a low-cost or no-cost option, I’m on the fence about recommending “going to the school counselor” thing. Ask around, quietly. Your peers will know if they’re any good. (This went Spectacularly Wrong for me, because often when things go public, what happens at home gets worse.)
Even if you chose not to have an Exit Plan, all of the things I mention above can and will likely help mitigate your Mom’s controlling and weird behavior.
You are not the problem here and It Sucks that someone who is legally in charge of you is. And I’m here to tell you, you are awesome, you can do this, and you are among good (and storied) company.
You can do this. It won’t be easy, and I trust your judgment.
I want to add to this, if you have your own car (either now or the future), most cars have a lot of hiding spaces for stuff. I keep toiletries in mine in the space that I can take the panel off to replace my tail lights (and that is a place that A LOT of people forget exists and I have other helpful stuff in with my spare tyre since that’s in my trunk under the floor panel thing that I lift up to take it out). So, for advisement, IF that is a thing you can do, it would definitely help with an exit strategy.
Older Toyota Camry wagons (93-96) have lots of room around the spare tire and sometimes in the plastic bits around the wheel wells.
So do the Geo Storms (which were only made for like 3 years). Most hatchback vehicles have a lot of spare room that is “hidden” (but basically just places people don’t think of looking).
Don’t go to the school counselor. In my area they are required to tell parents basically anything you tell them, which is the most nonsensical thing possible — but welcome to Texas — which my friend found out the hard way.
You can put a fitbit in a dryer to get steps. (My sister cheats at family competitions…)
LW, I’d second trying to find topics of common interest with your mother so that you can have conversations that don’t revolve around food and appearence. And cut your conversation short the moment the dreaded topics arise. It sounds like you can’t have a rational talk about how her talk makes you feel so trying the most basic extinguishing might help a bit: talk to me about X and you get a conversation, Mum, but mention food, exercise and appearence and you get nothing. There is a lot of great advice here and I hope you can get support from friends, school and other places to help you weather the storms at home.
I have to say that when I read your letter I had the MOST INAPPROPRIATE REACTION to grab the most nonapproved food (I’m guessing a cinammon donut with lashings of cream and jam would not be on the approved list) and angrily eat it right AT her, and then say that every time she talks about weight and calories you feel an eating disorder stalking – which one would she like you to have? (This is not helpful advice like the rest of CA fine contributors provide but just a reaction to your story that was surprising to me in its intensity – and I have no skin in this game.)
I had exactly the same reaction but with a tub of chocolate ice cream – also not helpful advice, but very tempting. My other bit of non-helpful advice was for the LW to carry a small bag of M & Ms around in her purse and eat one every time Mom said/did something stupid. (LW, if you’re still reading, these are excellent fantasies, but very poor advice.)
I’m sad and angry for you and about your situation.
My mother spent my early adolescence attempting to get me to wear bras, shave my legs and armpits, and wear makeup.
Mostly because her mother forbade all these things until she was in her mid teens.
She also spent years telling me my clothing sense was terrible. (It isn’t.) But she stopped! I had to tell her more than once, and it took a while (years), but she no longer says mean things. Telling her as a kid didn’t work, but telling her as an adult did.
This will end. You will get to leave. Please be safe until then. Recognize that you have been adult and healthy. You have the respect and support of strangers.
The Captain’s advice is so good. If it feels safe to you please try it out.
Jedi hugs if you want them.
LW my mother was very similar, without the technology and without even a bad diet to follow. She was more just be thinner , oh good look at how little you ate , isn’t it great that you’re thinner then her. BTW I was about 10 lbs 20lbs under weight , she wasn’t happy until I was below the underweight section.
What I found helped , please note you have to really consider if this is safe and worth it while you are dependent on her….I stopped keeping it a secret, I let her friends and sisters know “Oh I wasn’t there because she got hysterical I wasn’t wearing eyeliner and harassed me for 30 minutes about it so I left.”
My best friend from high school has been dealing with this nonsense from her mother for ages (we’re now 28 years old). She tried bringing her mother around through appeals to reason (looking up her BMI and showing that it was actually on the low end of the “healthy” range), through appeals to emotion (“Mom, when you say things like this about my body it really hurts”). Nothing. Her mother will not budge and will not change.
So all through high school, she just kept her head down and survived it. She spent a lot of time with me and other friends. She spent a lot of time playing harp. And every time her mom said something else stupid and hurtful about her body, she would tell me, and I would say, “Wow, your mom is absolutely full of shit. You are athletic and beautiful and your body can do so much cool stuff, and even if that wasn’t true, you’re still about 10 times too awesome to deal with her nonsense.” And it helped protect her from her mother’s reality warping, and kept her feeling better about herself.
And then she went to college on the other side of the country.
Occasionally her mom still says really hurtful things to her. Occasionally she still comes to me and tells me about those hurtful things so I can remind her that her mother is full of shit, and that she is awesome. But she lives in a different city now, and sees her mother at most 3-4 times a year, and it’s a mild annoyance rather than a major source of stress.
My advice to you is this:
1. If you have a solid Team You at school, employ them in helping keep your self-esteem up. If they are not already aware of what is happening, get a few of your closer friends/teachers/counselors/coaches up to speed, and set up a standing arrangement where you can go to them for confirmation that what your mother is telling you isn’t true. Every time your mother feeds the brain weasels with her body shaming bullshit, tell your Team You the body shaming bullshit, and they become your personal Weasel Stomping Brigade. It’s a lot easier to disbelieve these repeated attacks on yourself when you have an army of people confirming your perception that the attacks are incorrect and unreasonable.
2. Remember that you have 2 more years before you are a legal adult, at which point you can go somewhere else. This has probably been happening for a long time, and it probably feels like it is never ending. But this has an expiration date. You can survive two more years. You are strong and fabulous and you will get through this.
May the Force be with you!
LW, I am sorry that you are dealing with this. If you want to talk to your mother about it, I think CA and commenters have a lot of excellent advice. If you don’t, and that’s understandable, keep in mind that the body image and eating issues are hers, not yours. I think it’s impossible to hear these kinds of things and never take them personally, but do try to remember that. It’s not your fault, it’s not your problem, and you can’t win (because it’s not your fight). Like other commenters have said, keep a journal or blog if you can do so privately. Stay in touch with people who are good for you. If you get to see a doctor regularly, they might be a good person to have a sort of reality-check with now and then.
And, if you can/want to, try to keep conversations with your mom on subjects that can reliably be handled well. Maybe bonding over other things will help. I immediately read the current problem and framed it as her projecting her body image issues onto you, but she might also be trying to control a child who’s becoming independent, or trying to “help” as you grow up, etc. If you think she might get over it or tone it down eventually, keep your focus with her on other things so you can still connect.
I keep thinking back to this post. Maybe it’s because it’s not that long since I was sixteen myself, but I feel like I just can’t leave it without a comment.
It’s really good that you realize what’s going on; that you know there is nothing wrong with you and are looking for ways to protect yourself from your mother’s behaviour.
And I hope and believe that somewhere in the future is you who loves herself unconditionally, who feels comfortable in her skin, who wears whatever she wants and knows that there isn’t anyone in the world whose opinion matters more than her own. Who eats and exercises when and how she wants, and with joy. Who thinks back to when she was sixteen and thinks “wow, I survived this, I remained myself throughout this, I was so brave”.
You know how sometimes we think about our younger selves and wish we could hug them and tell them it’s gonna be okay? I hope you can feel that – the hug from the future you.
Man, I know it sounds cheesy and all. But… The other day I looked down and, for the first time in months, noticed the scars from stretch marks. And I remembered how upset I was when they first appeared on my body in high school, how much I worried and chastised myself, and tried to come up with ways to do something about them. And now? I don’t even notice them anymore, and when I do, I don’t care, because there is nothing ugly or wrong about them. They’re there, they’re a part of me, that’s it. And… I just wish I could tell the high-school me “hey. Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay to worry about them, but know that one day you’ll be happy with them. One day you’ll love all of you”.
I know that the perspective of things getting better once you’re older might not exactly be much help right now. But maybe you can think to the future you and share some of her strength and confidence, cause she’ll want to share them with you now.
I don’t have advice LW, but I want to thank you. Teenage me wishes that the captain and their advice was around when I was a teen. My mother was a lot like that. And sometimes still is. I just want to send you all the love and supportive thoughts your way.
I went through this growing up except for the Fitbit. Some things I wish I’d known how to say:
“You’d be so pretty if…” I’m already pretty, mom.
“Boys won’t like you if…” If they don’t like me as I am, they’re not worth my time.
“What’s wrong with my face the way it is mom? I look a lot like you and you’re beautiful.”
But I didn’t find myself pretty, and I didn’t have any confidence because she spent all her time tearing me down. It took me until well into adulthood to be able to say nice things about myself, and most days I still “fake it till I make it”. She taught me to tear other women down and pick at how they look, and it took me so long to learn how to be kind to other people. It wastes so much energy to keep living with that kind of negativity, it makes you tired and sad, and it’s ultimately not worth it.
I like the mental trick the Captain advised in other posts, remember that it’s just her opinion. “You’d be so pretty if…” according to her. That’s her baggage, her problems she’s projecting. Find something nice to say about yourself, think it in that moment. Find something nice to say to your friends later about themselves, it’ll make you and them feel good. Your mom is processing a lot of crap she’s internalized probably from HER mom, and it sucks that she’s passing it on to you, but loving yourself and being positive about others is a great way to break the cycle.
Also if you don’t already, take selfies even if you don’t post them online. Gosh I wish we had selfie culture when I was a teenager. Record that moment when you’re feeling cute or you love your outfit or you feel happy, it’s such a confidence boost! I have cool friends on Facebook who always like my pictures, and those thumbs up mean the world to me when I’m feeling down.
I don’t think fitness trackers were meant for minors. Developing bodies have vastly different caloric needs than adult bodies, I sincerely hope your doctor comes to the same conclusion. Plus there’s plenty of ways to get fun enjoyable exercise that a Fitbit can’t track accurately. It’s much better for you to be moving because you enjoy movement than trudging along and hating it, it’ll just lead to not wanting to do any exercise once you’re not required to.
I’m sorry you have to go through any of this LW. You are awesome, you don’t deserve to be made to feel this way, and I hope things get better for you. Here’s a Jedi “like” for all your selfies, because you rule.
So on both a hacking the fitbit wavelength and a taking control of your life wavelength, I might suggest the LW look into some new fitness activities to find something she really loves. (If she hasn’t already. She may already have this in which case ignore me.) One thing the girls at my dance studio complain about is though they may be dancing for several hours in a row, the fitbit wont track much of it, because we spend most of our time dancing keeping our arms still.
I personally love taking classes in different skills. In HS I took fencing, Horseback Riding, Adult Tap and Martial Arts, oh and Swing Dancing. (All at different times.)
Community colleges and local YMCA or other organizations often offer fun classes for reasonable rates that your Mom might pay for. They are usually about fun and learning. (Anything geared toward adults is also often more chill than things for kids, no one nags you if you miss a class or sit out or whatever.)
The LW could experiment and find some things that they really love, It might help appease mom (maybe not) because you are doing X activity for X time but it is also something to do for herself. Because finding things you really love to do with your body is so liberating. There are so many amazing things your body can do and skills you can learn, and moving your body can be about so much more than just “be thinner.”
This is so sad and relatable. I feel so sorry for the LW, I had a similar situation when a teenager and it really influenced me a lot (and still does). One thing tha kind of worked for me was to bring up a study about how excessive worrying about weight and body image is linked to lower academic achievement, my mom was big on school performance so that shut her up for a short while (I don’t remember the specific study, I remember I read something and embellished a bit for effect).
The mealtimes were a real torture because at some point every one in my family was commenting on what I ate (even my overweight dad!) and it drove me crazy, so maybe eat at a friend’s if you can?
I don’t want to derail, so ignore me if I am, but is there anything that would have made people’s teenage relationship with food better? I’ve been working on a basis of ‘look at what my mother did, and do NOT THAT’ but my daughter is really tense about food and weight at the moment (she’s thirteen). Even though I honestly don’t think there’s a problem with what she eats, she’s started giving me hundreds of excuses about why she doesn’t want much supper, or bought a bar of chocolate on the way home from school. I’ve told her, repeatedly, that ‘I felt like having some chocolate’ is all the reason she needs, I’ve told her that she can eat or not eat whatever she fancies and she needn’t justify it to me, but it still seems to be stressing her out. My adolesence was screwed up in so many ways that I don’t know what’s normal. Is this one to ride out? Is ther a magic script that will make her feel okay?
That’s really hard. Because you don’t want to make too big of a thing about it, but also you want her to feel like she can eat.
It might be a good idea to check in with her if you haven’t and see if she is feeling okay? My gut says she’s fine. But treating her not eating like the potential sign of a medical problem it is could be a good step to her realizing that eating is a thing you have to do. A sudden loss of appetite could mean a lot of things. So asking her if she’s really feeling okay and coming from a place of concern, not about her behavior or her weight, but her actual health might be a good way to start a conversation? “I’ve noticed you’ve not been eating as much lately, and I”m worried that you’ve lost your appetite and that could mean that something is not working right. Do you think that is the case? Do you think it would be a good idea to talk to a doctor about it?”
I would also suggest trying to keep lots of healthy snacks on hand, if you don’t already. Like fresh fruit, carrot sticks, protein stuff. My sister actually just signed me up for this “healty” snack box. They are still snacks, but they are “healthy” Maybe signing up for something like that for the family to try new foods? So that there is food available that she might think of as “Ok based on absurd health rules that she’s hearing from media and other people.” (Urthbox is the name.) You might talk to her about what she’s trying to eat more or less of. Even eating healthily and intuitively, sometimes you realize that you eat too much X and not enough Y.
Also maybe some kind of family or solo physical activity would help too? Maybe if she wants to start taking some kind of class outside of school like dance or martial arts or something? Something where she learns, but is also active and moving her body.(And that isn’t weight loss focused.) At 13 her body is changing a lot, so doing things that might make her feel more comfortable in it might also help her feel less stressed. Even the two of you doing yoga or thai chi together might be a nice girl time activity? I don’t know what she’s doing at school but I always felt like the gym there was competitive and not great. Having non school related physical activity might help.
You might also check in with the school to see if they have any health or weight based programming happening in gym or health class. It’s possible somebody told her she needed to lose weight in a more official capacity. (Most likely it’s something she’s picking up from classmates.) But if it is coming from a teacher that might explain why she is so stressed.
I don’t think there is a magic script, unfortunately. As someone who deliberately kept my kids out of ballet until they were “old enough” that it wouldn’t be a Serious Pursuit due to my own experiences growing up in that culture, I feel for you as a fellow parent trying to help my kids grow up with healthy attitudes about their own bodies and about food. There are no easy answers. When my (always very skinny) 12yo was younger, there was a period where she was making sort-of-bragging comments about her own skinniness and I did make a point to talk more about how great it is that she’s strong on the monkey bars, etc. and occasionally talk about how it’s more important to be able to Do Things with your body versus have it look a certain way (if that way keeps you from doing things). That did seem to help – she hasn’t made those kinds of worrisome comments in a long time. I’m also a bring proponent of modeling and normalizing the behavior that…should be normal. Like letting them taste my wine if they want and just seeing it as a thing that isn’t that big a deal (and not forbidden). For obvious reasons, I worry sometimes that talking about an issue can put exactly the spotlight on it that I’m trying to avoid. But, I am reminded of the studies that talk about how families that *don’t* discuss race end up with much more internalized racism passed down to the kids quite unintentionally – because while the family wasn’t passing direct messages to the kids about race, the rest of the world sure was. I think the key is to balance the conversations you have, and to keep them neutral as much as possible, but not to ignore stuff outright because that’s actually implicit agreement/approval.
If you’re letting her serve her own portions at dinner (and therefore I presume she is not taking more than she wants to eat) and she is “justifying” to you why she’s eating x amount, maybe try talking about how it’s actually impolite to make comments on other people’s food choices, and since it’s just bad manners, you’d feel more comfortable if she didn’t explain her eating choices to you. And if the conversational moment is good, that can be a great entry into a more thorough discussion of how concern-trolling is actually terrible and we should all endeavor not to do it, and maybe give her some scripts on how to handle comments others can give. Maybe also replying in the moment with things like “you’re a capable person and I trust you to make the right choices about your own hunger level”, “you’re almost an adult, and I’m sure you know when your stomach is full better than I do!” (said in a joking/teasing manner), “no worries, that’s why I let you serve yourself, [name]”.
Don’t know how helpful any of that is, these are just some thoughts that come to mind and that I will likely check in to make sure I’m doing with my two as well, but in any case you have all my warn internet fuzzy thoughts, because it sure is not easy.
I’d look at her health or science class curriculum at school and make sure they aren’t pushing scientifically disproved ideas about food and nutrition, check in with her (diplomatically!) to see if someone in authority at school has been hassling her or one of her classmates about their body, and take the temperature of her social groups to see if one of her friends has a mum like the LW’s and the attitudes are spilling over.
I was hassled into an ED as a teen by my mother, so I have no idea what (beyond that not happening) might have helped me, but I think that if there are bad attitudes happening in her general direction, maybe giving her the support she needs to understand that that kind of thing is the problem of the person with the attitude and not hers might help her turn that around. And maybe a therapist, someone who is solidly on board with HAES and intuitive eating so that she has someone to talk to that will be supportive and carry the kind of authority you can’t?
If the excuses thing is new, I’d start by asking: “you seem really anxious that I’ll be bothered by your chocolate bar. Did I say something to make you think wanting one wasn’t ok? Where are all these piles of reasons coming from?”
Grain of salt – my daughter doesn’t even have teeth to eat with yet, but I think asking is more important that telling here. The goofy messages about how we should feel about what we eat come from so many sources that I think you need some information about where the “food = guilt -> make excuses” reasoning is coming from before you can start with an antidote against it. It could be anything from “Um… I don’t like this meal/the portion is too huge for me,” to “Someone at school has decided my new nickname is [derogatory fat-shamy thing],” and those spectrum ends are going to call for very different responses.
Does she have siblings? If she does, keep a wary eye out for weight-related teasing or shaming. My older brother used to make fun of me for being “fat” or having a belly (not that it is particularly relevant or would have been okay if I was fat, but I was not).
My parents are both pretty neglectful, and didn’t notice anything was wrong until I came home from my first year of college dangerously underweight.
Being an adolescent can be so scary because it feels like so much is happening to you and you have so little control over your life or the way your body is changing or your emotions. Restricting what you eat can sometimes make you feel a little more in control.
If you are really concerned, consider helping her find a good therapist? I would have benefited so much from therapy as a teenager. Not because anything is “wrong” but because that can be an overwhelming time and it helps to have a neutral party to process things with.
Thank you so much, this is all really good advice. I don’t think anyone has been mean to her, and certainly there is nothing the most judgmental person could find wrong with her body. She does have a sibling who is naturally ridiculouly skinny, though (and that bothers him, of course!) so maybe she’s been comparing her new thighs to his little-boy stick legs. I will try yoga together, she could do with chilling out generally anyway.
Hinestly this place is fantastic. I feel better already.
I hear your concerns.. I have two girls who are 14 and 12 and surprisingly, it’s the skinny kid I worry about image more with. My older daughter eats well, almost anything, has no reservations about seconds. She talks about her body with pride (stuff I would have talked down about she’s like “Yep, I got your hips” and then laughs as she wiggles her butt around). Beyond “Mom, I need new pants, these don’t fit” she doesn’t talk about her weight.
My youngest, who is still in that pre-adolescent stick-thin stage that some girls get, is more apt to talk about her weight (In that kind of braggy way that someone upthread mentioned) and takes extra small portions (she’s also a very picky eater),
I grew up in a household where my mom was always dieting, and was overly concerned because I was chubby (I did have terrible eating habits, honestly) so even during times when I’ve been trying to lose weight myself, I’ve tried to be very cautious of trying to avoid diet talk and negative self-talk around my kids. It’s so hard though when they hear it elsewhere, like school, friends, extended family etc.
I was not an athletic kid and am not what you would call a joiner, so I never did organized sports (which I would have hated) but I also spent a lot of my adolescence feeling SO disconnected from my body. If there’s something like a body-positive belly dance troupe, or yoga, maybe she would enjoy that? There’s a great body-positive belly dance troupe in my city that does classes and it’s great to be in a space where everyone is celebrated. And yoga tends to focus way more on strength and centeredness than weight loss.
Running or cycling can be nice for non-joiners, too, especially if you can avoid the Ultra Fitness Evangelists among those communities.
Hula hooping is another good one! I took hoop dancing classes for quite a while and really enjoyed it, and while the mental image of hooping might be Cirque du Soleil contortionists, my hoop dancing classes had people of every age, sex, shape, height, all of them having a great time whirling plastic tubing around themselves to EDM and hiphop for a couple of hours a week.
It’s likely she’s getting the pressure from others at school. In 7th grade I was thin and had an equally thin friend who thought she was fat. I remember sitting there thinking “Well if she’s fat and we’re the same size I must be fat too”. She brought in diet pills, these flavored cubes that dissolved in water, that were supposed to be a fruity drink / meal substitute. I couldn’t stomach them at all and hated that my heart raced after I finished the drink so I stopped after only a few days. My friend spiraled into a serious ED and by the end of the school year was in the hospital. It was scary. And my mom had no idea it was going on. I have a 10 year old about to start middle school. I’m also her scout leader. I’ve heard the girls talking to each other, pointing out their own flaws. It bothers me, but like you, I don’t know if I need to ride it out or do something about it.
I don’t know if this is helping my daughter but it is helping me. I’ve started complimenting myself out loud in front of her and the other girls in our scout troop. “I like how strong my legs are! They helped me hike to the top of this mountain” “I like how nimble my fingers are. I was able to put that craft together lickety split!” “I like my hair. It’s so bright I never get lost in crowd” I know it sounds kind of awkward but honestly saying it out loud makes me feel good about my body. It makes me more aware of those parts of my body that I take for granted.
And to add on…I’d be interested if there are any males here who could add their input. My 9 year old son has recently started saying “I’m fat” and getting really upset over his size. He’s well within the healthy range, is just starting a growth spurt, and is really active physically. I don’t know where this is coming from at all.
Oh god, one of my very close friends in high school was a horrible food shamer. They used to have these amazing chocolate chip cookies that they’d keep under the heat lamps, and then, YOU COULD HAVE THEM PUT ICE CREAM ON TOP OF THE WARM COOKIE. You guys. For serious. How I am not eating that?
I got one about once a week, and every time I’d get in a sortof playful mock grandmother voice “Fat fat fat fat fat!” (And I’m sure there were other things that she commented on, I just know that was her BIG thing, I still remember exactly how many grams of fat were in that god damned cookie because she told me so many times.)
I know it was coming both from a place of love, and from her own insecurities. But I was pretty glad when I didn’t have lunch with her anymore. Fortunately since I was growing between 2-4 inches a year at the time, I was way too hungry to care.
Sadly, those girls turn into women and they don’t stop. I worked with a woman a few years ago who ALWAYS made comments about food other people were eating and for whatever reason I seemed to be her favorite target. (We were both in our 30’s). She would join my work social group at lunch and comment on whatever I was eating. It got to the point where I started eating at my desk just to avoid her. She actually started a verbal attack on me during a thank you luncheon that our boss gave us for a difficult project we’d finished. It was one of those moments when everyone kind of looked at one another and didn’t know if they should step in and defend me or let me handle it, but it was super awkward! I did handle it. I snapped at her that I wasn’t sure what her issue was with food, but I was happy with who I was, how I looked, and what I ate and if I wanted her opinion I’d ask for it, but until that day came she should shut up and keep it to herself. She started in with “well no man is going to be attracted…” and I stopped her with “my husband thinks I’m sexy and beautiful and until he tells me otherwise, I’ll take his word and not yours. Thanks!” I was soooo mad I was shaking but I took that first bite of food, smiled and turned the awkward conversation back to something else. She never spoke to me again. It was great.
Fortunately my friend has since turned her food policing mostly inward, she is on and off diets quite often. But she hasn’t said anything to me in years. And she would never say something so hateful as that. But in high school she was still learning healthy boundaries. (I like to think me constantly ignoring her helped her learn that that shit does not work.) And I think the combination of kids still learning what is OK to say and do to other people, and the pressures around appearance and changes of adolescence makes things much harder.
Oh god, you’re right, she probably is hearing other girls stress – I know she has one friend who refers to herself as obese (she’s fractionally -FRACTIONALLY – chubby) and my lass may well be thinking that if that’s what obesity looks like…
Oof. I hoped sending her to an all girls school would keep the focus off appearance a little bit. That was pretty naïve, in hindsight.
My beautiful girl. I wish she could see her own loveliness.
Check out danceswithfat.wordpress.com/blog Ragen has a few posts on school “health” programs, and also on this kind of thing.
Maybe try to bring in art of fat women and talk about how beautiful they are as casually as you can?
There’s a tumblr, I forget the name but it should be googleable, that has pictures women submit, with their BMI, so you can see that it literally has no relationship to size or shape or fitness–four people with the same BMI have very different body shapes, four people with the same body shape have very different BMIs. It might be instructive.
BMI project by Kate Harding? https://www.flickr.com/photos/77367764@N00/sets/72157602199008819/
NB AMAB here. There’s plenty of body shaming amongst boys too– I must have been called “fat” many hundreds of times throughout school, and I was far from the largest kid there.
Even if your son isn’t being bullied himself, he has probably witnessed it happening (yes, even at age nine) and will understandably be worried about being a target of it.
A general talk about what to do about bullying and nasty comments may be a good idea. Because even if he avoids being bullied for his weight, there’s always *something* the bullies can latch onto.
My own relationship with food changed dramatically after I read that post from Dress A Day, “You Don’t Have To Be Pretty”. If you have not read it, here is the part that had the most impact on me:
“You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female””
I have never managed to convince myself that I am pretty. I probably never will. But I have been very successful in convincing myself that I have better things to do than be pleasantly decorative. And when I adopted my kid (who is very large, and has been bullied her whole life for it) this was my consistent message to her. Your body doesn’t have to be pretty to other people. Your body just has to do the things that you need and want it to do. And by removing the focus from what her body looked like (which the rest of the world kept saying wasn’t good enough) and instead shifting focus to what her body could do (which was a lot, since she is a very active person who works summers at GS camp) she was able to feel much better about her body, and make food and exercise choices based on what made her happy and fulfilled her goals, rather than coming from a place of guilt and self-loathing.
Has anyone any advice for the mom in this scenario? My daughter is in her early 20s, but still lives at home, she is at school, so I buy all the food. I cook healtfully, but I am big too. I have a fitbit and log calories.
My daughter doesn’t and she is slowly gaining weight. She is fairly overweight already and I worry about where it will end up. She is beautiful and I tell her frequently and she is an amazing person (I tell her that too)
I bite my tongue all the time at her food choices. She just eats a load of crap, too much candy. i am trying to stay out of her relationship with food, but mine has been a lifetime struggle and I don’t want her to keep doing what she is doing as it becomes so difficult, she is not happy about her size.
I know it is her choice, I know that she is an adult and has to navigate this herself. But sometimes I look at her and worry that her choices in potential partners are limited by her size. Because too many people won’t take the time to see how amazing she is.
I never comment on her size btw, and I tell her she is beautiful and loved all the time. But I am struggling to detach from it.
“Keep on detaching” from wanting to “fix” her. Her body is changing a lot during this period of her life.
Make good food available. Involve her in household decisions about food and make sure she knows how to cook and gets to choose what the family eats sometimes. If you exercise together, make it a fun way to spend time together, not a punishment. Read the links in the thread about intuitive eating, there is a lot there about how to teach kids good habits. Answer questions if she asks them, and ask her questions rather than assuming what her feelings are about her body or food. There’s a difference between “I’ve noticed that your clothes aren’t fitting well lately/you seem tired, what’s going on with that?” and “You’re gaining weight! Aaaaahhhhh!” Above all be gentle with yourself, try to practice body positivity for yourself.
She knows (or is aware) of all the stigma around weight and fatness. Other kids and the media are taking care of that just fine.
Hang on, wait, this is not a “kid” in this scenario. Yes, this daughter lives at home, but she’s in her 20s. I think the time to “teach her good habits” or ask intrusive questions about her feelings about her weight has passed. (And, “you seem tired”? Where’s that coming from? There’s nothing in this comment that suggests that the daughter seems tired. She’s overweight and doesn’t count calories. That doesn’t necessarily equal “tired” or “depressed” or “unhealthy.”)
Worriedmom, it sounds like, as the person doing the food shopping, you are making healthy food available. That is 100% the extent to which you’re responsible for another adult’s food choices.
I respectfully disagree. Our culture is now to the point where people in their 20’s, especially those who still live at home, are not yet fully adults. I think worriedmom has an opportunity to continue modeling good habits. I will say, worriedmom, in my early twenties I ate a ton of crap – hello margaritas and cheese fries! I did gain weight, and then I lost some, and then I got married, had a kid and gained some. Keep buying healthy food to have in the house. Maybe try to cook with your daughter. Talk walks together. You are still her mom, but detach from fixing her.
Wow. No. People in their 20s are fully adults. They have every right that any other adult has to privacy and respect when it comes to what they do with their own bodies. Living at home may mean following house rules about things that affect other people you live with; it may mean not getting to choose what kind of food is bought for the household (because you’re not paying for it); and it should absolutely mean treating parents with courtesy and respect. But it doesn’t mean you remain a child who still needs to be taught how to eat “properly.”
You can MODEL good habits for anyone. Live in the way you want to live, and if that makes you happy and healthy, other people may choose to live the same way. You can also absolutely offer advice as the parent of an adult IF you’re asked for it. But I don’t think it’s appropriate for a parent to set out to “teach” what they perceive as good habits to their adult child as if that person weren’t competent to make adult decisions about what to eat or whether to count calories without help.
Good catch, I thought worriedmom was talking about a young teenager and missed her age. Worriedmom – focus on loving YOUR body and eating what feels good to YOU.
I gained a lot of weight in my 20s and 30s. It had absolutely nothing at all to do with “not knowing how to eat right”. I don’t think there’s a person alive in this country who doesn’t know how to eat “properly” by the time they’re 12 or so; not with all the fat-shaming and food guilt that seeps through every single bit of our culture. Trust me, your daughter does not need you lecturing her on her food choices. There may be something else going on emotionally that she’s releasing by eating; then again, there may not be. Maybe she just likes what she’s eating and is just fine with herself. But trying to find out through any angle even remotely related to food itself is a useless endeavor. Don’t put your own struggles on her.
Just something to think about: Not everyone wants a romantic partner (sometimes at [a point] in life, or sometimes ever), and your comment reads to me as having more concern for her ability to date than whether or not she is healthy. This is NOT a judgment, just an observation – to me this says that maybe the internal stuff you need to address is more around the idea that you don’t want your daughter to feel lonely or rejected. Which, while obviously relatable (because who likes to watch their loved ones feel bad?) is not actually something you can control, you know? I don’t know if you see your daughter trying to date and not finding partners, or worrying she isn’t dating (when possibly she isn’t interested at this time) and making assumptions, but just wanted to throw that out there as an idea to ponder.
I’m 40. As a teen, I was fantastically bony with the single exception of my absolutely enormous breasts. My mother told me I was fat all the time, in retrospect mostly because she was angry that I was seven plus inches taller and had bigger breasts than her, and I developed an eating disorder with which I still sometimes struggle a quarter century later.
My advice for you is to LEAVE YOUR DAUGHTER ALONE. If she is unhappy with her body’s ability to cart her brain around, she will do something about it. If she is not unhappy with her body, you must accept that it is HER BODY and she gets to decide how she feeds and waters and moves it around, and when, and how.
I am sorry that you are not happy with your body (as it seems from your comment that you are “big too…[but] have a fitbit and log calories”), but the best gift you can give your daughter is to let her be her own person and work her relationship with her body out in her own way. An eating disorder is not a nice present to give to someone you say you love.
Now that she is in her 20s, all you can really do without being intrusive or making her feel crappy and defensive is lead quietly by example. You say you are big, too, so you can focus on your own diet and exercise routine and when it works out for you, she’ll notice that without you saying a word. Maybe you’ll go to meetings every week and get support from other folks in the same boat, then take yoga or Zumba classes or walk around the mall or neighborhood a couple of times a week, or get a DVD that gets you moving and use it regularly. Whatever works for YOU. (It might not even work for her, you are two different people, and she may also be OK with being “big” because being “big” isn’t a moral failing or anything.) You can work on your “big” status and model healthy cooking and exercise habits. But really, you can’t scold or “halp” her with her weight or size, especially when you admit you are also “big.”
JMVHO. And congrats on how you seem to be working on your own better choices!
worriedmom, speaking as another mom, you answered your own question with your last line. Love her, tell her she is beautiful, and detach from it. You are cooking healthful food for her which she is eating, right? Then she will be OK. It’s not unusual for kids that age to eat a ton of crappy food.
Also, please know that it can be very, very helpful to own up to your own mixed feelings about this. “Daughter, I want you to know that your’e beautiful and loved. Sometimes I may act a little weird about your food choices because *I* have conflicted feelings about my own body and food habits, and it’s hard to detach from those. I will do my best to keep from making those your issues.”
it can be very, very helpful to own up to your own mixed feelings about this.
This is so, so good to hear. I’ve viewed myself as standing between my kid and a culture that’s determined to keep all women on diets all the time, but I grew up in that culture and I know my attitudes about food and body image are messed up.
It’s okay for her to eat what she wants to eat. It’s okay for her body to be any shape and size she is happy and comfortable in. It’s not at ALL unusual for someone’s size to change when they get out of their teens without ANY changes in their eating habits.
I am so sorry you’ve felt like your body was a struggle and difficult and painful and absolutely understand you wanting to spare your daughter pain. But what if someone could have spared you that pain… by making it so that whatever your body looked like, it was okay? If you’d been able to really and truly believe that you were/are valued and judged not by your weight but by your goodness, your kindness, your generosity?
Her choices in potential partners aren’t limited by her body, only by her attitude about it (and quite frankly, would she WANT to date someone who was so fixated on what her body looked like they’d reject every other part of her if it changed?). Her choices in partners aren’t the only things someone can be valued by. Are people jerks to people of various sizes? Totally. But they also tend to find reasons to be jerks otherwise, too. There are a thousand reasons why people will be attracted or not attracted to each other (if at all!) and honestly, she’s 20. She has her whole life in front of her to do awesome things, learn awesome things, and be an awesome person — with or without anyone else.
You’re modeling stuff for her even if you’re not saying things, and believe me, she’s picking up on it. Just because she’s not mimicking you doesn’t mean she’s not responding — but her response is her own.
I know you want her to be happy and successful in life, and you’re giving her the tools and reassurance by telling her she’s loved and that she’s wonderful. It’s up to her how she wants to use those tools, or if she wants to make her own and break her own path. After a point, all you can do is love someone and be happy that they’re happy.
Yes. Thank you, trundlebear.
worriedmom, I wish I could give you something kind and heart-easing, to make your worries about your daughter’s health and future easier to bear. But I really can’t.
All I can tell you is you sound so much like my mom! So much! She, too, only says positive things about what an amazing person I am — out loud. She, too, loves me very much, and is trying her best to convey that love.
She also has managed to teach me that I am ugly and she is ashamed of me, because what she has modeled for me is that no body is ever good enough or above criticism. Just because she no longer tries to control what I am eating or suggests that it would be great if I lost some weight doesn’t mean I don’t hear how she talks about her own body, her sister’s body, other women’s bodies; it doesn’t mean I don’t see her avoid making or eating food she enjoys because she’s terrified of gaining weight; it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt that my weight is the first thing she notices about me when I’ve been away, no matter what else I’ve been doing.
I love my mom, but my relationship with my own body is permanently fucked. In some fundamental way she’s also lost my trust, because I know she doesn’t really believe that I know what’s best for myself, and because she can’t really see that her actions have helped destroy my body image and self-esteem.
Don’t do this to your daughter.
THIS! We learn from indirect statements and modeling just as powerfully as comments directed at us. I’m the not-skinny daughter of a not-skinny mom, who has only very rarely commented on my body and my health and way way more commented on my brains and interests and passions and kindnesses. She is a good mom, and I love her…
BUT I learned from her anyway that my body is wrong and ugly and shameful, because she apologized for giving me her metabolism and frame (as opposed to my dad’s chronically underweight one), and was delighted whenever I lost weight. I learned to binge eat from her, because we’re already fat so what the hell. I got lots of weird messages about the haircuts I should have as a person with a potential double chin, the dresses that were too short for my solid sizeable thighs, etc etc. I watched her try and fail at diets, and her best friend do weird restriction diets over and over again. And without my mother ever telling me to go on a diet directly or coercively, I developed a robust self-hatred and persistent eating disorder.
The things she did that were good: never acted surprised or excited or annoyed if I wanted to exercise/ needed new bigger pants/ ate something she didn’t approve of. Kept a wide variety of food in the house, and never said a word if I went for seconds. Cooked joyfully and enjoyed the result. These behaviors – and the message that my body, my consumption, my activity, was normal and welcome no matter what it was – were the basis for whatever HAES/body-positive anti-dieting I have managed to scrape together since my last swan dive into disordered eating.
[And for what it’s worth, and total aside from this reply: Fitbits work for some people, and that’s great, and I don’t want to knock it. But FOR ME, that sounds like an Eating Disorder App. Take anxious depression, add in body hate and fear of loss of control, and give me a way to track every damn step I take and log every stupid calorie? Hello, crazy! The only way I maintain my attempted body positivity now is by being completely ignorant about what I weigh and the calories I consume and the steps I take. I had a pedometer once, and after a week I was walking in a circle around my house at midnight after a terrible day trying to “meet my goal” (read: not fail at this like I fail at everything), until my now-wife walked in and said “What the hell. I am breaking that thing, and we can go for an actual nice walk by the river tomorrow, okay?”
So, someone’s resistance to this technology that you love! and is so fun and helpful at reaching their goals! might be because it is actually a really, really dangerous idea for them, consciously or unconsciously.]
Scientifically, the odds are more likely that dieting only makes you larger, and the vast majority of people cannot permanantly lose large amounts of weight. Dieting also makes you unhealthier.
Healthy habits are the best predictor of future health, but the only person who can decide what is healthy for them is that person. And nobody owes you or anyone else health.
And healthy habits also include moderation and sustainability of the exercise you take as well as the foods you eat. I suffered a couple of injuries between 11-13 which seemed pretty minor in the grand scheme, and then spent my high school years starving myself and running in inadequate shoes, mostly on packed gravel roads, and by my 20s my knees were so fucked that at 24 I was cane shopping because my knees would suddenly stop working and dump me on the ground on a regular basis. I worked through that (and wore an elastic sleeve on the worst one daily for almost a year), only to have the hip injury crop up in my 30s.
If I had it to do over I would go back and tell Younger Novel to stop running, to learn to use the gears on her bike better, and to definitely not play basketball, ever.
LW, I’m proud of you for knowing that your mother’s approach to food and your appearance isn’t healthy or reasonable.
In case it helps, here is an article about the science of calories which explains why counting them (as a metric of what individual people should eat, rather than as a quick metric for nutrition averaged over a whole population) is a deeply unscientific act: http://mosaicscience.com/story/why-calorie-broken
I saw earlier in the comments “her control over your body has an expiration date.” This is true, and I sincerely hope you’ll get to go to college far away, or at least live on your own. I will guess, however, that this behavior from you mom will not actually end. It very well might follow you through live and pop up at times when you really wish it wouldn’t, ie: holidays, weddings (“why don’t you lose weight for your wedding, you’d be so beautiful!, etc”). Also, I know you’re sixteen, but I foresee awful comments during any possible future pregnancy, or any other time in your life of major change. I only say this to reiterate: be gentle with yourself. You are learning how to establish boundaries and you’ll need to stay firm on those even as you grow up. I also think the Captain’s advice to find other adults you trust is great. A doctor, an adviser, a Sunday School teacher or mentor if you go to a church. You can slowly bring people into your circle and lean on them.
LW, I don’t know if this will be a helpful message or not, but in therapy recently I realized that the messages from my parents (also acting in ways that could be described as narcissistic) that felt terribly dissonant to me in my mid-teens were dissonant because *they weren’t really talking to me.* They were trying to create an image out there in the world and regardless of who I was, the world’s most amazing person or the world’s least, they would have pressured me to fit a certain mold and pushed on the same advice (in your case, the vibe I feel from your description is “Change to blend in through conformity, but stand out as exceptionally winning at that conformity’s values, which I also value because it reflects well on me, so I can feel like I can take credit for it because I pushed you in this direction, aren’t you happy now?”). I think if you started wearing perfectly on-trend makeup and an extra-oomphy pushup bra, your mom would find a different way to pressure you to put a good face forward to the world, or try to pressure you into a certain type of relationship or popularity ranking. You are doing such a good job hearing your own intuition despite your mom’s desires. You may never get validation from your mom about your body. That is ok. Your body is yours and it sounds like you know deep down that your mom’s critiques of it are her issue. You get to decide how you feel about your body. It’s also ok to decide that you will follow your mom’s rules but shut her out a little to stay physically or emotionally safe. If she chooses not to respect you, she’s choosing not to have a real relationship with you, and you don’t need to feel a single drop of guilt for not being vulnerable or open with her. Not ever. I used to feel badly that I didn’t want to be vulnerable with my mom, but as a woman in her mid-30s now, parenting a pre-teen daughter, I can see from the adult side that when I accidentally slip into the patterns of parenting I was raised in, I am acting from a place of selfishness or reactivity or fear, and that I am not safe as a place for vulnerability for my daughter. I don’t feel upset or angry with her for not opening up to me when I (rarely, thankfully, but it takes awhile to untangle a whole childhood of issues) am operating out of my own needs and not filling the role of mom for her. She is making a healthy choice for her. *I* have to do the work to make a safe mothering space for her if I want to have that emotional bond with her. If your mom is not doing that work, it is okay for you to not expose your vulnerability to her. She might sense that you are closed off and it might provoke a reaction in her, but again, you are not required to fulfill her emotional needs. She is an adult, you are not quite yet (though you sound like you are a doing a great job being well on your way), and that work is on her. I wish you all the best, LW.
“In addition to a lot of “You’re not allowed to wear makeup”/”Why can’t you put some makeup on for a change?”/”Don’t you want to look nice so boys will like you?”/”Don’t let boys near anywhere near you!” mixed messages, my mom put me on a 1,000 calorie/day diet”
Twinsies! Mine was the “Seven Day Diet” and all the cabbage soup you could eat but otherwise, yeah. Also my favorite, “You can come to me about anything!”/”Don’t even think about having sex until you’re 30” which had fairly predictable consequences.
My mom wasn’t quite as intense as LW’s mom, but I definitely grew up swimming in a stew of body-hatred coming from all my female relatives (a common refrain was to point to someone they thought was too fat and say, “If I ever get that fat, just shoot me.” Because inculcating into a chubby ten year old (who happens to be on an intensely restrictive diet) the idea that it’s better not to even exist than to be fat is a super duper thing to do). In the years prior to hitting puberty, my body stored fat to prepare for the onslaught of massive changes to come. My mom panicked (it is better to be dead than fat, remember) and started me on a yo yo dieting cycle that it took me a lot of therapy and a lot of hard work on intuitive eating to come to terms with.
Now I have a daughter and I feel like I’m both remedying the sins of my foremothers awhile also protecting her from the proclivities of my actual mother, who, to her credit, heard me when I told her that comments about my weight were unacceptable. Unfortunately, she still makes endless self-loathing comments about the changes her body has gone through as she’s aged (including her weight). She also has a tendency to call people she dislikes “fat.” I’ve explained the iron clad “no negative self talk rule” in our house (which includes negative body commentary as well as a ban on things like, “I’m so stupid!”) but those habits die so so hard. I have to remind myself that she grew up swimming in that same stew, but lacked access to Shapely Prose (my gateway to body acceptance) and Captain Awkward and therapy and anti-anxiety medication and all of the things that have helped me heal.
I guess my point is one, as a mom who is very cognizant of these issues, I appreciate all of the advice and comments here. And two, to say to the LW that as someone formerly in a situation similar to yours, it can get better. I moved out at 17 and (aside from a transitional few months in my mid-20s when I had to move back home) never looked back. My mom and I have a good relationship now and I don’t hold any grudges (ymmv, of course, and this doesn’t have to be a goal). Also, I totally forgot to put my Fitbit on this morning and don’t care and I ate a pile of Chicago Mix popcorn for lunch because I’m a grown up and that’s what I wanted to eat and I feel fantastic about it.
Ah…food, body image and the people who think they have a right to say something about them in lives that are not their own. I’m in a unique position. Growing up I was fairly thin and had a family that was not. Food was discussed all of the time. Diets, meal plans, cheats, restrictions – I knew all of the lingo before I was 10 – and I knew that none of it worked without medical assistance. I grew up telling myself that I would not discuss food with my kids like that – to the point where it ruled their lives. My sister will literally start planning tomorrow’s meals while still eating today’s dinner and has complete and total meltdowns if the menu is changed without her control. When I became a mom I stuck to that rule until my oldest was diagnosed with high cholesterol at the age of 2. It was genetics in play but suddenly my life was all about counting grams of saturated fat in items and keeping the good cholesterol high and the bad levels low. She’s 10 now and yeah…I still monitor her diet. It kills me when she’s forced to ask “how much saturated fat is in this?” when we’re out somewhere new. But if she wants to live past 30 she’s got to do it. 😦
Oh…and the other thing that bugs me is when people say this about kids “he is such a good eater”. When did eating become something that we need to be “good” at? my mother says it all the time to describe my niece and I am constantly correcting her. Cleaning her plate or not, is not an accomplishment. It’s not a skill you could put on a resume. It’s not a trait a person looks for in a friend or lover. We look for kind, smart, funny, well-read, knowledgeable, hard working, good listener…but never have I seen good eater on the list.
I just wanted to throw in my offer of Jedi hugs and empathies. My mom did, and still tries, similar things to me and my sister, and we are now in our 30s. We’ve had some serious talks with her about boundaries, and it has gotten a lot better. At worst, she now just throws in a comment every now and then about dressing nicely for Christmas photos and how our natural hair color is so much “prettier.” Thankfully, it passed, and hopefully will for you too.
If this happens:
She might say “I just want you to look your best!” or “You could be so pretty if you just …” or “I’m your mom and I know what’s best for you!” or “I don’t criticize you, you’re imagining it!” or “I wish my mom had cared about me as much as I care about you!” or “How are you going to learn how to be attractive to boys if you don’t figure out how to be as pretty as you can be?” or “Do you know how embarrassing it is to be seen with you in public when you are dressed like an urchin?” or “I pay for everything and while you’re under my roof you will obey my rules!”
say this: Firmly. With no lifting intonation, etc.
Notice how that’s a complete sentence. It just is. It’s the whole sentence, all by itself. Say it: “Nevertheless.”
Don’t say one more word more. Let silence be your tool.
Channel your inner study-hall teacher.
I have a college-age daughter. I’m sure I’ve messed her up in certain ways. But I tried really hard to not mess her up in THAT way.
Another one that sometimes works when people should at me in public is to put on an amused, understanding smile and go, “Oh, [name].” This implies “There you go again with your silly silliness,” and tends to either cut people off (for the moment) or inspire them to show their butts, which automatically puts them in the wrong before witnesses.
On foxing the Fitbit: take up guitar or knitting.
LW, you know how, three hours after someone insulted you, you come up with the perfect come back? If you know in advance that someone is going to put you down, you can come up with little dialogues in advance. You might never say them out loud, but if you have your mom’s dialogues running in your head when she’s not even there, and I hate that that’s even a thing that happens to people, then you’ll have the snappy comeback ready.
“you’re eating too much.” “Children shouldn’t go to school hungry, that makes it harder to learn anything!
“your clothes are too____” “I can’t believe I found this cute ____! I searched through five racks in three stores before I found just what I want!”
“you’re eating too much/little of this food.” “Friend, would you like to sample some of this delicious food? No? That’s quite alright. We can still be friends!”
and so on. I’m not actually very good at inventing dialogues, but these are pretty basic.
LW, you know how, three hours after someone insulted you, you come up with the perfect come back? If you know in advance that someone is going to put you down, you can come up with little dialogues in advance. You might never say them out loud, but if you have your mom’s dialogues running in your head when she’s not even there, and I hate that that’s even a thing that happens to people, then you’ll have the snappy comeback ready.
“you’re eating too much.” “Children shouldn’t go to school hungry, that makes it harder to learn anything!
“your clothes are too____” “I can’t believe I found this cute ____! I searched through five racks in three stores before I found just what I want!”
“you’re eating too much/little of this food.” “Friend, would you like to sample some of this delicious food? No? That’s quite alright. We can still be friends!”
and so on. I’m not actually very good at inventing dialogues, but I’m all too familiar with hearing negative comments long enough to internalize them 😦
Just out of curiosity, do you (generic you) know what a healthy woman looks like? There are so many photoshopped women in newspaper ads, on subway ads, and everywhere else – people don’t actually KNOW what healthy looks like.
I remember seeing a photo with a lineup of women, all shapes and sizes, all wearing plain white underwear, saying they fall into the healthy weight-range, with another lineup just below of women who looked pretty much the same saying they fell into the over-weight range.
it was mind-boggling.
I don’t think there’s any point in the LW telling this to her mother, who already knows there isn’t such a thing as a healthy female body 😦 but it’s just good to be reminded once in a while, you can’t actually photoshop your own meat-body, so forget ever looking like the pixel-body you see.
You cannot tell if a person is healthy by looking at them. Any number of weights, both high and low, can be both healthy and unhealthy.
If you’re going by BMI… it’s actually people in the “overweight” category who are the most “healthy” according to standards such as blood pressure, blood sugar, chloesteral, yada yada.
However, these studies don’t take into consideration how many fat people have dieted in their lives, which we know is unhealthy, or fat discrimination that causes fat people to receive substandard medical care, and the ramifications of that. (If your lung cancer is blamed on fatness… yeah, you’re not gonna be as healthy as a thin person who doesn’t have that happen.) There are also matters such as the obesity paradox, in which fat people recover better from things like heart attacks than thin people, and have, like, better survival rates and stuff.
It also doesn’t take into consideration mental health. Stress is bad for your body. We know this. Fat shaming is stressful. Mental health exists, and it’s okay to prioritize it over physical.
Health is complicated. Healthism is gross. And you cannot tell whether someone is healthy by looking at them, and there is no definition of a “healthy body type”.
Urgh LW I’m so sorry this is happening to you. If you read this far down, just know you only have to put up with it for a little longer, and then you can hopefully move out and ignore her. When I was a teenager my parents bought me this full length mirror (the kind on a stand), which at first I was all happy about! Because it was an item that cool girls had in their bedrooms. Then my dad told me they’d bought it because they hoped me seeing my body every day would motivate me to lose weight. So every day, when I looked into that mirror, I was reminded that it existed to show me how ugly and fat I was. Um. Fun times! My mother also used to do this thing where she would talk about her absolutely huge fat stage as a teenager before she became anorexic (literally for real scary anorexia so you would think she would know better than to shame her daughter about her weight) and then she would come up with some clothes from that time, and want me to try them on to see if I could wear them. She would go on and on about how they would be way too big for me, but we should check before she gave them to charity. And of course they would be too small (among other things my mum comes up to my chin even before weight is considered I’m bigger than her). So I understand LW. It creeps into your brain and makes you hate yourelf, it poisons the air. It’s a horrible thing to do. You’re ahead of me though because you’re writing to Captain Awkward and getting all this advice whereas I just internalised it all and hated myself and only realised in my 30s how utterly toxic it was. 😦
Anyway. Pro tip – change your clothes and makeup after you leave home and before you get back. I used to do it to put makeup on, but there’s no reason you can’t take it off. I recommend getting those makeup removing wipes – they work really well on even waterproof mascara and are really portable and convenient and if you get the right kind you don’t have to wash your face after. Then you could spend all day with no makeup or whatever kind you enjoy and then add more again just before you leave school to go home. I don’t wear makeup to work every day, only when I go out, and the world hasn’t ended for me so definitely don’t wear it if you don’t like it. I wish you well navigating these next few years – they’ll be tough but you can do it.
My kid is 9 and came home with purple streaks and half her head shaved due to her dad. I wasn’t thrilled, but she loves it. Honestly she rocks it and just seeing how happy it makes her has gone a long way to bringing me around. The key is my realizing any issue I have with her hair is about me seeing my ‘baby’ growing up. Hair today, moving to Europe tomorrow.
Seeing her adventure is amazing.i just have to keep reminding myself that it is her adventure not mine and so long as she is safe, then that’s my job done until she’s old enough to keep herself safe.
I just wanted to say: great job! ❤ FWIW, my advice to other parents is "embrace the fun hair colors now, because all too soon they will be old enough where they need to make Serious Choices around hair color" (not that there is a right or wrong choice there, but there is a reason my hair is no longer hot pink, unfortunately, and it's related to my bills…) and GOSH I kinda wish I had enjoyed more years of playing around with mine before I hit that decision-making point. Plus the added bonus that you are teaching your daughter a very valuable lesson: her body is her own and she gets to make decisions about it.
Chiming in to agree with Ginger. As I mentioned in a post above, I am a very new mom, and Lisa: your post really jumped out at me in a “wow, I hope I can be that kind of parent” sort of way. The respect for your kid’s choices, the taking joy in her happiness even if it comes from something you yourself wouldn’t choose, the reflection and insight into where your reactions were coming from, the making sure not to make your issues her problem – very inspiring. I’m taking notes.
Thank you! The detaching isn’t easy. I just say to myself, she safe, it’s not my life, she’s safe, it’s not my life and follow that up with a glass of wine.
LW, I’m so sorry. I have a difficult mom, too, except my mom’s “thing” was about not letting me wear makeup, style my hair, or dress too nicely. It’s about control. Your mom thinks that if she trains you now to do exactly what she wants with your appearance, she’s setting herself up for a life of control over you. She sounds a bit narcissistic, as if you aren’t your own person, but an extension of her.
So what I did was realize that it wasn’t about me, and count down the days. I also openly complained about my mom to my sister/friends – one particularly WTF memory was of her flipping the breaker to the bathroom while I was curling my hair. My hair was half done, I looked ridiculous, but she made me go out to run errands like that to teach me a lesson. The lesson, of course, was that I should be plain like her because it was more moral.
You sound incredibly healthy and smart. When I was 16, I honestly mostly cared about appearance and boys, and would not be caught dead out without makeup or done hair. Your mom is a jerky jerk jerkface, and her problems are hers, not yours.
Gentlemen With Deleted Comments:
I know you mean well, but “I’m actually attracted to bigger girls” or “Men don’t really notice makeup, etc.” are Notes From a Boner and really unwelcome in this discussion. Your personal attraction does not erase fatphobia or gender & body policing in culture and women don’t actually need your opinion on what makes them attractive, however magnanimously delivered. Thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your vigilance. Nobody needs to see that, least of all the LW, who is SIXTEEN, FOR GOD’S SAKE.
Seriously. 99.999% of the Internet is dedicated to telling us How The Boners Feel!!! and I feel like Jennifer and the mods have worked so hard to create this little outpost of the Internet that it makes me rageblind when commenters like Troutwaxer come galloping in on their Boner Horse waving their Dick Banners and blowing the Penis Trump to reassure us that it’s totes okay that we wear glasses because they were attracted to someone with glasses once!
Leaving aside the fact that what Troutwaxer’s boner thinks is completely fucking irrelevant to this thread and to the question, the fact that they doubled down on their explanations is….mind-boggling, to put it semi-diplomatically.
I reread their comment below and the amount of entitlement and condescension is really crazy. “For real information, consult your local male?” I’m sorry, is Local Male someone I find in the phone book? I don’t get up and get dressed and put on makeup every day for the express purpose of attracting men like some kind of dick magnet. I don’t care what Local Male thinks of how I look, and the concept that some Local Male should be the arbiter of what’s attractive and by extension, how I look, is a simply mind-blowing amount of arrogance.
“Among those who have successfully attracted a mate”? Really? The LW is 16 and this is not a National Geographic special, but way to assume that ‘attracting a mate’ is totes defo 100% her priority.
Oh, but while you’re at it, ignore those pesky fashionista males, whatever the fuck that means. I’m assuming that’s Troutwaxer’s code language for “dudes who are into clothes who you should ignore because they’re Not Me and probably gay anyway!”
I’m am actually surprised he didn’t include his contact information with instructions for the LW to call him any time she’s wondering what Men Find Attractive, because clearly Troutwaxer’s opinion is the only one that matters!
Anyway, this comment thread has been enough of a derail of the LW’s actual question, which I don’t believe mentioned Troutwaxer’s bonerfeels at all.
I remain completely confused as to how a regular reader of this blog could think Boner Notes would be wanted or welcomed.
All the love to you and the mod squad for keeping those shenanigans out of this thread. ❤
Sorry to be the boner. Let me try a non-boner approach and if I’m still a boner just delete the post and I’ll drop the subject. (If this post passes muster please delete the earlier version – I hit “Post Comment” by accident.)
The model of What Men Want, as found in fashion magazines, advice given by Moms From Hell, or what Popular And Very Female Friend told you is very deeply flawed. This model of men is toxic (to women) and damaging and Just Plain Wrong. The fashionista’s model of What Men Want is based in body-policing and fashion-policing and advertisers who don’t care how damaging the fat-shaming article in Fashion World might be as long as you buy their shampoo. For real information, consult your local male (as long as he’s not a jerk) and remember that even a well-researched model of What Men Want is the average of a hundred wildly diverse male opinions.
Or you can go to the mall and observe the wildly diverse body types and fashion choices among those who have successfully attracted a mate. There is a lesson here for the LW’s mom.
Older CA readers already understand this issue, but if you’re a teenager trying to sort this stuff out you may safely believe that your Helpful Mom or Popular Friend’s idea that “you need a push-up bra” or “you need to wear mascara” or “you’ve got to wear high-heels to catch a man” comes from a model of What Men Want that’s completely irrelevant to actual men (like me.) The fashionista model of What Men Want is complete crap. If you understand this and apply it to your life you’ll be much, much happier. (Yes, there are fashionista males, but they can be safely ignored.)
(Bonerish examples of “What Men Really Want” deleted by the author. However, please understand that in writing “I don’t care about high heels” I was attacking the model of What Men Want and not being “magnanimous.”)
So how do you tell good advice from bad where this issue is concerned? Good advice will deal with the social situation, not What Men Want. If a successful older woman tells you “This is how you dress for an important meeting” or “that’s the kind of make-up you wear to a formal dinner” you’re probably getting good advice, and this kind of mentoring can be invaluable.
On the other hand, if someone says “wear your contacts, men don’t like girls with glasses” it’s complete bullshit. (75% of my “serious” girlfriends have worn glasses.)
What you’ve written may indeed apply to most full grown adult men, say age 30 and up. Sadly, teenage boys and very young men are just as much influenced by cultural expectations as teenage girls and women are. If peer pressure and advertising tells them that only a certain type of girl/woman is desirable, they’ll be inclined to go after that kind and feel that other girls/women are somehow second best. Also, if a mother (or father) has body issues, her sons are just as likely to pick up on that as their sisters are.
In fact, some men never do grow out of this. Even well past 30 they still think that only a “hot chick” as defined by the media is good enough for them.
Also, because men don’t grow up reading fashion magazines with “makeover” articles, they sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between what’s real and what’s an illusion created by subtle makeup. Years ago I had a co-worker who never wore makeup because her fiance claimed to “hate all that fake stuff”. When the bridal salon that she bought her dress from offered a free makeup demo, she said “What the heck” and went for it. When she got home that night fiance’s first words were “Wow, you look terrific! What have you done?” (Yes, the wedding happened, and as far as I know she’s still married to him.)
Personally, I’ve always been uninfluenced by cultural assumptions about beauty, though I would have had trouble articulating what was wrong with those assumptions as a teenager, and most of my friends showed signs of thinking like I did, though that was around 35 years ago at this point, when men were not marketed to as heavily.
And certainly men have clear ideas about female beauty, but those ideas frequently don’t correspond to what you’ll see in the fashion magazines. For example, I’ve never heard a man talk about female eyelashes, though I have heard men talk about cheekbones, jawline, or “eyes” (which could be an artifact of how a woman makes up her lashes,) and there are three or four subgroups of female beauty, one of which would be considered “overweight” by most people which can instantly draw my eyes – but the woman I married doesn’t fit into any of those subgroups!
I see it as something like a Venn Diagram. There are two “sets” of thinking about how males view female beauty. One “set” of thoughts is very large and amorphous because it is derived from actual men with very diverse attitudes. One “set” is fairly small and compact because it comes from the marketing of a limited number of products and this set is very deliberately designed to make women feel insecure.
Is there some overlap between these sets? There certainly is and that is the limit to which your position is correct, but I don’t think the overlap is very large, and one set – that derived from actual men – is much, much bigger than the other. If you’re female and want to be confident and happy, assume the larger set – there will be multiple someones who wants you just the way you are – because the smaller set is deliberately designed to make you feel bad!
“Personally, I’ve always been uninfluenced by cultural assumptions about beauty”
You’re the boss of you, of course, but the marketing of a certain standard is so pervasive that I don’t think anyone is “uninfluenced” by it – people conform to the standard, people reject it, but it still is part of the conversation and part of how we collectively understand what “beauty” is. You may not care about eyelashes, but the women you know were raised to care about them (and decided to care, or not care), so somewhere in the periphery of your life, “caring about eyelashes” is a thing. It’s cool that you stand against the objectification of women, but objectification of women is still a thing that women and men contend with, and male reassurances neither fix it nor are needed in this thread, as stated when I linked the Notes From A Boner post.
I’d especially like to dial this particular discussion of “what do men like?” back, since we don’t know if the Letter Writer even likes boys or gives one single crap about male attention and attraction!
I am somewhat embarrassed that this needs to be pointed out, but the LW is sixteen years old, doesn’t say that she wants to know What Boys Like, doesn’t indicate that she has any interest in boys romantically or sexually, and OH IS ALSO SIXTEEN YEARS OLD.
I think that you need to consider the actual terms of her request for information and support before deciding to weigh in about what men do or don’t like. In this case, you seem to be 50, more or less, so probably talking about your preferences in female beauty is kind of inappropriate *to a teenager*, even if she had asked what boys like.
I’m not interested in “being reassuring” or “what men like.” However, I see a strong connection between the pathology of believing what fashionistas tell us about What Men Want and strapping a FitBit onto the wrist of a perfectly healthy 16-year-old, attacking her self-esteem and generally making her life miserable.
I thought it might be worthwhile to explore that pathology for a bit, because there’s probably someone out there who needs to see the whole picture. But it’s your blog, so I’ll drop the subject. Many apologies.
I find it endlessly hilarious how so many men I know are completely clueless about makeup (yes, it’s only a multi-billion dollar a year industry, like video games, which I don’t play yet somehow manage to be aware of what they are / how they work!) and insist they like “no makeup” or the “natural look” – and their examples of that are women who are very obviously wearing a face full of makeup. Like Olivia Wilde on the cover of Cosmopolitan – so natural!
It reminds me of a phrase from Dr. Laura’s terrible, no good, very bad The Care and Keeping of Husbands book in which, along with a lot of other harmful and useless advice, said that men prefer “natural” looking women with “naturally curvy” bodies like Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Lopez, so don’t wear too much makeup.
YOU JUST MENTIONED TWO OF THE BIGGEST SEX SYMBOLS OF THE LAST TWO CENTURIES as the “natural” look that women should aspire to? Are you fucking kidding me? There was nothing natural about Marilyn Monroe’s beauty!
Not to mention the cultural pressure of make-up being needed to “look professional”.
Ran out of nesting, but yes – I want to punch everyone who is like “welp just stop wearing it!” There have been a bunch of studies that show that women wearing makeup are rated as more professional than someone without it, getting better ratings/more likely to get a callback after an interview, etc. etc.
I personally wear a lot of makeup, every day, and I like wearing and putting on makeup, but it does annoy me that the baseline for looking professional is SO much more expensive for women than for men, especially if you work in a conservative office or industry, as I do.
Same here. I like wearing makeup, I like fashion, all that stuff–but it is expensive and time-consuming and while I prioritize spending on things I enjoy, it’s also annoying that to some extent it’s required by my job. The standards for me to look professional are so much higher than a man in the same position.
P.S. I read the “notes from a boner” post. How the hell did you boyfriend keep an erection during David Lynch’s Dune? Just thinking about that movie is reducing the level of testosterone in my body! Ugh!
Also…how was *this* your takeaway from that post?
It wasn’t my takeaway from that post. I was making a joke about the sheer awfulness of David Lynch’s Dune. Sorry if I offended.
I think the takeaway is: Come back in a different thread sometime. Your additions in this one are not landing as you intend. Thank you.
No prob. Sorry if I’ve been “off.”
Could we not? I don’t think anyone here is overly concerned about the levels of testosterone in your body – which are 1. completely irrelevant to this letter and 2. basically the same thing as popping up here to tell us how your boner feels about Dune when I am pretty sure that literally no one cares.
My mom did things like this. She still does, sometimes, although I think she’s become more self-aware…and I’ve moved across the country. The worst part is that she WAS TRYING TO HELP. Like all these things about me were so wrong that only by changing everything about me could I be lovable. There’s not a great way to get around that, and I mostly just stonewalled her, which you could try. Or…would it be feeding the beast if you picked an area you WOULD like her help with? Like, IS there an area like that? Maybe tell her you’d like to get your hair done a certain way or something, and ask her to take you. But only if you want the thing and can actually stomach her input. On everything else, go with “I’ll think about it.” Or “That outfit’s in the laundry basket/I spilled tomato sauce on it.” And keep in mind that 16 is close to 18, and soon (it might not feel soon), you will be much more in control of your own choices than you are now. As an adult, when my mom calls and asks if I want a hair straightening treatment or just sends me clothes (ludicrously not my size or style), I just thank her and give them to Goodwill and it never comes up again because she doesn’t know what I’m wearing.
Oh, and the FitBit! That is so ridiculously controlling and invasive. But I wouldn’t recommend losing or breaking it, because I have multiple friends who have lost or broken theirs through their own fault and FitBit has sent them free replacements. I’d just forget to put it on after it was charged, or take it off because it bugs your wrist and forget to put it back on.
LW, if it helps, try making a mental list of things you would do differently, positive things, when advising a child/cousin/friend/basically anyone you care about who might come to you for advice in the future. Sometimes it’s harder to practice self-care thoughts than to endorse those good thoughts for others. My mother only got through certain years of childhood by making lists of all the things she’d do differently.
If you think it would be safe, try asking your mom for opinions/advice on some other topic. Whether narcissitic or just misguided, her feeling like she’s helping (or “helping”) and having input into your life could cut down on the toxic comments. Only do this if there are areas where you care about her opinion AND you think it will be safe, not open another toxic input area.
I’m still my best friend’s official Dad Derailer TM. Any topic that he is toxic on (so many) immediately gets “SOOOO, did you see that movie/TV/game thing? What did you do? I know nothing about it was it good?” She escapes and I detach my ears.
Context: My parents were threat-y/manipulative (“if you don’t like it here you can go live in foster care/with grandma”), and loud but I was fairly sure they wouldn’t follow through with their threats. I feel your feels
I’ve had some luck with a blank stare and, when Parent uncomfortably asks if I have anything to say, “not right now, but I’ll think about what you said.”
For high-emotional disengaging with a conversation that’s making me upset, I’ve had, as a teenager, luck with “I’m not participating in this conversation.” and leaving the area (I’m going for a walk/to the library to study/to read outside) and not talking to them until they get bored and wander off. You get to choose whether you respond, and choosing non-response doesn’t by necessity mean letting them win.
Once I got to what ended up being my adult height and build (5’6″ able to put up more than token physical resistance, starting at about 14), I could call their bluff.
I successfully used, “Are you going to physically (drag me back to the bathroom and smear foundation on my face/redress me like a toddler/superglue heels to my feet/lock the fitbit to my wrist)? No? Okay then, I’m late for school/work/rehearsal/going to take a walk.” (This one generally made them mad, but they did eventually, mostly, stop commenting on the things. It also comes with a warning: don’t call their bluff on things you aren’t fairly certain they won’t follow through on.)
If your family has a dog, “I’m gonna go take Cujo for a walk, I’ll be back before lunch/dark/in a couple of hours.” is very useful.
Good luck, and may your college be more than a three-hour drive away from your family.
What’s funny is that I had no idea how badly my mother had messed with my self-image until she started pulling that crap on my twelve-year-old. It was eye opening, for sure. She used the “urchin” phrase VERBATIM.
That is often the case. It seems normal while you’re living through it through no choice of your own. Then you get out in the world for a while, see other points of view, have a child, and suddenly you’re seeing the same behaviour through a new pair of eyes.
I’m just jumping in to say, LW, I think you are amazing. When I was 16, if I had been receiving the messages you’ve been receiving, I would probably just have hated myself (I wasn’t exactly in love with myself at that age even without hearing awful things from my parents). The fact that you know you are a perfectly healthy weight, that you know what your mom is telling you is wrong, that you seem overall pretty happy with who you are and how you look–I think that says a lot about your strength and sense of self-worth. You are awesome.
Just in case your mother is the sort to react badly to “back talk” or walking away, I found this strategy to help until I could safely leave my home for good.
Redirect her comments back to her (or a mutual family/friend; send them lots of cards later in your life when you can afford to).
Oh that color would look so much better on you!
Don’t you think this would look great on Aunt X?
But I really like it when you make your X dish!
(use sparingly depending on the dish)
Sometimes it took several redirects but eventually it would end up with her talking more about herself rather than you. It’s only a temporary fix unfortunately but it helps take the pressure off as she’ll be happy thinking she’s right.
Did anyone else notice that the Captain got a new moniker in this letter? I’m sure it was a slip of the fingers, but it caught me by surprise.
Hey LW, late to the party but I just thought I’d chime in, because your letter made me feel hungry.
My parents are nowhere near as bad as your mum, but they still make unwanted comments on my diet or weight occasionally. I have a real sweet tooth, and like to eat more ‘bad’ food then they think is appropriate. I’m back living with them at the moment and while I’m not prepared to give up the food that I like entirely, I can’t be bothered with their commentary. So my strategy is to keep a tin of chocolate biscuits under my bed.* In an ideal world I’d be able to convince them that what I eat is none of their business, but sometimes parents are bad acknowledging their children’s right to make their own decisions, even when they’re 24, and for me subtle subterfuge is just less exhausting.
I’m telling you this because I think its important you know that even if you can’t convince your mum that her diet for you is unhealthy or unreasonable, you don’t have to play by her rules. Eat what you want when she’s not around, and don’t feel guilty about it. If you buy your lunch at school, get the option you want, not the one your mum would approve of. If you’ve got any disposable income of your own, occasionally use it to buy yourself your favourite snack on the way home. She’ll never know.
You might not have a sweet tooth, or a salt tooth, or a whatever tooth, and so this advice might not be for you. But I just wanted to let you know that it can feel empowering sometimes to let yourself enjoy food that is supposed to be ‘bad’. Eating a donut and not letting yourself feel guilty about it can feel pretty bad ass, even though you know your mum wouldn’t approve (or perhaps especially because you know that!)
*If you are going to go full Claudia Kishi make sure that shit is in a container of some kind, the last thing you want is mice or ants leading your mum to your stash.
Love the Babysitters Club reference!
LW, if you’re not being allowed to eat enough at home, do you have friends who could help you out with that? Someone who could bring an extra apple/sandwich/candy bar/whatever at lunchtime, or who could invite you to dinner at their house a couple times a month? Or if you have spending money that isn’t monitored, eat what you need when you’re out of the house? It’s really worrisome if you’re not being allowed to feed yourself adequately.
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