I was planning to attend a family event until an e-mail from my mother to her sister got forwarded to me by mistake. “Don’t say anything but she’s gotten heavier. It’s too bad because she has such a pretty face,” my mother wrote. It hurts to know that relatives are discussing my body. Weight loss is difficult for me; I may never be able to look the way I (or my family) would wish. I hate to miss this event, but I am too hurt to face everyone. Should I make up an excuse for not attending or be honest? How can I make up with my mother while still letting her know how badly she has hurt me?
S.S. / Boston
That stinks. One writes to an etiquette columnist for keenly refined wisdom, not blunt sympathy, but that’s where I’d start if you were my real-life friend. It stinks, and don’t let anyone talk you out of recognizing that. They’ll try, because folks really believe that heavy people should gratefully swallow the most presumptuous criticism like so much kale smoothie, and for the same reason: It Is Good for Them.
If you can’t handle family right now, make an excuse. Don’t even think about telling them the real reason you’re not going, not unless you want to become gossip fodder for the next 20 years.
As far as reconciling with your mother, keep your expectations modest. People’s ideas about bodies, and their ideas about their children, are notoriously stubborn. You’re going to get one of those “I’m sorry you were upset” apologies, and you should probably settle for that. In return, however, tell your mother — tell, don’t ask — that your weight is now and forever a forbidden topic of discussion between the two of you. You would prefer she not discuss your body with other people, as well, but you realize you can’t control her behavior, so this is merely a request.
And know that you are not alone. We are coming into the season of food and family, when every time you turn around someone is shoving either a cupcake or a diet resolution in your face. Please join me on my blog where readers and I will share stories and advice about dealing with the holidays.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.