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Miss Conduct

I’ve gained weight during the shutdown and don’t want to be on camera for holiday Zoom calls

Plus, drawing family lines.

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Is there a gracious way to ask your family if your camera can be off during the holiday Zoom? Let’s say that body dysmorphia, added weight from the shutdown, and a family where body shaming is a thing that happens aren’t a great combination. Or is lying and saying “Gosh, my Zoom won’t pick up my camera feed. Weird! Oh well, at least you can hear me!” ethically acceptable?

S.B. / Tulsa, Oklahoma

Philosophies differ; some folks are vehemently against all lies, even the whitest shades of pale. I think they have a place in the social tool kit, but it’s always a good idea to question the inclination to tell a white lie. In your case, I’m less concerned with ethics — blaming technology to avoid interpersonal awkwardness is as benign as it gets — than strategy. Thanks to whatever mystery of nature or nurture, body-shaming families also tend to have members who possess great confidence in their computer-troubleshooting abilities, who will be so insistently eager to solve this strange problem of yours that, oh heavens, your audio might just fail as well! (If this were a Melissa McCarthy film, the conflict would escalate until she crashes the grid for the entire state.)

If this isn’t the case in your family, go ahead and use the excuse. Or simply don’t turn on the camera, and if anyone asks, tell them that you prefer not to. You aren’t imposing on or asking a favor of anyone, so there’s no need to ask permission, graciously or not. Another option would be to start with the camera on and turn it off if and when the B.S. (body shaming, what did you think?) begins. I almost never recommend passive-aggression, but the idea of explaining in all seriousness, “My camera has this weird glitch, it cuts out whenever someone comments on my body,” has a certain appeal.

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Throughout our lives, my mother prioritized her parents, siblings, and their children over her own [nuclear] family. Recently, her siblings made a fuss over a family trust, and when my mother stood up to them, they attacked me, even though I was not involved. My mother moved past it, but I have put my foot down. She relies heavily on me and I have told her I will not support her if she continues to cater to them. She is upset I won’t help her continue the old dynamic. Am I wrong to put my foot down?

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J.C. / Boston

It’s hard to tell, given your description. You’re very, very right to feel angry and betrayed and any other thing you feel — your mother should not have treated you like that. It’s probably good to create some distance, but the how and why are crucial. If your closeness with your mother is hurting or depleting you, and you need to reclaim your time and energy to be healthy, that’s good. If you are withholding attention, affection, or money (what do you mean by “support,” exactly?) from her to get behavioral compliance — that’s bad. And if you’re not sure which it is, talk to a friend who understands.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.