Introducing Aunt Fattie

Editors’ note: We frequently get emails and blog comments in which readers ask for advice. The questions range from “how do I learn to love myself” through niceties of interpersonal and office politics. We’d been saying for a while that we should start a regular advice column feature to address our readers’ needs, but the below question was so poignant and universal that it finally got us off our fat asses. And so we present the first installment of “Ask Aunt Fattie.”

If you’ve got your own questions on fat, fatphobia, fatshion, and fatiquette, send them to auntfattie@gmail.com.

Dear Aunt Fattie,

I am in dire, dire need of help. Before I start, I’ve been reading FA blogs for about a year now, practicing HAES, exercising more, elevating self esteem, etc. I thought I was finally happy…

…until just now, when I had a bath. My mum was there, showing me where the candles and bubble bath was, when she asked me to weigh myself. I stepped on the scales; it was 99.3 kilos [219 pounds]. I’m 14 and 167cm [about 5’5”].

She said “oh, you’ve put on a bit” – from 96 at the end of last year. I don’t really remember what happened next, but she launched into a lecture, which I was crying all the way through.

I really don’t know what to do. She’s been on my case for years and years. The lecture can be translated as “You will have health problems unless you lose weight. I want you to because I love you.” She thought I was crying not because of her torrent of abuse, but because I never thought I could lose weight and that made me desperate. She rattled off a list of friends and family who were trying to lost weight. She even said “Every five kilos you lose you can do something really fun, like a reward.”

Now that you know my situation, I need help. Any way – comforting words, studies I could show my mother, just help. And the scariest thing is that it’s fucking tempting to give in and try and lose weight. Acceptance! Rewards! No more fights! There’s even a kid at my school who constantly calls me fat, and even said he could catch diabetes off me because I’m a “bit overweight”. I wouldn’t miss that.

But I don’t want to lose myself in losing weight. I’m between a rock and a hard place here.

- Non-Dieting Daughter

Aunt Fattie’s response below the fold…

Dear NDD,

When you’re a parent, there are basically only two options: either you ultimately want what’s best for your kids, or you’re a sociopath. You’d know if you were dealing with the latter, and from your letter I think it’s clear that you aren’t. So the question becomes: why does your mom think that losing weight is what’s best for you, and how can you let her know that she’s doing more harm than good?

When you think about it, her attitude is pretty easy to understand. In fact, you said it yourself – in a fatphobic culture, there are a lot of reasons to want to lose weight. Your mom thinks weight loss will make you healthier, and why wouldn’t she? Unless you’re actively seeking out study results without spin, “fat is unhealthy” is the only message you’re going to get; your mom probably has no idea that it’s not as simple as all that. She also thinks losing weight will make you happier, and again, you can see where that’s coming from. In real life, if you were skinny, you’d have other troubles, because you’re 14 and it’s a turbulent and difficult time, but that’s not how she’s seeing it right now. Instead, she thinks – and not without reason! – that life is tough on a fat kid, and she wants your life to be as easy and happy and idyllic as possible, because she’s your mom.

Basically, your mom has the Fantasy of Being Thin by proxy. Just as you sometimes find yourself thinking that everything would be simple and beautiful if you could only lose weight, your mom – who, remember, is getting the full impact of the Obesity Panic without any of the mitigating messages like Health At Every Size – fantasizes about you losing weight and thus being able to stride through life without pain or obstacles or anxiety. Of course it doesn’t work that way – that’s why it’s a fantasy. But you can understand where she’s coming from.

So, what do you do? Well, the best approach would be to talk to your mom, starting from the perspective that she’s trying to help you, not persecute you. (Even better if you guys can be out having tea or lunch at the time, rather than talking to her while she’s trying to read or cook.) The conversation would go kind of like this: “Mom, I understand that you have my best interests at heart, but trying to lose weight won’t make me happy. It won’t even make me thinner, or at least not for very long. It’ll just make me miserable and malnourished. I know that you’re just trying to protect me, but I don’t want to be protected from my body – I just want to be protected from having to hate, starve, or punish it. How would you feel about helping me be happy by liking myself, instead of by changing myself?” You can even say “if you are worried about my health, I’d love to take walks/swims/yoga classes with you, but only if we don’t make it about weight loss.” If you guys don’t have the kind of relationship where a face-to-face discussion is easy, you might even write her a letter.

If you have to break out the big guns, you may want to show your mom this press release about how teasing and anxiety about weight makes teenage girls more likely to have eating disorders (but not more likely to be thin). Make sure she understands that eating disorders, while they are mental illnesses and not simply extreme diets, can be triggered by dieting behavior, and that girls your age are very susceptible. I don’t recommend framing this as a threat, of course! But it’s important for your mom to understand that you’re actually taking a very mature, reasonable approach to your own health, and that includes looking out for your mental health as well.

Finally, along those lines: give her reason to believe that you are keeping yourself healthy. She may feel skeptical about Health at Every Size, so do everything you can to show her that your health is as important to you as it is to her. That means not smoking, not getting involved in drugs and other risky behaviors, trying to get enough sleep, being active when you can, and not bellyaching too much about regular medical checkups. It might even mean taking the lead on things like reminding her that it’s time for your dentist appointment. Did you ever try to convince your parents that you could take care of a dog? Think of it like that – you’re demonstrating extra responsibility, to show that she can entrust you with stewardship of your body. This seems weird, because of course you’re fundamentally in charge of your own body – but your mom thinks of you as a kid and probably will until you’re 50, so she may need extra encouragement.

And if you don’t do regular exercise, this is a great time to start – not for weight loss, and not just for showing that you care about your health, but because finding physical activities that are fun for you will help you learn what your body’s capable of, and love it even more. If it’s financially feasible in your family, ask your mom to show her support of your physical and mental health (NOT your weight loss) by helping you find some classes to try out. This is a perfect time to explore your interests and abilities – if you turn out to fall in love with ice skating or rugby or cycling or bowling, just imagine how good you’ll be at it by the time you’re Aunt Fattie’s age!

54 thoughts on “Introducing Aunt Fattie

  1. This is wonderful. I just wish I, at almost 30, had enough guts to have that conversation with my mom.

    Best of luck and many hugs to Non-Dieting Daughter.

  2. I second Sweet Machine- Huzzah for Aunt Fattie!

    And at 14, your body’s still changing. Mine was. I know I’m unusual in many respects, but I don’t think that was one of them. (Or was it?)

    I’d love to show Mom some other HAES and FA posts, not necessarily in a here’s-what-you-should-think-Ma but in a this is what I think and where I’m coming from.

  3. the worst day of my life – the day my step-mom looked at what I was wearing and told me I looked pregnant. I was a pre-teen and was just humiliated and embarassed beyond all reason. Parents want to help. They want you to be happy and healthy. They aren’t TRYING to kill every ounce of self-esteem we have… it just works out that way sometimes *sigh*

  4. A double woot for Aunt Fattie!

    I’m 26 and I still get that b.s. from my own mother. I know she cares about me, but she takes a bit too far as other mothers are apt to do sometimes.

    And I agree with Carrie that you’re only 14 kiddo, and there are still some changes that you’re going through at the moment. And I agree that it’s probably best to chit-chat with her and tell her how you feel about the whole thing.

  5. And while you’re educating your mother, you can punch that other kid in the nose as well. Believe me, they won’t stop tormenting you no matter how much weight you lose, and the schools never step in and protect children from other children.

  6. there’s also the part that at age fourteen, she will likely only be living with her mother for a few more years, and then she can move, and then she never. never. never. has to have a conversation with her mother while she’s naked in the bathtub again.

  7. Aunt Fattie, I wish you were around when I was 14. I still have issues talking about weight with my mom! and I’m 38! Yikes!

    Take care NDD, you are a beautiful girl!

  8. What a great feature, and a great answer. Parents’ intentions are most often good, and I can totally understand why a parent would just want their kid not to go through adolescence as a fat kid. Parents sometimes forget that their acceptance and support of their children as they are can be way more important to the kid than social acceptance. Even though I’d rather have died than admitted it at times, I know that what my parents thought of me, whether I knew they loved and accepted me, was life and death compared to what my peers thought.

  9. Great advice – I have two points to add from my own experience as a fat daughter:

    1. In addition to showing your mum the press release mentioned in the text talk about how it makes you feel if she wants you to lose weight. When I was a teenager, my mum used to say that I was “such a pretty girl but that I would be even prettier if I lost weight”. Although she did not intend it she hurt me terribly with that. When I told her recently how much that hurt me back then she was really, really shocked – and I realized that she would have appreciated it if I had told her earlier.

    2. Be patient. It is very possible that your mum won’t get the message the first time you talk about her – or at least that she won’t get it completely. A lot of people will agree with you that you should not focus too much on your weight and then if you lose weight with or without trying they will compliment you. If your mum does things like that remind her that weight loss is not something you are aiming for. That can be very hard because it is so nice to get praise, but you reenforce the idea that weight loss is good if you accept praise for it unchallenged – and in the end make things harder for you.

    Finally – I don’t know how feasible it is for you, but if you are close to your mum and you like to do things with her one great way to get the message across is to do body positive things together. For me that meant doing a dance workshop with my mum. That also ties in with the advice above that said it might be a good idea to show your mum that you care about your health. However, take care that it is a fun activity.

  10. *applause*

    there’s also the part that at age fourteen, she will likely only be living with her mother for a few more years, and then she can move, and then she never. never. never. has to have a conversation with her mother while she’s naked in the bathtub again.

    Great Haruhi Suzumiya, I can’t wait for this. *is 19 and still living at home*

    Not that my mother and I talk while I’m in the tub, ’cause that’s me time, but she tries to put us on family diets that make me want to scream. And it’s a lot more difficult starting the whole HAES conversation with the folks because

    1) My mother is basically convinced that I am determined to disagree with her on everything, which isn’t true. The fact that I do disagree with her on many things hasn’t got anything to do with what her opinions on those matters are, but instead on that fact that I’m capable of making basic observations on the world around me and have come to some (seemingly) obvious conclusions that she didn’t. Like there’s nothing wrong with gay people. And global warming is real. And the Bush administration left me with a really crappy educational experience (NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND NEEDS TO DIE). And so if I tried to disagree with her on this, she’d just take it as me being disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable.

    2) My dad is a doctor. What he was taught in med school on this issue was wrong, and very, very basic, but he is the one with the doctorate. So if I try to explain that Science Says There’s Nothing Wrong With Fat, he or mom would just pull out his qualifications and be like “Do you really think your more qualified than he is?”

    To which I would want to respond, “Dad was taught in med school that homosexuality was unnatural! Obviously his education is a bit outdated!”

    But to them that would just prove their point that I’m totally unqualified in my opinion.

    So we just talk about simple things like cake and bunnies and wait for the day I get to leave.

  11. I’m 35 and get it from my mom, with a double dose because she teaches nursing. She visited recently for my son’s 1st birthday, and suggested that we go on a weight loss competition (she feels the need to loose some weight and wanted a partner). I told her no – that whenever I focus on weight loss I get obsessed, and it takes over my life and screws with my ability to use my whole brain for anything else.

    I am working on learning what my hunger and full signals are, which is not as easy as I would have thought it to be. The best message I’ve been able to give myself is that I can eat whatever I want, as much as I want. If I want butter chicken (Indian) I don’t have to eat any more than is satisfying. If I want it again tomorrow, I can buy it again tomorrow. Since I started thinking this way, I’ve found that I eat more of some things, and less of others (like yummy but rich butter chicken). As soon as I think about weight loss, I head for the fridge and eat in a panic.

    I’m willing to say that I think I eat too many animal products, and not enough plant products. That’s something I need to work on by finding tasty recipes, not by obsessively counting calories, points, or any such foolishness. Dividing the world into good and bad foods hasn’t helped me stay thin, and it has damaged my ability to eat a meal and enjoy myself. I’m tired of punishing myself for wanting to eat things that taste good to me.

  12. Non-Dieting Daughter: Your story gave me flashbacks from a very similar encounter I had with my mom when I was 19. I had just taken my first Women’s Studies class in college and was absorbing some wonderful feminist ideals about body acceptance, and I was actually the most comfortable in my own skin than I had ever felt before… that was, until my mother had to confront me about her concern for my weight. And since I hold my mother’s opinion dearly, I began to doubt myself and question my comfort in the midst of a huge fight that ended with me sobbing.

    My heart goes out to you. Hang in there, okay? All of the advice given here is really great, but I know how tough it might be to confront your mom if you know she’s hard to get through to or you know you might get emotional when you do it.

    If you’re into reading, I would recommend the book, “You’re Wearing THAT?” by Deborah Tannen. It’s not about FA, but about mother-daughter relationships, and it gave me an entirely new perspective on my mom that has really helped my relationship with her, despite some of our differences over things like my weight.

    And Aunt Fattie: You rock!

  13. Time-Machine,

    My dad isn’t a doctor, but otherwise he would fit right in with your family. How ’bout we throw them together and then the two of us go off and eat some baby flavored donuts?

    Though I do like talking about bunnies. Hop hop.

  14. Time-Machine,

    My dad isn’t a doctor, but otherwise he would fit right in with your family. How ’bout we throw them together and then the two of us go off and eat some baby flavored donuts?

    Sounds like a plan. I love me some baby flavoured donuts.

    Actually, on that note, I have white cheddar popcorn and NetFlix movies. Yessssss. Tonight will be fun.


    Though I do like talking about bunnies. Hop hop.

    My dad has a tendency to not want to stop talking if he hasn’t convinced you he is right yet. If you leave and walk away, he’ll follow you. If you tell him you really don’t want to argue anymore, can you just agree to disagree, he’ll keep talking. If you leave and come back again, he’ll start where you left off. No matter how many times you tell him to please stop. So finally one day I yelled “WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT THIS ANYMORE. WE ARE ONLY TALKING ABOUT CAKES AND BUNNIES.”

    And then every time he would try to bring up controversial bits of conversation again, I would respond by yelling “CAKES AND BUNNIES! OHMIGOSH! CAKES AND BUNNIES!!!”

    So that now “Cakes and Bunnies” has become our code for “I’ve asked you stop. You’re now verbally harassing me. STFU please.”

  15. Hey all,

    Now I feel really embarrassed because I can hardly say that the letter was my best work. More me whining a lot. The problem still stands, though, and I’ll read your answers. Thanks.

  16. I’m not sure I’ve ever commented here before, but had to say something:
    I wish Aunt Fattie had been around when I was a teen.

    My mum had the lovely habit of going ‘oh, if only you lost 5 or 10 kgs, you’d be such a pretty girl’. It’s horrible and degrading and totally crushing to your self esteem. I still have crap self esteem, at 25, even though I have a boyfriend and friends who love me and think I’m beautiful, because it’s so hard to get over what you grew up with. All I can say to anyone, myself included, is KEEP FIGHTING even when it seems that you will never get there.
    I want to thank every single fatosphere blogger for helping me and many many other people feel better in our skins, even if some of us still have a long way to go. Thank you!

  17. Honey, I know exactly how you feel. My ma is Irish and if she does not make comment on my appearance at least once a day then it is a day wasted in her opinion. Commentary includes (but is not limited to) refering to me as “ten-ton Tessie”, throwing her arms in the air and howling “Will somebody stop her eating!!!!” (she has a flair for the dramatic), so on and so forth. I usually laugh at her, because there is little point in argueing, but on the few occasions that it has been a bit too much I find that pointing out that no matter how good her intentions are, her words are hurtful, usually works. And stick to that one like a mantra, because here comes the “its not how you look, its your health, blah de blah de blah” and you need to just repeat; it is hurtful and you will take care of your own health. Hopefully it will get through because most mothers (despite sometimes contrary appearances) hate the thought of upsetting their girls. Take care lovely xxx

  18. NDD –

    i’m curious about your mother’s personal history, because my dad has always been on top of my brother (M) about losing weight, and the rest of us (M, me, and my mom) long ago realized that dad is just projecting his own insecurities onto M. my dad has always struggled with trying to lose weight, has always felt pretty socially awkward, wore geeky glasses when he was a child of the 50s, didn’t have a car until he was older, didn’t have girlfriends, etc., and so now, he sees M wearing glasses and keeps asking him if he wants contacts. he saw M with no car and for years kept trying to get him to go car shopping. (M finally did get a car, but only when it was a necessity for work — not to go cruisin on the strip to pick up babes. and he got a sensible honda accord in blue-gray.) and so naturally, since M is not built like a professional athlete, my dad feels like M must be dying inside about the way he looks, when in reality he has a very good head on his shoulders and could not possibly care less.

    part of my dad’s concern is also for M’s health, since my dad has health problems that he associates with weight. M doesn’t “work out” in the traditional sense and doesn’t do leafy green vegetables and carrot juice, BUT he does eat some fruits and vegetables every day, and eats intuitively, rarely drinks soda, doesn’t drink alcohol or smoke, and has a pretty physically demanding job so he gets a good deal of exercise on almost a daily basis. and i would say the healthiest of his habits is not stressing out about stupid shit.

    but still, my dad sees him and wants to change things. so i wonder, is your mom maybe seeing herself and imagining some of her insecurities in you?

  19. The next time your mom starts harassing you about losing weight, stand up straight, look her dead in the eye, and with a firm voice say “No.”

    As simple as it is, it may actually shock her into listening to what you have to say.. parents are not used to their children asserting themselves. Make it clear that the matter is not up for debate.. you are not going to try to lose weight and that is that. If she wants to know why then feel free to go into all the wonders of FA and HAES, etc.. but be clear that you are not trying to convince her to “let you” accept yourself as you are; you have already made your decision.

  20. O. M. G. Were we all raised in the same family? The two absolute worst days of my life:

    Day 1: My grandmother has just remarried and we are at her new husbands “cabin” (2-story McMansion) on the lake, meeting all my new step-aunts, step-uncles, and step-cousins for the first time. Somehow or another, I ended up on a scale IN FRONT OF EVERYONE with Mom exclaiming “Oh my GAWD! If that’s how much you weigh, we need to put you on a diet!!”

    Day 2: My father has just remarried to a 40-some-odd-year-old woman that has been a size 5 petite since she was a junior in high school. I can’t remember WHAT we were watching on TV, but Dad piped up with “It should be illegal for a woman larger than a size 5 to wear lycra in public and for a woman larger than a size 10 to wear jeans!” Mind you, this was the 80′s and lycra bike shorts were all the rage, so at that very moment I was wearing a pair. My jeans size was 12.

    I can’t tell you how many “family diets” my younger sister and I were forced into, how many liquid diets my parents talked me into trying, or how many times I’ve lost weight down to 120 only to gain it all back and then some when I went off the diet.

    *sigh* No wonder I’ve been dealing with body-image issues my entire life! In the 9th grade, I remember trading clothes with my best friend because we wore the same size, but in my mind she was thin and I was fat! Go figure.

    I’m trying VERY hard to protect my children from this crap.

    Pet~

  21. I don’t know that I have any constructive advice. But, your discussion about the fellow student and his insulting attitude would work for me. I’d give this example to my mother, stating that I don’t get support or help from peers AND I don’t get support or help at home.

    I’d let her know I empathize with her “fears”, but further explain that rewards for losing weight won’t accomplish anything. I’d suggest giving rewards for tangible accomplishments, like excellent grades, getting an article in a school news paper, a drawing/painting submitted to an art show, or perhaps your volleyball team winning their most recent game.

    Unfortunately, parents aren’t exempt from societal pressures, they’re afraid you’re going to be discriminated against for being fat. I’d argue that if parents took time to focus on accomplishments outside of appearance, they’d more likely have a child that bases their self-esteem and worth on things that have nothing to do with being thin and/or ideally beautiful.

  22. Unfortunately, parents aren’t exempt from societal pressures, they’re afraid you’re going to be discriminated against for being fat.

    I think this is true for a lot of family members. My sister-in-law told me (years later) that when my brother first found out I was queer, he cried — not because he was upset that I was queer, but because he was so worried that life would be harder for me. If I had been there when this happened, I’m sure I would have felt awful beyond words, but hearing about it from my SIL actually turned it into a moving story.

    Family members often cause harm when they really mean to protect you from harm. Pointing out that they’re doing the former instead of the latter takes a great deal of courage, but it will probably help.

  23. it was 99.3 kilos [219 pounds]. I’m 14 and 167cm [about 5’5”].

    She said “oh, you’ve put on a bit” – from 96 at the end of last year.

    That seems like a significant gain in the period of less than a year, don’t you think that she has reason for concern. There may be a medical or emotional cause for this rapid weight gain. Although, the hystrionics should be taboo, I can understand the mother’s concern and maybe even fear for her daughter’s health and well-being.

    I think that it would help to do some exercise routines without the “goal” of weight reduction, but just to get active and make sure that your body is functioning to the best of its ability.

  24. I certainly don’t agree that seven pounds in a year constitutes “significant” or “rapid weight gain.” Seven pounds could be a heavy meal plus being on your period, or whatever. It is true that if someone is consistently experiencing rapid weight gain with no obvious underlying cause, it may be a medical concern. But that doesn’t make all weight gain pathological.

    Especially not when you’re still basically pubescent. Note that NDD didn’t tell us how TALL she was last year.

  25. Oh, I see… yeah, that might even be a physically impossible weight gain in that amount of time, or getting close to it. No, it’s a gain of 3.3 kilos, or about 7.3 pounds.

    Metric to English conversions: problematic for fat people and astrophysicists alike.

  26. When I was NDD’s age my mother acted in a similar manner. She would pay for any diet plan or diet pills that I agreed to take (phen-phen anyone!!!) She would offer me monetary rewards for losing weight. Basically she did anything in her power to get me to lose weight. As a result I have gained and lost over 150 pounds over the course of my 25 years on this planet.

    I am now 5’6, 215lbs and I am perfectly happy with myself. At a certain point I told my mother that I am done with the yo-yo lifestyle and that my current goal is to learn to love myself as I am. Then and only then, if I still feel it is necessary I will work on my appearance.

    NDD: It is possible that your mother is simply projecting her own body image issues on to you (I know my mother does). Try and explain to her that as a teenage girl that your first and most important goal is to become a strong and confident woman who is confortable in her own body NO MATTER WHAT!! Any mother would approve of such a worthy mission.

    Good luck to you :)

  27. To be honest, it’s not always about weight/health.

    My mom and I had to have a similar conversation a few years ago, but it wasn’t about weight, it was about grandchildren/marriage. (Anyone else gone through this one?)

    While the two of us were speaking with friends, she said, for the umpteenth time, “Well, we’re still waiting for Beck to get married so we can spoil some grandkids.”
    At that point I turned to her and in a joking tone said, “Well, you’re going to have to rely on the boys (my brothers) for those grandkids, because I can’t see myself having any in the forseeable future.”
    Mom and the person we were speaking with both chuckled, but I realized we were due for a serious chat.

    When I pointed out to her that when she says she’s looking forward to my getting married/having kids/getting my degree/changing jobs/etc., it sounds like I’m not “good enough” for her. Like “Oh, she’d be the perfect daughter if she only…” “She’d be so much more acceptable if she…” “She’s not whole (as a person), she needs something more.”

    If I’m not “good enough” the way I am now, how is it going to be better when I add another human or two to the mix, or get a degree, or whatever.

    She hadn’t really thought about it that way, but she promised she would never make another comment like it again. And she’s been really good about it, only slipped once.

    Now that I’ve found the FA community, we’re having the same conversation, but with regard to weight instead of marital status.

    The bottom line is, she wants what is best for me. I know this, but what she considers best and what I consider best are not always the same. And more, for us, as “fundamentalists”, I have to decide if I’m doing what God wants for me and if I’m happy doing it. Because, if I am both, then I don’t need to change anything. And that’s where I am now.

  28. Metric to English conversions: problematic for fat people and astrophysicists alike.

    And the fat astrophysicists are just fucked.

  29. I agree with you beckduer. When I was a fat teenager, my father wanted to press me to lose weight because he was afraid I wouldn’t find a boyfriend. Luckily my mom stopped him from really dragging on my about it.

    I still believe he finds it difficult to comprehend that anyone did find me attractive enough to marry, or that anyone would find me attractive. But then, despite my love for him, he’s a sexist….no fault of his own necessarily, just no reason for him to remove himself from his own privelage.

  30. Aunt Fattie rocks. As does that cool old photo of her. As a teen (and older, in fact) I had a champion in the form of an Aunt Skinny, who spent a lot of time defending my appearance, clothing choices and so forth against my mother (who, to be honest, would probably have completely ignored her if she’d been fat – but she was thin, therefore her opinion mattered). Unfortunately she lived at a distance and I didn’t see her as often as I’d have liked. I believe every girl needs at least one adult woman as a mentor she can turn to, outside the immediate family.

    Bear in mind that while for most mothers, their daughter telling them that their behavior and comments are hurtful would jolt them into laying off – at least for a while (and I hope that does work for you, NDD) – there are a few mothers for whom it doesn’t work that way. Who actually think it’s good to hurt their daughter’s feelings because they believe it will, eventually, force her to change in the ways they require. Warped as it sounds, letting on that you feel hurt produces more of the same behavior from people like this. The only solution in this case is ignoring the comments – or, as I eventually found, getting out and staying as far away as possible.

  31. NDD, I’ve been in the same position. My mother put me on diets (and enforced them as much as she could, given she couldn’t feed me all three meals each day, and I absolutely refused point-blank to eat cottage cheese ever) from about the age of twelve right the way through to when I was about seventeen. The last effort was a cooperative one with my grandmother – my grandmother paid for a three month stint at the local Gloria Marshalls clinic, and I had to ride my bicycle up there three times a week (this was in the summer between the end of high school and the beginning of university – summers in my town reach 40C, and are generally hot all round). Not surprisingly, with three hour long round trips per week on the bike, I lost weight. Heck, I dropped down to a size fourteen (Australian) for the first time since I was age 14, and wound up getting whole heaps of new clothes as a result.

    However, the problem was as soon as uni started, I couldn’t afford the time for the hour long round trips by bike three times a week – I was spending my days at lectures, in tutorials, or commuting from the university to home via public transport. In addition, the self-esteem issues that led me to comfort-eat hadn’t been dealt with in the least, so I dealt with the stresses of having to get used to a new way of learning, a new type of community, and being in a learning environment and *not* being bullied (major culture shock there!) by developing a very friendly relationship with the university’s refectory. The weight came back. It brought friends. In the space of six months, I’d gone from the size fourteen up to a size twenty-four, and I stopped menstruating for six months due to the rapid change in weight.

    It took another few years for me to decide dieting wasn’t working for me, and quit it, by which time I’d been yo-yo dieting for about ten years, and gained well over fifty kilos.

    So, a practical piece of advice: if your mother insists on you going on a diet, get her to set a failure standard, where she’ll stop trying to push diets on you if your weight goes X amount over your current weight. I’d suggest maybe 5kg – or whatever amount she thinks is suitable for you to be losing. If you’re still in your teens, you may still have a growth spurt left.

    As for the nitwit in school, keep track of how often they make rude comments about your weight (particularly the thoroughly erroneous “catch diabetes” one…) and report it to a teacher when you have a sufficiently large log of evidence. You decide what counts as sufficiently large – but try to note times and dates.

  32. You are all making good points. However, as the survivor of an incredibly abusive, dysfunctional family, constant abuse from both parents, & particularly from my father, who may well have been a Hitler clone, I would like to point out that, while I am sure you had parents who genuinely loved you & meant well but dealt with their own issues, perhaps past abuse & insecurity of their own, etc., it is indeed possible for parents NOT to ‘mean well’ or to genuinely love their children…that in fact some parents can hate & resent their children, spend years working to destroy them emotionally & psychologically, & they can either actually kill their own kids or at least attempt to do so & spend years issuing daily threats to do so. As a mother who has worked constantly to break the cycle, I know none of us is perfect & no one gets through it all without doing/saying some things we wish we had not & I know that considerable pain & harm can be inflicted even by those of us who do mean well & speak out of genuine love & concern, but it is far worse when one doesn’t live in anything CLOSE to the land of “Leave It To Beaver”.

    Considering the climate in today’s culture, I am keeping all the children, especially my two toddler granddaughters, in my thoughts & sending positive vibes & best wishes to all of you. Growing up with a positive body image & any degree of self-esteem is nothing less than miraculous.

  33. Only my second post, and it is so long! Oh, dear.

    Non-Dieting Daughter:

    When I was fourteen four years ago, my mother gave me the same lecture. ‘I want you to lose weight because I CARE about you.’ ‘I want you to lose weight because it will make you happier.’

    I was about your height and 87 (ish) kilos, and I had been steadily putting on weight for years, slowly and surely, three or four kilos a year. It’s part of puberty among my family – the women develop our beautiful, rounded, hips-and-thighs-and-tits figures early, and most of our growth occurs before we are fifteen or sixteen. I would assume your case is similiar; it certainly seems to be. Your mother also seems to be much like mine, in that she has no compunction about lecturing you while you are naked in the bathtub.

    When I was your age, I never dieted either, and I have dieted perhaps once in my life for about two weeks and it didn’t change a damn thing, and besides, I never saw the point. I knew diets didn’t work, like you, and like you, I had the guy at my school tell me that I was too fat and he could catch diabetes off me. There wasn’t a response to give to that, really, and I suppose there still isn’t.

    The thing, though, about your mother, is that she does genuinely care about you and want the best for you, however twisted it seems when it comes out of her mouth. The problem is that her thinking is as magical as anyone else who has been caught up in the Fantasy of Being Thin, but as someone posted above, it’s by proxy. This happens to a lot of parents – as a recent post said, it’s parents who put most of the pressure on their children to be thin, and it’s parents from whom we cop the most flack.

    And if your mother is anything like mine, she needs to know this: You are not your mother. Your mother is not you.The best thing your mother can do for you is to be happy with you and love you as you are.

    From your email, you know yourself well, and that’s commendable in a fourteen-year-old. Yes, it could be ‘easier’ to give in. Yes, it could be ‘easier’ to make a pitch-attempt at efforting the change she wants that you know won’t happen. Yes, it is tempting, and the rewards sound neat. But think about it, as I did at your age when faced with the same thing: do you want a reward for something that’s essentially about forcing you to change yourself into something you’re not, or do you want a reward for the person you are and the abilities you are capable of? Do you want to be accepted for who you are, or the illusion of what you could (and won’t) be?

    It could be easier, but I know and I think you know, too, that it won’t make you happier, and it won’t make you know yourself any better, and it won’t be easier at all. That person at school will eventually grow up, as will you, and you will leave the same school and I doubt you will see much of each other after that. Those rewards are the same ones you can give yourself by achieving something for yourself. You don’t need her permission for that. That acceptance is false. The only acceptance you need to be acceptable to yourself is yours.

    I know it seems as though it’s the easier path, and I know that while it seems it and you know it isn’t, it’s tempting all the same. But when I was your age, facing the same thing, I weighed it up – ha, pun intended – and I put it into perspective, and I chose:

    No. It isn’t good for myself, it isn’t good for who I am, it has nothing to do with me and everything about what is acceptable to other people, and I won’t force myself into doing something so patently and absurdly ridiculous. Here I am four years later, a little into post-puberty, and I am much the same as I was at fourteen: beautiful, happy, and myself, inside and out.

    My mother still loves me, and she still worries a little, I think. But part of growing up is recognising more and more that what other people tell you and what you choose to accept of what they tell you is your choice, and your choice alone.

    This is one of those choices, and I hate that you have to make it at such an early age, but I can promise you: you will not be struck down for choosing no. Lightning and fire will not descend from the heavens. Your mother will not stop loving you. It will be tempting, and as you get older, maybe a little moreso, maybe a little less so. But you will still be yourself, as you are, and you will know that you have the strength to be true to yourself. That’s important, and it doesn’t show up much without temptation to force it out into the open.

    Stick to your guns. You are the person you are, fat or thin, and your mother will always be your mother, and she will always love you and care about you, but sometimes her care is misplaced, as it is with all parents. She will need to accept that. If it’s not your weight, it will be your hair. If not your hair, your clothes. Something. Anything. It is part of growing up, and the thing about growing up is that your parents, more often than not, grow up with you.

    Be strong. Be true.

  34. a kid at my school who constantly calls me fat, and even said he could catch diabetes off me because I’m a “bit overweight”.

    Argh. Tell him you could catch moron off him, because he’s “a bit stupid”.

  35. i had this argument with my mom throughout my adolescence. i have always had a few extra pounds on me, and from the time i hit puberty was made to be incredibly aware of it by mother, who was always on me to exercise more. she couched it in “health” rhetoric, but really i think she was scared that i would grow up to be overweight and no one would love me, because she is overweight and is very very unhappy with her body. and while i always knew she wanted what she thought was best for me, and i understood how her personal insecurities affected how she dealt with me, that never stopped it from hurting.

    the last time it really happened i was 20 or so, came home from my sophomore year of college for summer break and was really depressed. i had had a rough year, had recently been rejected by a boy i really liked, and was dealing with anxiety and depression issues that i didn’t get help for until after college. basically i felt like shit about myself, and it showed in my attitude. my mother’s idea to make me feel better was to suggest to me, whole were in the car driving to the mall, that i would be happier if i got in shape, got my eyebrows done, bought some makeup, etc. well, i flipped out. i started crying and yelling in the car, something to the effect of “i cannot believe you think implying that i’m fat and unattractive is going to make me feel better about myself. i can’t believe you are going to chalk all of this up to me not feeling pretty enough.” she apologized profusely, and that was pretty much the last time i happened.

    the point is, i do recommend talking to your mom about how you feel, no yelling and accusing, but really make her understand how her words affect you.

  36. Thanks, Aunt Fattie. As a recent convert from dieting to non-dieting, as a direct result of FA sites like this one, I’ve had to contend with a lot of maternal, overbearing concern. “Well, I feel better when I’ve lost weight – it was too much for me before.” “You shouldn’t allow those websites you’ve been reading to tell you what to do with your body! (i.e., that FA websites have been brainwashing me to stop starving it!) I almost wrote in with this question. Thanks for this answer – and for letting me know I’m not alone.

  37. Patsy Nevins, I had a similar experience growing up. And even though my father wasn’t exactly a hitler clone (more of a former marine and militant police officer. almost as bad.), and we have been working on coming to a point where we can accept each other’s existence in the world, It doesn’t change the experiences growing up with someone who resented me and had no idea how to deal with having a child. Kudos for your efforts to break the cycle.

    In my family it was inexcusable to respond with any kind of sense, and while I fluctuated between an extreme eating disorder and healthy weight gain (Getting FAT!!!!! OMG!!!!) my parents commented daily on either end of the spectrum, patting my stomach with a condescending look and flippant comment when I was not starving myself, and getting in huge screaming matches about my refusal to eat when I was. They still do it. And no amount of nicely put, intelligently thought out rebuttals has, or ever will change their opinion of me. And saying “No.” was not an option, and I don’t recommend it to any minors, with understanding parents or not, because it is a trigger word for parents; “No” means you’re not hearing them, and instantly vetoing what they’re telling you. It sounds like blatant rebellion to the parental ear.

  38. I would tell a soul-killing story about the day my father implored my mother to lose as much weight as I had, but I don’t have the strength.

  39. My sister and I have talked about hearing our mom while we were growing up, always on one diet or another. At the time I was stick thin, and very unhealthy, I might add. I am now about 5’5″ and 240lbs..my sister is a bit taller, I’m not sure about her weight, she doesn’t like to talk about it and I haven’t seen her in about 4 yrs. We look at pictures of our mom back then and I wish she were alive today…I’d like to tell her that she was nuts!! At 5’10″ and 170lbs? I don’t know where she got her bad body image, but she certainly passed it on to the two of us.

    I think my worst feelings about myself is that my left breast is much bigger then the right one. Close to twice the size in fact. I remember when I was in the 7th grade and she picked me up from school in the middle of the day. Seems I had a doctor appointment that I hadn’t been informed of. We sat in the exam room and when the doctor came in, she pulled up my shirt (no bra, of course) and said “what’s wrong with her?” Dear, dear Dr. Nelson (RIP) reached over, pulled my shirt down, patted me on the arm, handed me the box of tissues and asked my mom if he could talk to me out in the hallway. It certainly dried my tears quickly to hear him chew her ass out, we’d known him for years. I’d never really noticed that my breasts were different size at that point, I was just happy I was getting some. But after that day, I’ve spent my life feeling like a deformed freak. I know that I could have surgery (if I could afford it) and I have researched it. When I read there would be the possibility of some loss of feeling or sensation in the nipple area. Yeah, that sort of killed that idea real quick.

    I’m very blessed to have found a husband (half my age I should point out) that thinks I’m beautiful just the way I am. Even with that, I still feel like a freak and there are times that I can’t bear to have him see me naked, or to even touch me.
    At least he understands when I get that way.

    Sorry for the rant, it just started and I couldn’t stop it.

    daisy

  40. I love this idea, welcome Aunt Fattie!

    Daisy, I think so many of us have had this experience with our mothers. They don’t realize that they are passing their insecurities on to their children or they say things and don’t think. I’m happy that you’re with someone that is so understanding.

    On a similar subject I have come to hate weight watchers (as most here seem to) and it was partially because my mom took me to become a member or get on the plan or whatever their rhetoric is this week when I was 13. I can’t even talk about how upset I was by condecending women telling me that I was lying about how much exercise I was getting. I was competitively swimming at this point and running a couple of miles daily. I restricted my food like they told me and my weight didn’t go down. I must be lying. *sigh*
    More recently my boss has decided to try weight watchers. She said yesterday that she was really hungry because she just started the program. I responded that if she isn’t eating enough then maybe she shouldn’t be doing weight watchers. Her reasoning? It’s cause it was her first day. She would get used to eating less food. How can this be healthy? If you are hungry, eat! It doesn’t have to be junk if you’re so worried about what you’re putting in your body, but it’s not good for you to be hungry all the time. I worry sometimes.

  41. Wait a minute, I just thought of the best advice for NDD.

    Next time your parents start to bring up fat acceptance, start singing an inspirational song!

    Okay, just kidding. But I was listening to my iTunes and got to the soundtrack of a little movie called Camp (which is one of the most camp movies in the history of campness) about a bunch of kids at a theatre camp. And there’s on girl who’s father gave her an ultimatum before camp, she could either go to fat camp, or she could go to theatre camp with her jaw wired shut (so that she couldn’t eat – get it?)

    She goes to theatre camp with her jaw wired shut, and just before the camp’s big final show where the parents are in attendance, the girl and her sub for one of the songs get into a fight rendering both unable to perform. So they take pliers (did I mention this movie is complete camp?) and cut open her wired-shut jaw and then she goes out on stage and sings in front of her parents.

    And the songs she sings just happens to totally fit her current situation and does a pretty good job of letting her parents know she’s not going to diet anymore.

    So when we all have family problems, we should totally just sing.

    By the way, I totally love that song. And the movie holds this weird little place in my heart, too. Partly because of how fun it was when I saw it the first time with my theatre friends in an otherwise completely empty cinema.

    Anyway…

  42. “And there’s one girl who’s father gave her an ultimatum before camp”

    “She goes to theatre camp with her jaw wired shut, and just before the camp’s big final show where the parents are in attendance, the girl who was supposed to sing and her sub for one of the songs get into a fight rendering both unable to perform.”

    I really wish we could edit comments.

  43. I wish that I would be able to have this conversation with my mother..or my father..or my grandmother..my entire family is still hanging on my ass like barracuda’s.

    It has nothing to do with how I feel and everything to do with Teh Fat.

    Thank you Aunt Fattie…lovely article.

  44. My mum had the lovely habit of going ‘oh, if only you lost 5 or 10 kgs, you’d be such a pretty girl’.

    They teach that in Mom School. It’s in one of the mandatory courses — right next to “But You Have Such a Pretty Face (subtext: What the Hell is Wrong with the Rest of You?) ” in the syllabus.

    And apparently, since we do lbs here, it’s in the International Curriculum.

    Highly recommend Deborah Tannen’s “You’re Wearing That?”

    Bought it for my mom last Christmas. She read it too.

    We fight less now.

    (I won’t tell you how old we are. It’s classified. My mom missed her calling; she should have been a CIA NOC.)

    As Cosmo said in Sneakers, sometimes “It’s ALL about the information”.

    As a result, I certainly hope Aunt Fattie will be a regular feature. :D

  45. Between this and that stupid Proctor & Gamble web site for girls, I’m thinking we should establish some kind of BIG brothers and BIG sisters organization to help out teens with body issues.

    I know I might have felt better about myself a lot earlier if I knew any adults who were willing to talk to me about self-esteem and body issues without admonishing me about weight. Not to mention it would’ve helped me if someone could have helped me pick out my plus-sized duds aside from my mom (who dressed me in unfortunate clothing in styles that aimed at much older women and which were dramatically frumpy on me).

    Even if all we achieved would be to help teens to think for themselves about advertising, it would be well worth doing.

    -Ericka

  46. Well done, Aunt Fattie. I’m in awe.

    Lindra: You said, like you, I had the guy at my school tell me that I was too fat and he could catch diabetes off me. There wasn’t a response to give to that, really

    and I thought, yes there is:

    “Wow, it’s good for me stupidity’s not contagious then, isn’t it?”

    //i can has snark.

    NDD, I want to simply express my support for you, and I hope that you can communicate with your mom about HAES and work something out. I’m in talks with my mom about these type of things too, as I’ve been learning about HAES for the last year or so, and I’m 30.

    Good luck, and be well.

Comments are closed.