How do you deal with unwanted comments/advice about your body from someone in your family?

I want my emotions to make sense to a stranger, but how do I capture the relationship with my grandparents whom I’ve known all 25 years of my life? They can be delightful and generous, they can be blunt and abrasive. They can be very vocal in their opinions.

They only live 10 minutes away from me, and I don’t visit as often as I could. (These aren’t the same grandparents who Sung and I lived with last summer.) Sometimes I feel guilty about keeping my distance. Am I being a good granddaughter?

Here are some of their comments which have gotten under my skin:

One time I wore a tight dress to their house, and my grandfather made half a dozen remarks about my body shape and how “sexy” it was. I’ve never stared harder at the floor. Ever since then, I make sure to wear baggy clothes whenever I visit. But now, I’m told I look like a “hobo” and a “waif.”

Then on many occasions they said I’m getting “too skinny” and asked if I wear baggy clothes to hide how skinny I am. But I haven’t lost a single pound! And I’m not underweight at all. When they hugged me, they said they could feel all my bones. It made me self-conscious.

One day my grandmother told me “your eyes look exactly like Donald Trump’s. The same color and those same droopy bags.” She watches CNN religiously and hates Trump with a burning passion, so it really hurt my feelings that she compared my features to his.

I know they’re not trying to be rude. But my parents raised me not to make comments about someone’s appearance. My parents hardly even mention if someone gets a new haircut. So I never know how to respond to my grandparents’ observations. I just put my head down and laugh awkwardly.

Friday evening I received an email from my grandmother. She texts and emails me frequently, so this was unsurprising. I looked at the subject line. “Skin”.

To summarize, she said when I’d visited them last week she noticed how bad the skin on my neck looks, and she had some advice (which didn’t even apply to my situation). I was embarrassed. I read the email then stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror for a while. “It’s really that noticeable, huh?”

In the shower I went on a silent rampage directed at the faucet knob. “You think I don’t own a mirror? You think I haven’t done hours of research and bought many products and even gone to a dermatologist? Gosh, can’t wait to pay you another visit so I can be scrutinized some more and then be emailed about my appearance a week later.”

The phrase “don’t use sarcasm as a weapon” popped into my mind. Deep breaths. Be mature.

The next morning I cracked my knuckles methodically and opened Gmail.

My instinct is to be meticulous. I want to unpack everything and give reasons, explanations. Thank you for your input but here’s what’s actually wrong with my skin, here’s what I’ve tried and here’s what I’m trying…

I looked at the draft and something still didn’t feel right. By responding to her paragraph with a paragraph of my own, it’s like I’m telling her: “Your unasked for opinion deserves a response of equal length. I’d like to continue this dialogue.”

The only thing I wanted to say was “Hmm wow ok.” Three words which mean nothing, but also everything.

Hmm” — What is there to say?

wow” — You really don’t need to tell me everything you think.

ok” — I choose to assume your intentions are good, that you simply feel concern for me and want to share your advice.

.” — However, I’m ending this conversation here, because it’s not productive for either of us.

Of course, I need to be more polite. (Although I’m always pretty informal with texts and emails.) So I responded: “Hmm wow ok I will keep all of this in mind, thank you.”

Yes, I’m keeping it all in my mind. Not so much her advice, but that every time I receive a correspondence like this, it makes me want to go to their house even less. And when I do pay a visit, I’ll be wearing a turtleneck to hide my neck. A very baggy turtleneck.

Am I being too sensitive for allowing trivial words to get under my skin and fester there? Why do I overthink what I hear, instead of shrugging it off and moving on with my life?

If I have a relationship with someone spanning a quarter century, shouldn’t I let a handful of comments slide? A few bothersome remarks over the years won’t overshadow all our positive interactions.

Different people have different comfort zones when it comes to conservations about physical appearance. My comfort zone is very tiny, theirs is larger. Next time the topic comes up, I wish I could either laugh it off or hold my head high and tell them firmly how I feel. But I feel too weak to do either.

32 thoughts on “Hmm wow ok. (Just another day in my overthinking brain)

    1. Ahh it’s comforting to know I’m not alone in my frustration. Although, I think it would be more bothersome to experience the oversharing from parents versus grandparents. So I feel for you even more. Thanks for your comment.🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Hello Lizi, thank you for sharing.
    Firstly, there’s not anything wrong with you thinking and feeling wronged. Because your grandparents have indeed been a little too impolite to you. You are trying to downplay it for the sake of everyone’s peace and your own so as not to feel guilty for daring to think that they are being unkind to you. It’s not ok for you to downplay your feelings. More also feelings of hurt. It injures your self esteem and later can cause serious depression. Acknowledge what it is you are feeling. It is hurt from being hurt by the people you care about, in this case, your grandparents. Don’t downplay it. And if you are going to confront them about it or to keep enduring it hoping that they will change, that will be up to you. But don’t undermine hurtful comments about you and your body, it’s not ok. People aren’t supposed to be telling you unkind things about your body. It’s simply wrong even in it’s most subtle ways.

    Otherwise, have a lovely day 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jermena, Thank you so much for giving me such caring advice. I appreciate your support and validation because for some reason I do have this tendency to downplay things and assume I’m being too sensitive or it’s “all in my head.” You have reminded me that I must be truthful with myself. You’re right that I have been afraid to say these things out loud for the sake of everyone’s peace. Writing this post was the first time I acknowledged how I feel, and already I feel a lot less weighed down about it. I hope you have a lovely day too ♡

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  2. I understand completely that different people have different levels of comfort regarding the comments they receive about their body, as you so rightly mentioned.
    I’d say “shrug it off, they’re old folks ans are a product of their times” but understandably, it’s not as easy as that. Hope things get better for you with your grandparents and I strongly feel this shouldn’t be a reason for a stain in your relationship. In this uncertain life, what we always regret the most (especially in the most unforeseen of situations) is the trivial issues we allowed to grow enough to cause bitterness in our relationships. Body consciousness is becoming very common among young women and it is NOT trivial, but compared to the fragility and uncertainties of life, it is quite insignificant. (When people call me “teen grandma”, they ain’t wrong 🙈)
    I’m glad you were able to pour your heart out here and hope things get better for you. Lots of love 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! This is similar to what I’ve been telling myself, but you phrased it much more eloquently. Like you said, life is so uncertain and fragile. I often think about how I’ll feel after my grandparents pass away, and I really don’t want to look back and regret that I allowed a handful of comments to drive a wedge between us. I don’t want to become bitter, so I think I either need to speak up for myself in the moment, or practice letting go. Probably a bit of both. Writing all my thoughts out in this little safe space was my first step toward getting things figured out.🙂 And I’m truly blessed to receive such helpful feedback.

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  3. I had to laugh – not at your situation but at my own. When I was 26 and getting married, my grandmother made a negative comment about my nose – how it was shaped. I was very taken aback (and hurt too). It was a few days later and she had made another remark. I had been trying to think of a way to counter her comments and it dawned on me. I would ask her how she over came the issue. So my response was, “Daddy (my father, her son) says I have a nose just like yours and his. What did you do to make it look so good? Did you have surgery?” She didn’t know how to respond – I had complimented her nose, said mine looked like hers. She muttered that she had never had surgery. After the wedding the photographer had gotten a photo of my father, my grandmother, and her brother all sitting in a row – it was a profile photo of them with the same nose! She never commented on my appearance after that – except to tell me how pretty I looked! Instead of focusing on how you look through her eyes – maybe point out how similar you look. It might change the dynamic?!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you for sharing this anecdote and giving me such thoughtful advice. What a great story! It made me chuckle.😁 Yes, there’s something a bit absurd about a relative making a negative comment about your appearance when it is a family trait…”excuse me? You’re the one who gave me these genes!!” I’m inspired by how you met her cynicism with a compliment. It seems like your positivity (and the wedding photo) changed her perspective, and now she celebrates the family nose. If I had inherited my grandmother’s eyes, I would love to use this tactic. But she has lovely brown eyes so I can’t point out a similarity. Regardless, I’m going to take your wisdom to heart and stop focusing so much on how I may look through her eyes.

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  4. Hi Lizi. The way I see it, this can go in two different directions, the discomfort they make you feel with their commentary can cause you to lessen the relationship. Or you can have a conversation and try to improve the relationship. Some people can change and are willing to change for greater intimacy. Some people wouldn’t budge if a boulder rolled down on them. You probably have some idea which type your grandparents are. If there is real warmth there, you might be able to say that comments on your physicality make you want to retreat and ask if they can try and just say nice things. I have no idea what is best but if a relationship can improve, I am all for that. It’s also great to use humor to diffuse the situation. You could say, I know you love me and want what’s best for me, so thank you for that, but I want you tell me I’m beautiful even if I come over after wrestling a wild boar in a mud pit. And then I want to have tea with you and talk about Squid Game. Or whatever is topical and not at all triggery. Good luck! I am rooting for you!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ok, first of all shoutout Squid Game!! Are our lives linked? because I swear I just started watching it over the weekend!
      Thank you for writing such a positive and helpful comment. You made me laugh with “tell me I’m beautiful even if I come over after wrestling a wild boar in a mud pit.” 😁 Your advice also gives me clarity about how I have 2 choices: either pull away (which I feel like I’m currently doing) or use my words like the adult I am and try to improve things. The one thing I don’t want to do is suffer in silence and/or feel like I’m being too sensitive. I plan to use this relationship as an opportunity to practice speaking up in the moment, if and when uncomfortable comments are made. I think they will adjust for me, but if they don’t know how I feel, how can I expect any change? Thank you for the good luck ♡

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  5. Oh, Lizi, I am so sorry to read of this abusive behaviour from your own grandparents. I can only guess that they’ve always been like this and aren’t likely to change. Responding aggressively won’t help, because my guess is that they don’t see their own words and deeds as aggressive, just yours. The best thing may be to try to limit your interactions and your replies and look for emotional support from friends and family members who are better at providing it. I say all this as a grandmother!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Jane, thank you so much for your supportive words. It’s really helpful to receive advice from the perspective of a grandmother. I’m not sure if my grandparents were always so blunt… perhaps I only started noticing it in the past couple years? My post painted them in the most negative light, but I believe they are good people who are just deeply oblivious to how their words affect others/what’s appropriate to say. Regardless of how things unfold, this whole situation has made me super grateful for all the family and friends in my life who are more tactful. Thank you for giving me great food for thought. 🙂

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  6. As a parent and grandparent, I know that is sometimes hard to keep up with what is acceptable and what is not. “Gran, it makes me uncomfortable when you say things like that,” is totally polite and gives me reassurance in our relationship. Boundaries build strong relationships.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful and helpful feedback. It’s reassuring to hear (from a grandparent) that it will not be disrespectful to say how I feel. Even though I’m well into adulthood I still feel like I’m figuring out how to transition into an adult relationship with them. Your reminder that boundaries establish strong relationships brings me a sense of peace. 🙂

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  7. My paternal grandmother who did love all her grandchildren as best she could did step over lines. Fortunately my father ran interference for all his children and was quick to confront his mother. That helped. His mother did have a hard life (her father was shot and killed by her brother) and she had no education past grade school. I knew at a young age that I was the adult in the room and loved her back as best I could. At least she taught me how to be a better grandparent.

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    1. Thanks Geoff for sharing the valuable insight from your experience. It sounds like your grandmother had a difficult life and that contributes to people being rough around the edges and stepping over the lines. I think I’m waking up to the fact that hey, I’m also an adult in the room and I’m allowed to use my words to communicate how I feel! It’s worth a shot anyway. By the way, from your stories, you sound like an awesome grandparent🙂

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  8. Yes, I think you did the right thing of not telling them what you think. Your grandparents may not be able to handle the truth–they don’t know how other people feel about them and how impolite they are. Just imagine if you tell them what’s really in you mind and they can’t take it. Or probably they even faint or have a heart attack, it will be your fault. They are like Monica’s mother in the TV show “Friends”, who enjoys criticizing Monica in whatever she does. My own relatives are like that. They never stop commenting that I am one shade darker than my relatives and I am not as athletic as my cousins. When I refrain from their comments and reduce my communication with them, they would say I am cross and I am jealous because of my average look. Relatives are sent by gods to remind us how shallow we can be if we don’t improve ourselves.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to write such thoughtful feedback. 🙂 I feel validated and also humbled, since my troubles are a handful of remarks from two family members meanwhile you have had to deal with what sounds like years of unfair, harsh criticism from many more relatives. Like the analogy to Monica’s mother, with people like that all you can do is reduce communication and not stoop to their level. Having strong boundaries is what preserves your spirit. Also, you gave me an excellent reminder that not everyone is willing or even physically able to handle the truth about themselves. It’s not our job to be the judge and jury for someone’s behavior. To echo your profound last sentence: at least we have the gift of observing up-close what NOT to do.

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  9. I myself have been the receiver of unkind words, both on purpose and not, and I often say that others’ words are a reflection of them more than they are of me. Of course, I also take stock on whether there’s a common theme I need to address. Like if ten people tell me I stink, then maybe I should look into it. But if people make fun of me because of my height, then that slides right off my skin. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for such a kind and thoughtful comment to my somewhat petty post…
      I appreciate your wisdom that others’ words are more a reflection of who they are, rather than an accurate observation of me. Especially if it’s a random comment here and there. I’m always inspired by people who can let rude words slide off their skin, that’s the kind of person I hope to be someday.🙂 What a great attitude you have.

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