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.