My parents body-shame me

20 Feb 2018

The problem: I am being constantly body-shamed by my family, and it hurts.

I moved to the UK years ago and built up a good career. I am finishing my master’s degree part-time while working full-time; I have also recently started my first managerial role. Juggling my studies and a full-time job, means I go back to my country only once a year.

However, every time is the same: the first thing my parents say is that I have got fatter, since I went from a size 12 to a size 18. They ration my food. They are also keen to let me know that I have to stop eating badly before I go back to the UK.

This has been going on for years, and I am fed up. When I started working in the UK, I was paid very little and struggled to get the money for a flight;. In the past couple of years, I have started to feel very anxious before going back, and now I have mixed feelings about seeing them again.

The answer of a psychoanalytical psychotherapist:

Catherine Crowther, a psychoanalytical psychotherapist (bpc.org.uk). says, “A size 18 is hardly obese, so it is not as if they can use your health as an excuse for their “concern”. In any case, a far more constructive idea would be to make you feel safe and supported so that you might open up about why you have gained weight – if it bothers you.”

She wonders if the food/weight issue has become a focus, a cipher for something else that has gone wrong between you and your parents?

Maybe your parents felt left behind by your moving and that commenting on your weight was a way of expressing that? Your parents may feel as if they have lost track of you, suggests Crowther, and one thing they feel they can do is comment on your weight. Of course, we want to stress, this does not make it OK.

It is not surprising you feel anxious, continues she, your parents are reducing you to little more than your weight. I understand how despairing that can make you feel. They should be focusing on how wonderful it is to see you.

There must be a certain rage that when you go back they are not seeing you, Crowther says. They don’t see your achievements – and you have achieved a lot – only your weight gain.

She also wonders if there was something in you that was – perhaps – rebelling against your parents, in defiance?

She advises – not to say that it is easy – why you couldn’t try to make a joke of it and say, “Yes, I love my food”? She comments this way on your practice to receive comfort from food in stress situations. Of course, eating is a classic way to self-soothe and avoid emotions. But the relief is usually short-lived and the feelings perpetuate. You may want to look at this a bit more.

Practically, you can’t never see your parents again because of this (unless there is more to it than their comments). One way round it may be to Skype, so they can see you more and you can get this issue out of the way before you meet them. Or you could face it head on and say: “I find it really upsetting when you say this – is that all I am to you?” Would it upset you if anyone said it, or is it upsetting because it is your parents? In other words, is it what is being said or who is saying it?

Of course it would better for all of you, she advises, if you think about how you could establish a peaceful relationship with your parents and with yourself. It is always possible and of great importance.

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