Monday, December 14, 2009

My Niece's Body

if you've read earlier posts, you know that my niece,Jenny, is 14 and the apple of my eye. as she hit puberty, she gained some weight (normal, right?) until, according to my sister Molly, her mother, she was 5'4 and 137. Molly actually whispered this to me, because my niece was nearby (i think it's weird that we even know our weight so exactly. "137", not "around 135". but that's one of my pet peeves, particularly as that's the very same way i gauge my weight.)

my niece has begun a dance program at school and dances hours every day. evidently, she's toned up and slimmed down and is much happier with, as my sister said, "her taut stomach, real abs and toned butt." (Jenny's also wearing sexier clothes and asked for a belly button ring. weren't we better off when she had a few extra pounds and wore sweats? by the way, my sister nixed the belly button ring. we can all breathe a little easier about that!)

during the conversation, i tried to stay very neutral about the weight loss, saying that i was very happy that jenny was feeling better about herself and making new friends and enjoying school.

then, my sister said, "she really looks better." i didn't know what to say. i kind of spaced out for a minute. could i tell my sister that her remarks felt poisonous. did she think jenny was less beautiful with a few extra pounds and a few more jiggles?

i didn't say anything. molly's NOT a touchy-feely person. she's all about taking action. my words would only make her angry.

of course, if i did say anything, it would be more gentle than "your words are poisonous" still, i'm afraid. she wouldn't HEAR me. she'd think i was a pain in the ass. she'd know i was wrong. she'd tell me she's happy just because Jenny is happier. she'd really shut me down.

still, i'm angry with myself. i should have stood up for what i believe. how can we have healthy daughters if our mothers agree that we ARE less beautiful with extra pounds.

i'm sorry i shut my mouth. what do you guys think? is it worth bringing it up with her?



  1. Yep! But stress that she need's to focus on how happy her kid is and that she should be able to be happy at any weight. Maybe she's happier because she lost some weight, maybe this is what her body want's to weigh right now and she functions better. That is a possiblity. I wouldn't go into that though, just that people can be happy at any weight.

    Yeah it totaly sucks. But I'm glad she said no to the BB ring. That just sounds painful.

  2. Oy. That's a toughie. I face that sort of thing as a teacher a lot. Young women at that age are so sensitive to that sort of thing, while at the same time spending a massive amount of energy to pretend like they don't care what anyone thinks. Maybe you can be as plainly honest as you can and tell Mom that your own history with body image makes you nervous to hear any language that might have the slightest possibility to lead her daughter down that same path? I'm guessing Mom might get mad at you-- after all, mama's and their cubs-- but maybe somewhere inside it will ring true? Eesh. Tough one, though. I don't want the young lady to lose you as an advocate!
    Good luck!

  3. I get very frustrated about this kind of thing. It's just assumed in our society that weight loss is good. Even if a young woman isn't told, "I'm happier that you're thinner," she picks up on the vibe of excitement when she loses weight. She starts to associate that lost weight with being more desirable, etc. It's a shame that women are so praised for changing their bodies. Our bodies are not all that we are. I think the most you can do is be a loving Aunt. I'm sure she picks up on your vibe, which is that you love her no matter what. You are no more pleased with her at this weight versus before. If she finds confidence within herself, unattached to her appearance, she'll be just fine, I think :) She's lucky to have you!

  4. I don't know what I would do in that situation, it is hard to get involved when it is family and everything is very sensitive. But when it is my own daughter I speak up. My mother in law said to my daughter, "Your behind doesn't stick out as much as it used to." I thought that was an inappropriate thing to say to a 15 year old, and I told her so. But I was told by my sister in law (her daughter) that she didn't mean anything by it and why am I getting so upset? Yep, it's always me who is the bad guy, but I felt I had to stick up for what I thought was right.

  5. agreed totally sucks. I can still remember all the little comments whispered when i first gained weight during puberty. and all the congratulation remarks made during the start of my ED. Words are so powerful.

  6. i remember them, too. The comments about weight starting at age ten. aargh. Maybe you could let mom know as gently as possible? I don't know....I DO think it would be worth mentioning.

    this is a tough one...

  7. eating alone; it's very interesting to me that my sister is an excellent mother otherwise. maybe i'll start by telling her that. i agree with her on pretty much everything she does with her wonderful kids. but i guess old stuff dies hard. my mother was so obsessed about weight. being thin RULED. i wonder if my sister's ever questioned her clear belief that everyone will always be happier thin. (i'm sorry that i rambled here, david, but my mind went off on its own.)

    danielle mari; oh, it's so nice to hear from you. you have a really good idea, even though my sister isn't sensitive to things like eating disorders. she doesn't understand why people just don't "get better".

    still, i think i'll say something when i visit them after the holidays. why, why, why is thin considered "better"? why do we even care?

    i will always be my niece's advocate. i love her dearly.

    kim; thank you so much. i try to be there for her always. i guess i've worried since she started developing a figure, which looked like mine and my mothers -- full. my sister, her husband and son are naturally skinny and small boned.. my niece is not. i knew this would be an issue.

    sometimes, i feel i need to move there.

    Harriet; good for you!!!!!!! you did the absolute right thing. how i wish my mother EVER did that for me. instead, she encouraged others to watch my diet and, so, look at me now. your daughter has such an advantage having a mother who will stick up for her body. i'm really proud of you. i'm sorry that some people didn't see it that way.

    arexisaurus; ahhh, i remember it well -- all the compliments as i was nearly passing out from hunger and cigarettes. it's f---ed up, isn't it? so after i lost 70 pounds, with praise and praise all the way, i then lost just that much more and then people said i looked to thin and they were worried. where is that magic number that's just right? sometimes, i feel like goldilocks. THANK YOU for writing!

    ghost girl; thanks. i wasn't going to say anything until i heard what you all had to say. i will be gentle, and i know it won't be pleasant, but i do have to say something or it will drive me nuts. my sister's response will drive me nuts too, but it's the right thing to do.

    i'm glad you wrote in.

  8. Dearie me.

    It seems to be a reflex when confronted with this kind of thing, to not say anything.

    As far as behavioral research goes, apparently a "non-response" is also a response, it just doesn't give positive feedback.

    Essentially, that's what you wanted to do. So Cow feels that by not responding, you did the best you could, and just keep ignoring her anytime she says something like that.

    Cow would be afraid if she started saying something she wouldn't stop, then it could be a real problem. Because, ultimately, you can't do anything about the way she raises her daughter. And you could make her mad and have her over-react by doing it more.

    As you can tell, Cow is no good at relationships, but that is her 2 cents.


  9. My eating disorder partially stemmed from my mother's critical comments to me. And to herself. In fact, I had it coming from all sides: kids at school, at home, and at ballet.

    All I can say is that if I had a mentor then, someone whom I trusted and loved, to tell me that I was okay, it probably wouldn't have spawned into what it has today.

    Perhaps you could pull your neice aside. Give her some Neice-Aunt time, and tell her how beautiful she is, and how weight loss isn't everything. Be someone she can talk to.

    Because if she doesn't have someone to talk to, then the only voices she'll hear is "You're fat." or "She really looks better now that she's slimmed down."

    It may not have been worth bringing it up to your sister, but it's worth talking to your neice about. Definitely.

  10. Topiary Cow; i agree that sometimes our instincts show us the best thing to do. as i didn't say anything in the moment, perhaps that was right. we were on the phone for a bit after that, and i contemplated opening my mouth, but i didn't.

    also, we'd end in our old roles -- she's my wise big sister and i'm the dysfunctional messed-up baby of the family. we do regress!

    shae adele: this is great advice!!!! my niece is so much more introspective than my sister to begin with. i can't wait to visit them in february.

    outside pressure is so strong, though. i'm very glad i'm not a teenaged girl today. such pressure!!!!!

    thank you for writing!!!