Tired of comments about her changed appearance
Q: I have an unusual situation, I think. My 24-year-old daughter, who has always been beautiful and vivacious, lost about 20 pounds in the past year. She's now a size 0-2. I thought she was perfect before, but now she looks like a model. (She is healthy and works out and eats a lot, so I have no concerns about any kind of eating disorder or anything.)
When she meets family or friends whom she hasn't seen for a while, their first reaction is: "Wow! You've lost a lot of weight, haven't you?" While I would be ecstatic, she doesn't feel that it is a compliment, but instead maybe an unintended commentary on her previous size. It has also gotten really old.
She deflects it graciously, but has expressed to me how mentally overwhelming it feels. Do you have any suggestions for a snappy comeback? I wish people wouldn't feel obligated to comment on someone's appearance at all.
A: The part about having a daughter who looks like a model might be unusual, but the blueprint of the situation is actually fairly typical.
People who stand out — for reasons good or bad, intentional or not — will always draw attention. A good deal of that attention will cross the decency barrier from mere notice to spoken commentary. Some people can't help themselves, others just won't.
A snaptastic comeback wouldn't change anything except the brand of fatigue she's feeling — from gracious-deflection fatigue to snaptastic-comment fatigue. Besides, she's eventually going to run out of new people to surprise, isn't she?
Of course, then she'll still have to reckon with the added attention afforded to anyone of "looks like a model" proportions. And this is where the issue you present gets fishy.
The attention you describe is normal, completely predictable and complimentary, if misguided . . . and she finds it "mentally overwhelming" . . . and this after losing 20 pounds off a body that was already "perfect" (by parental standards, at least) . . . and so I'm guessing her starting size was, what, a 6 or 8?
Meanwhile, you identify the real problem as the "unintended commentary on her previous size" — suggesting she's ashamed of that previous size, despite its being three or four sizes below the national average.
And your response is to (a) call more attention to her body, perhaps unwittingly, but perhaps not; and (b) solicit a snappy comeback?
Please don't dismiss so quickly the idea of her having potentially serious body-image problems. You both come across in your letter as being acutely conscious of appearances — one attention-seeking, one attention-averse. And while "like it or lump it" neutrality about one's body may seem to be a rare commodity these days, there are still times when self-consciousness can't be dismissed as the norm. When emotional distress meets dramatic weight loss in someone who maybe didn't have a lot to spare, that's one of those times. If the weight loss continues or the distress persists, please suggest she get help.
Also respond to your daughter's complaints by saying that it's not right for people to comment on her weight, but it's also not her problem. Just as her weight is irrelevant to her worth, people's opinions of it are also irrelevant to her worth. Counter the unhealthy emphasis on appearances by valuing something else.