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The weight of a word

‘Oh you had another baby,’ the woman who runs my local bakery said to me recently as I went in to buy bread rolls.

‘Yes,’ I responded enthusiastically pointing at the precious bundle I was carrying in a sling across my body and waiting for her praise.

‘I just thought you were getting fat,’ she responded with a beaming smile. ‘Like me,’ she added, patting her stomach.

And there it was, the qualifier. It was okay if I was getting fat because she was too.

Why is it that we are okay with some people telling us that they think we are putting on weight and not so okay with others? Is there a level of comfort when the person telling us we are a fatty is happy to share their fat experience with us?

A few months ago I read an article by fashionable fitness aficionado Michelle Bridges which suggested it is okay to have ‘a word’ with a family member if you are worried about their weight¹. But here is the qualifier – you would be telling the family member because you are concerned about a ‘looming health issue’. In fact, suggests Michelle, you have a ‘responsibility to show concern for the health of loved ones’.

The good conscience qualifier wins out every time. Because how will you feel if something fat related happens to your ‘chunky’ cousin, brother, mother or daughter and you haven’t said something? How will you live with yourself? Obviously you are responsible so get in there and speak your mind – just remember to do it ‘thoughtfully, not in front of others’. And remind them if they exercise and eat right and they will soon be back on the ‘skinny’ path.

It is that simple right?

I can honestly say there is nothing I enjoy less than when a close family member mentions my weight. I have a particular relative who comments on my weight whenever there is an opportunity. It’s always in subtle terms. However, knowing this person (as you tend to know family and their hang-ups) I know what ‘you should always wear that colour – its perfect on you’ really means.

Over the years, this family member’s comments have created an interesting effect, for only recently when they told me how slim I looked I sarcastically replied, ‘Well I have just had a baby’. Is it because this person is always having a little ‘word’ with me about my weight that I am unable to accept what may have been a compliment?

Having a discreet word with your fat relative is not the problem. The problem is you have no idea how many others are having a similar word to them. You have no idea how they are saying it. You have no idea how often they are hearing remarks about their weight.

So Michelle, having a word to a loved one about their weight is not okay – not unless they give you the signal they want to discuss it with you. If you have concerns about their weight, they are your concerns. Go and talk with your therapist or your local clergy or whoever else can cleanse you of your worry. Besides what will you do if your fat relative continues to put on weight? How worried can you get for them? Get on with your own thin life.

As for my baker, should I be upset with her? I don’t think so. She probably has relatives reminding her of her weight gain. Besides she makes great bread, lamingtons, cupcakes, sausage rolls, muffins, donuts……

¹ Sunday Life, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 June 2013.

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