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“How much do you weigh these days?”

December 13, 2011

I love my Grandmother. Really, I do. But there are days…

Grandma and I have been over and over that I don’t care about weight, that I’m not ever going to be on that roller coaster again, that I’m more concerned with real indicators of health, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, stamina and energy to fully engage in my life.

She doesn’t get it. She’s never gotten it. When I first gave up dieting, she accused me of just giving up. At the time, I agreed with her. This was years before I found Size Acceptance and Health At Every Size®.  At the time, it was giving up. But after doing everything I could for years, I realized that I was just not going to be able to lose weight.

Then I found this community (with everything that went with it, great people, warts, and all), and I realized that I didn’t have to give up health to give up trying to maintain an unrealistic standard for my body. For myself.

And while she never understood, she did stop asking about my weight.  I thought that maybe she’d finally learned to accept my boundaries. I found out this week that she still has the delusion that I’m going to fit society’s standards.

Right now, my grandma is in the hospital with some health problems of her own. She broke her arm and, through treatment for that, a couple of other issues presented themselves. At 91 years old, it’s not surprising she has a few health concerns.

Those concerns are aggravated by the fact that my grandmother is a product of her upbringing: she lived through the worst of the US Great Depression, and while her family never lost their home and her father had a steady job through the whole Depression, they did have to do without some luxuries they’d grown used to.

Couple that with the fact that people didn’t “just go to the doctor for every little cough,” and you have a woman who will deny she’s having a heart attack, even when she’s in the hospital emergency room being told by the doctors that she is, in fact, having a heart attack.  To this day she maintains that she was just out of breath from parking a ways from the doors on a hot day, and those doctors didn’t know what they were doing! True story.

So, Grandma ending up in the hospital isn’t especially surprising.

What was surprising was that in the middle of asking her how she is, why she’s not eating (the nurses told me she was refusing to eat), she asks, “So, how much do you weigh these days?”

Bwah? She caught me by surprise. I started to feel defensive. I started to feel defeat for having “given up.” I felt the familiar self-loathing begin because I couldn’t do something so “simple” as lose weight. You know, not even for my health.

All the years of her bargaining and manipulating came rushing back to me: promising a shopping trip worth $500 in new clothes — in the early 80s that was a LOT of money, threats of “future illness” if I didn’t achieve a “healthy” weight, and discussions of how little self control I had because I couldn’t stick to anything)

That one simple question pushed my buttons really hard.

But I’ve learned a few things since I was a teenager or young adult, and and I took a deep breath, let it out, and said, “I don’t know.  I’ve not weighed myself in over 4 years.”  I hoped that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t, of course.

The thing is, I didn’t let her get to me.  When she insisted I name a number, I told her I couldn’t.  When she stated a number, one I know she thought was exceedingly excessive, I said, “Sure, that’s as good a number as any.”  Once she had a number, she allowed me to redirect the conversation to other topics.

It’s hard to stand up to family and say, “My weight is not your business.”  It’s very hard, especially around the holidays, when we call or visit so much, to sidestep the landmines that family seems to like to throw at us.  “I only ask because I’m concerned about your health/well being/ability to do your job/whatever the concern is.”  “Hey, are you really sure you need to be eating that pie/cheese on crackers/dark meat turkey/fruit cake?”  (Yes, I love fruit cake.  Deal with it! 😉 )

I’ve found two things that make it easier for me to deal with them, yes, even in the midst of feeling like a teenager who’s desserts are being hidden by other family members because “Bronwen doesn’t need to eat that!”:

1)  Just because they want me to feel the shame, accept the blame, that doesn’t mean I have to.  I have worked very hard to not feel ashamed of my body.  There is no shame or blame in learning to love and accept myself.
2)  They are still brainwashed by the common assumptions our culture bombards them with.  This does not absolve any of them for being concern trolls, but it does make it easier for me to reply with soft words, and sometimes even humor, instead of starting an argument.

My Grandmother is likely never going to get that I can be healthy no matter what my weight is.  That’s okay.  I don’t need to change her.  What I need to to do is remember that I don’t have to allow her to inadvertently hurt me through her attempts to “make me better.”

18 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2011 10:13 am

    My Grandma Kate does the something similar. I can always count on her to tell me that I look good, or I’ve lost weight, and if she doesn’t say anything, I know what she’s thinking. Of course, the weird thing is that my weight has been stable for ten years now, so whatever she’s noticing is probably just in her head.

    I hope your granny gets better. My grandma has always had a pretty rugged constitution, but at 94, she’s having health troubles of her own. The best you can hope for are some comfortable and peaceful winter days.

    It’s awesome that you’ve learned to accept the criticism of others with grace and poise. Most people have a hard time doing so. It’s a real skill worth developing.


    • bronwenofhindscroft permalink
      December 13, 2011 10:38 am

      Conall’s mother has been like that too. His weight has been stable for decades. Yet every so often, she “notices” how he’s lost weight, and comments on it. Of course, when she “notices” that he’s gained weight, she comments on that as well. Um, no. He’s stayed within the same 10 pounds since we’ve moved here.

      I’ve had my grandmother for longer than I dared hope. She’s a tough and determined woman, but even warriors like her need some rest, eventually. I just want her to be out of pain.

      Thank you for the compliment. I’ve had both many years in therapy and many years of practice learning the skills I’ve developed.

  2. December 13, 2011 10:20 am

    my mom just backhandedly brags about her own weight loss — which is drug induced with ritalin (legal speed essentially) and pain pills-all perfectly legal, all very cheater-y way to lose weight if you ask me but hey whatever. im finally FINALLY dealing with a 20 year old eating disorder head on, and she wants to brag about how EASY it is to lose weight…..then she slams a soy milk with a handful of speed and opiates. but of course, her doctors WANT her skinny to help her back. /headdesk.

    • bronwenofhindscroft permalink
      December 13, 2011 10:40 am

      I’m sorry. That must be very difficult to deal with.

    • L.J. Utter permalink
      December 13, 2011 11:22 am

      I wish people would realize how dangerous those drugs are, but in the quest for thin, who cares, right?
      I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that one of my probationers was offered amphetamine to lose weight for her hip. Her doctor is aware she has a substance abuse problem, but said it would be okay. Her fear of returning to jail is stronger than the one to be thin lol.
      These drugs are dangerous and definitely cheater-ish. We don’t like exercise because while its ‘right’, its not fun. Which is why I like HAES, pick something you like to do. Eat what you want and lose weight! So while I could theoretically shed pounds and eat all the Twinkies I want on speed, I know my body well enough to know a banana makes me feel better. Bananas and Ding Dongs (personal preference).
      I’m sorry your mother is on that path, but I just wish more could see the dangers of it.

  3. hlkolaya permalink
    December 13, 2011 11:36 am

    wait wait wait… back up… you like fruit cake…?

    • December 13, 2011 12:14 pm

      I think this is probably the most important question raised by this post. We demand answers, Bronwen!


      • bronwenofhindscroft permalink
        December 13, 2011 12:19 pm

        At this moment, upon discussion with my lawyers, I can neither confirm nor deny the alleged enjoyment of the alleged fruitcake.

        There may be an official statement in the future.

    • Kala permalink
      December 13, 2011 2:25 pm

      I would like to add here, that there totally is fruit cake out there that is not gross. I can’t speak well for American fruit cakes, sold in boxes and filled with disturbing over-sugared pieces of candy and fruit. However, a real British kind of fruitcake, is actually pretty good. Now, if Bronwen is into the kind of American fruitcake my mother used to like, then I really have nothing I can say to save her.

    • December 14, 2011 10:22 am

      You just won the thread.

  4. December 13, 2011 12:14 pm

    Do you think she could have been upset about being in the hospital and wanted to divert her attention at something other than her own health flaws?

    My grandma is 80, and she’s always telling me and my sisters about how the way we live is wrong on many levels. “You’re too skinny! You waste money! You don’t eat well enough! You watch too much tv! You won’t ever find a man to marry if you don’t cook and keep house well!” I get so sick of it. She has no sense of the idea that life is different than it was 50 years ago. I am stubborn and have always tried to argue with her, but there’s no hope. If she convinced herself that the sky is red, there’s no getting her to reconsider.

    I can understand your frustration.

  5. Cia permalink
    December 13, 2011 1:10 pm

    My 92 year old Grandma can’t really keep a conversation going these days. She can, however, still tell me how fat (more as a statement than an insult, but still…) I am and how improperly dressed I am. Who would’ve thought that was the aspect of her personality that would stick, after so many other has unravelled in dementia. :/

  6. Kala permalink
    December 13, 2011 2:36 pm

    Seriously, people criticize you for eating the dark meat on a freaking turkey? LOL, what the fuck?

    Sitting there scrutinizing what anyone is eating is ridiculous, I mean, maybe if they’re like pouring gravy down the front of themselves or something, one might say something, but other than that, it’s absolutely ridiculous. We act like it’s apparently never appropriate for someone not completely slender, to eat anything that isn’t water and celery.

    Trigger warning for talk of calories, if that’s appropriate:

    But even if we put ourselves in full judge-y healthist mode, what kind of distinction does it make to talk about dark versus white meat on a god-damned turkey? The difference in calories between the two in terms of a serving, is a difference of a few *tens* of calories. The difference in saturated fat between the two, is in the single digits. Oh, but I guess Cosmo must have written some article about it at some point, thrusting the idea into the public consciousness never to leave again.


  7. December 14, 2011 1:41 am

    I refuse to visit my grandmother because she will not stop about my weight, my father’s weight, my husband’s weight, my brother’s weight and the fact that both my kids are slim. I took it for years and then just decided NO MORE. That was over 7 years ago. I write to her but that is it.

  8. December 14, 2011 10:56 am

    Wow, there must be a cookie cutter of that particular grandma cookie out there! Or you and I are separated at birth! 😀 Great post, thank you so much. And I especially relate to the bargaining bribing piece. People really think they are helping, they are not helping…please….don’t help! 🙂

  9. Emerald permalink
    December 18, 2011 2:30 pm

    I never had any of this from either of my grandmothers (one of them died when I was very young), but my late mother used to tell me, every single time she met me: ‘You’ve put on weight’. In a disgusted kind of way. Even when I was pretty sure my weight had been more or less stable for ages (I never owned scales after I left home). I finally realized it wasn’t an objective observation, when she said it after a week in which three different people in different work departments had told me they thought I’d lost weight (I was re-investigating Buddhism and had been experimenting with fairly strict vegetarianism – didn’t stick to either the spiritual path or the diet in the end, but both were interesting). It was all just part of her ingoing quest to make me feel I didn’t have permission to be happy with my life.

    One time she really started laying it into me was the time the whole family was really concerned about her because of the amount of weight she, herself, had lost. She was always tiny, but at this point she was emaciated and her health visitor was worried that she hadn’t actually been eating anything. Her response was to launch into an attack on how ‘big’ I was, whereas she was still just as slim as she’d been on her wedding day over fifty years before. It later transpired that not only had she not been eating much to speak of, she’d also been abusing laxatives – whether intentionally or not, nobody was sure. Dementia (vascular in this case) can do awful things to someone, but only in hindsight did it really occur to us that her attitude to food had been rather odd for a number of years – the rest of the family called her ‘picky’, but I still wonder if there was more to it than that.

    • December 19, 2011 10:10 am

      Your mother and my mother must have met at some point. Really. It’s scary how closely this resembles certain members of my family. Anyway, it’s one thing to act like a dick about your own weight, but to project your weight issues onto someone else? That just does it for me.

      • Emerald permalink
        December 19, 2011 2:25 pm

        The scary thing for me is…For the first four years I was at school, I was also ‘picky’ enough that I barely ate lunch. (I actually had, and in some cases still have, texture issues with foods prepared certain ways – along with a bunch of other odd habits that might now be recognized as Asperger’s, but nobody knew what that was then – basically anything with a ‘mushy’ texture made me gag, and unfortunately, that described about 90% of British school food back in the 1970s.) Thing was, while every teacher and dinner lady and a lot of my fellow pupils knew about my non-eating habits, it took four or five years for me to be switched onto packed lunches. The school did call my mother in about some of my other behavioral issues, so they couldn’t not have mentioned it to her. I can only conclude that me not eating lunch didn’t seem like an urgent problem to her – and I shudder to think what would have happened had I actually developed a genuine eating disorder at a later stage – it’s entirely possible she might not have considered that a problem, either.

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