I'm not sure how to reconcile my parents' heartbreak over my weight
I knew my weight would be an issue when I saw my parents last weekend. It’s always been an issue, but now it’s an Issue. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been, pushing 200 pounds, and my parents have entered into an intervention-like mindset.
I’m not writing this to vilify them; they don’t deserve that. If this excessive concern about my excessive weight was the only thing you knew about my parents, you might think they do, but they don’t. I have two of the greatest parents in the world. Together 40 years, they’ve been a beautiful model of a lasting, loving relationship; they’ve displayed wisdom and forgiveness in incredibly difficult situations; and to paraphrase a line in The Descendants (which I finally just saw, so it’s fresh on my mind), they’ve given me enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing.
But they’re human, and humans have personalities, and personalities have flaws. Their shared flaw, in my opinion, is not having boundaries when it comes to my weight. They love me unconditionally; they hate my weight.
Even when I hovered between a slender-yet-curvy size 6 and 8 in my 20s, my parents voiced concerns about my weight. Maybe it’s because my mother had been thinner than me in her 20s or because most of my closest friends have always been thinner than me, but something instilled a fear in them — one that never stayed tucked away in their inner monologues — that I was too big, even when I wasn’t.
And now that I’m definitely too big in their eyes — I wear a 12 or 14 in dresses, a 10 in some pants and skirts — the concern that used to be exhibited with the occasional “Are you sure you want to eat that?”-type comment is now manifesting as tears — actual eyes-welling-up tears.
Last Sunday, at a brunch the day after my niece’s bat mitzvah, I put smoked salmon on my plate, knowing my father would be vocally disappointed if I’d put it on a cream-cheese-covered bagel. He had already complimented me on the food choices I’d been making over the weekend, and while I was glad he’d noticed, I was annoyed he was paying such close attention. Next to the salmon, however, I put a piece of my ex-brother-in-law’s famous noodle kugel.
I sat next to my father on the host’s backyard settee, and I could see in his face that he wanted to say something about the kugel. Before he could, I said, “My friend Meirav wrote an article in Allure a few years ago about losing 100 pounds. She talked about how she’d stopped eating processed junk food but allowed herself truly special once-in-a-while treats, like something homemade by family member,” preemptively justifying the kugel I get to eat three times per decade, but having eaten processed junk food only 72 hours earlier.
“I just hate seeing you like this,” my father said. Ouch. I don’t think I look my all-time best, but I don’t look terrible. “See,” he continued, “now I’m crying.”
I thought he was kidding at first, but he was holding his glasses away from his face and wiping away a real tear.
My emotional response to this was very complicated. Not much makes my father cry, so at first, I felt uncomfortable. Then I felt sad and guilty for having given him a reason to be so upset. But then, I felt hurt and offended. Why should the state of my body make anyone else cry?
“Dad, I’m not that big,” I said. I’ve seen talk shows where the parents of 800-pound bedridden people shed fewer tears over their situation than my parents have over my “situation.”
He reminded me of the heart problems on both sides of my family (he’d had a heart attack as a somewhat overweight 49-year-old), and how my grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes when she was around my size — albeit 15 years older — and that he doesn’t want me to have to go through that. (Ironically, I had brought one of my best friends with me for the festivities last weekend, and there she was sitting next to me, no more than 130 pounds at six feet tall, and recently diagnosed with type II diabetes.)
My father’s tears felt like a loving insult. I know that what he’s upset about is the difficulty my weight could cause me — not about me as a person — but it is me and my choices and my psychological excuses that have led to the weight I’ve gained over the last decade, so the tears make me feel like a failure.
And although my parents’ concern over potential health problems is genuine and legitimate, I feel like it’s also being used as an ethically acceptable cloak for more superficial concerns: that I could be very conventionally attractive, that I would feel more confident and have more options while dating, that, as someone who puts herself in the public eye, I’d be taken more seriously if I just lost the weight.
Perhaps they really do feel that way, or perhaps I’m just assuming they feel that way because, if I’m being honest, I feel that way.
See, despite being on Team Fat Acceptance, I do want to lose weight. I want to lose the same 50 pounds that my parents want me to lose. I want to do it for health and superficial reasons. And I cry about it sometimes.
But, for some reason, when someone else cries about it, it’s not OK. Even if it’s someone who loves me as much as my father does.
I’m not sure how to reconcile my parents’ heartbreak over my weight with how much it hurts — how crazy and deprecatory it feels — that they’re so heartbroken over my weight. I want them to see that I’m OK. I’m OK as I am. I’ll be OK whether or not I lose weight. Hell, I’ll be OK if I gain weight (which I have no plans to do, by the way).
I love my parents very much, and I hate to see them so upset, but I also hate that they feel entitled to be so upset. The support they’re offering me to help me lose the weight is amazing and generous, and I want to accept it, but if I do, I’m worried I may be welcoming further commentary, albeit well-intentioned, and an emotional claim to my body.
“We hurt when you hurt,” they said when I showed them what I’d written up to this point; and my current weight is upsetting to me, so I believe that. I guess I hurt when they hurt when I hurt.
Marci Robin is a contributing editor at xoJane and lives in Brooklyn.
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