Unhappy in our own way.
April 24, 2011 4:51 PM Subscribe
Being around most of my mother's family makes me uncomfortable and angry. How to let go of my past with them and come out of family gatherings feeling more positive?
posted by houndsoflove to human relations (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time with my mom's parents, her siblings, and their kids. We'd get together for biweekly dinners and go on annual vacations together as an extended family.
I was an athletic teenager, not thin but not fat, with a short, wide frame and big bones inherited from my dad's side. My mom, her siblings, my sister and all of my cousins are thin and leaning towards tall. As a result, I stood out in the group and my younger cousins pointed this out constantly. They'd ask me why I'm so "baggy" when my sister is thin and therefore "pretty." They'd tell me I "shouldn't be" wearing a bathing suit, or they'd simply look at me and say "you're fat" with disgust. This would make me cry, while the cousin who hurt me this time would be forced to apologize for making me feel bad, with nothing said by any of the adults to correct the opinion or behavior. Now that the cousins are aged 13 to 22, it seems that they still feel like being fat is one of the worst things one could ever be. They eat carefully, pinch their non-existent bellies through their clothes, and untag their "fat" pictures on Facebook.
My aunt and uncle have always had body image issues despite being thin, too. They'd go on cereal diets, mild starvation diets, Weight Watchers shake diets etc and my aunt would recommend these things to me even when I was eating like a normal teenager, getting tons of exercise every week for sports. She would tell me that these diets would make me "look better."
I developed problems with anxiety and depression in my teens that worsened and eventually ruined my athletic career and made college miserable. I was so afraid of my peers finding me hideous that I rarely left my dorm room except for class, was bullied, then gave up on caring about the way I looked completely. I gained roughly 100 pounds over six years and now, in my mid-20's, am unmistakeably Fat.
In this past couple of years, my mental health has improved tremendously. It's a probable result of being forced into the "real world" of adults -- having a job, having to dress nicely for that job, being around happy people of different shapes, sizes, and situations every day. To say that I've grown to love my body as it is now might be a stretch, but it's not a big one. I respect my body. I clothe it to make it look its best as it is. I feel comfortable in it most of the time now and I can see the ways in which it is beautiful, even if it is not the sort of beauty that everyone accepts.
The problem is that even though I've come this far, I still have an immediate, visceral negative reaction to being around my mom's side of the family. My cousins have grown up, I get along with most of them fairly well (even if we disagree about what sorts of bodies are acceptable at the core) and they don't say anything about the way I look anymore. I've accepted that my aunt is miserable no matter her size and feel sad for her. But I still have and hate this thought that I am sitting there at family gatherings being OK with my fattest self while they're probably not, and they're my family. I resent that none of the adults could ever get up the love to say "No, she's fine as she is" even if they didn't actually like the way my body looked way back when my cousins insulted me. So when I'm with them all now, I retreat into my shell and don't say much, and then when I leave, I'm self-conscious and depressed for hours to days afterward.
How can I learn to handle my feelings and let them go to make this a more positive experience for everyone? I have limited my attendance to holidays and some birthdays, but haven't ever talked to my family about it yet. I am wondering too if talking would even be helpful, since the bulk of the hurtful incidents are in the past -- if not the hurtful feelings -- and I doubt their opinions are going to change.
Thank you in advance for your thoughts.