My boyfriend's family is upset he's dating someone obese. How do I deal with this hurt?
September 6, 2012 6:00 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend's family is "concerned" he's dating a Fatty (me, yay!) How do I deal?

My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year and a half. It's a great relationship, the best I've ever been in. He's kind, smart, thoughtful, and he adores me. He's in his mid 40s and I'm in my late 30s. He is divorced with 2 kids and I'm childless. The relationship has so far weathered some conflict mostly due to the challenges of having a relationship with kids involved.

This Labor Day we (two of us and his kids) spent the weekend at his family's annual get together. I have met the parents on several occasions and from all accounts they previously had only good things to say about me. Until this weekend. Despite their previous remarks that I'm bright, witty, kind, and helpful, his father expressed that "the family" is concerned that I'm obese. This was a phone conversation my bf had with dad last night to inform him that we arrived home safely. I was in the room and heard bf's response of "she can be healthy at any weight" and I knew what was being discussed. His dad (a retired doctor) went on to mention that there are health ramifications of being overweight (I'm a size 20 U.S.), and even asked if I was required to undergo a physical when I was employed at a university in an administrative position. Wtf!?his father also commented that I took a lot of photos (I do) and he wondered specifically if I was taking them to show my family. I like photography and had been thinking of putting together some pics for his parents of the weekend, which is why I took a lot of photos.

Here's some background - his parents are quite wealthy and WASPY. I grew up very Catholic and blue-collar. I don't quite understand their lifestyle and I'm not interested in grand houses or material possessions. I already felt uncomfortable going there for the weekend because I felt like an outsider. I've struggled for half of my life with disordered eating and truly believe in the Health at Every Size movement. Clearly I'm overweight, but I try not to equate that with a value judgment about my worth as a human.

I've tried to reframe it as "oh, maybe they are just concerned for my well-being" even though I reject the notion that every overweight person is unhealthy, but I don't believe that's where they were coming from. I feel like it's a statement that I am not good enough, I don't fit their image of what is acceptable, and I am not a good match for their son. We don't need his parents' approval, but it hurts an awful lot, particularly since my father consistently attached a value to being thin and constantly belittled me for my weight.

I am angry and hurt to say the least. I was disappointed that my bf didn't tell his dad that his comments were irrelevant and he did not care to hear them. When he saw how upset I was he called his dad back to tell him that he loves me no matter what size I am and that he needed him to know that. Dad's response was "I know, and we won't try to undermine you."

I'm 39 and this still gets to me, and it still gets to the bf. I'd love to be able to say "who cares", but I'm not there yet. I'm seething about this and right now I never want to see them again. How do I deal with this?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
First, you have every right to feel hurt. This was a really shitty thing for them to say.

Second, be kind to your bf. It's not really a discussion he was ready to engage in, but he did stick up for you initially and with the follow through.

I'd not read too much into what his father said, though, beyond an inappropriate concern about your health. It's easy to let your mind wonder if it's a reflection on how they see you as a person.

But you can't control that. All you can control is how you act with them. Be civil and polite. You can either increase the visits to them so that they see you as a whole person or avoid seeing them as much as possible.

His father should be the one feeling awkward around you because he's a judgy judgerson.
posted by inturnaround at 6:10 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

Not seeing them again is not an option if you want to continue in the relationship.

Based upon what you've written, his dad is a dick.

I too am a size 20, and it's very hard not to internalize other people's judgments and opinions about my health and beauty.

Intellectually you know the answer is: "who cares"? There IS no other answer.

You know the medical community doesn't understand obesity, has yet to come up with an answer to the mental and physical challenges of "curing" obesity and yet they just LOVE to pronounce that we must all lose weight to be healthy.

Prove them wrong.

Continue to eat healthily, work out in whatever way you like to, pursue sports that you enjoy, in general keep living your full and rewarding life and fuck THEM if they can't take a joke.

I'm pretty sure that your BF didn't say anything to his Dad initially because there's nothing to say. Let the gasbag gas, his opinion means nothing. It's nice that he called back when you asked him to, but you know and I know that words won't change this idiot's mind.

If you continue to be angry you are letting these folks live rent-free in your brain. If this issue didn't happen, if they had kept their big mouths shut, how would you feel about them? You'd probably just put up with them for the bare minimum you had to in order to keep peace in the family.

So your "in-laws" aren't going to be your best friends any time soon. We'll all survive. Continue to be cordial, and do whatever you do. Even if you were the perfect size (whatever THAT is) they'd find some other objection. For now, keep your distance. Perhaps skip the next family affiar (it's not like you had a good time at the last one) and see where you are in a couple of months.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:14 AM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

his father also commented that I took a lot of photos (I do) and he wondered specifically if I was taking them to show my family.

What does this mean? Is he asking if you are announcing the relationship to your family, i.e. is it getting serious?

Dad's response was "I know, and we won't try to undermine you."

Yeah, right. Is this his usual behavior with people his son dates? I mean, maybe with you he chose weight, and with someone else it would be something else. Sounds to me like he has control issues. Not unusual for an inlaw or potential inlaws but this was pretty extreme.
posted by BibiRose at 6:19 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am also from a WASPy background, and I have dealt with a lot of people of this sort. My own mom can be like this, and frequently says shitty things about my overweight friends.

First off, for better or worse, they will never say anything to your face about this. Ever. The father made those remarks to your BF with the assumption that you would not find out about them. None of this makes what he said or what he thinks any less totally awful and stupid, I mention it only because it means that your boyfriend is the probably the sole vector through which you would ever have to hear about this shit.

Which leads me to: this is absolutely, 100% your boyfriend's thing to deal with. It's his responsibility to keep it away from you. It's his responsibility to tell his parents that he will not have this conversation with them, and his responsibility to follow through on that and disengage immediately if they bring it up.

Of course it gets to you. Of COURSE! I'm so sorry that this is a thing that's come up in such an ugly, underhanded way. But don't feel like there's anything you should be doing or saying to make it better. All you need to do is take care of yourself. And if, for instance, your boyfriend can't manage to get his parents to stop being awful, then you have every right to want to avoid spending time with them.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:26 AM on September 6, 2012 [30 favorites]

Yeah, the photo thing is a bit weird. Maybe they perceived it as invasive? I get the impression your boyfriend's family might be a bit insular and the Dad was searching for something to remind his son you are not part of it, i.e. in-group vs out-group. Loyalty is a major theme in wealthier WASP families.

Given that background it sounds like your boyfriend is actually doing a halfway decent job respecting boundaries and sticking up for you, but there's going to be a lot of class stuff to unpack in your ongoing relationship. Consider your weight might be a proxy for more subtle issues?
posted by werkzeuger at 6:27 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've struggled for half of my life with disordered eating and truly believe in the Health at Every Size movement.

Congratuations on arriving at a good place with your disordered eating - that is not an easy feat. You can't allow this jerk to derail you now. Do his unwanted, mean opinions change what you've learned about Health at Every Size? Does it undo the progress you've made? Of course not. I agree with Ruthless Bunny that you should skip the next family event to protect your mental health and I suggest taking out your aggression through exercise and keep doing what you're doing w/r/t your physical health.

The father-in-law's insinuation that you were taking photos of their property to show your family is gross. Does he think you're doing it to show them what you're "weaseling" your way into one day owning? Yuck.

I think it speaks to your boyfriend's character that, unbidden, he was standing up to his dad. Communicate with him how important it was that he did this for you and set expectations that the same will happen if/when this topic comes up again.

I really feel for you. Good luck.
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:32 AM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's difficult to deal with stuff like that. I am told I look like I'm pregnant. I wear a size 6. I'm 5'7". I do have a tummy, but I don't ever remember not having a tummy. I also don't have a fan club with some people because I am Chinese. I could possibly change the tummy thing with hard work or surgery, but I can't change the being Chinese thing.

I simply live life not letting anyone know I am bothered by any of that stuff.

The inner monologue screams "Go Suck an Egg" not really. It's actually harsher than that, but you know what I mean.

It bothers me. I tell myself I am smart and there are people who do love me the way I am. And the way I am a healthy eater. And that I speak another language and was born in an interesting place in the world. It doesn't make me less pregnant looking or less Chinese, but I have lots of other things to be happy about and I will try hard not to think about the things that are negative.
posted by Yellow at 6:32 AM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

If this was just on Labor Day, this is very, very recent, so it makes sense that you're still very upset about it. So be kind to yourself.

And as for your boyfriend not coming to your defense right away - he was probably just as thrown by how out-of-left-field this seemed as you were. He may not have said anything in your defense right away becuase he was too busy trying to get over the shock of "wait, where the fuck is THIS coming from?" (I know when people confront me with things, especially when I'm not expecting it, I get a lot like a deer in headlights and freeze up for a good few minutes and can't really think of what to say and end up just stammering things. He may have had the same response.)

If this is really out of the blue as sudden as it sounds - I'm wondering if maybe something else may have happened to your boyfriend's father that he was worrying about and he just picked a really shitty way of coping with the stress. It is absolutely not fair to you, but I'm not so sure this is a sign of them having had all this doubt about you all this time.

In fact, the picture thing is making me feel more like his father was just in a really foul mood about something and just blew up about weird random shit becuase he couldn't blow up about what he was really mad about, because that's just weird. It kind of reminded me about one day when my old boss at a McDonald's just got into a really bad mood and came out and saw a couple of the kids slacking off and started this all-out rant, lecturing first the two slackers and then this other kid she saw doing something wrong, and then the momentum just made her turn to this other kid -- but when she saw he wasn't doing anything wrong, she just sort of covered for herself by blurting out that he wasn't putting the pickles on the burgers straight. She later apologized to us all by saying she was really worried about something like car payments, but that still wasn't fair to us. It kind of sounds like the picture thing was like a "your pickles aren't straight" thing.

None of this is to say that you shouldn't be feeling upset, though. Because that did suck to hear that. What will be more telling, though, is how they will continue to respond to you in the future. Be nice and civil, the way you always been, but give them a chance to see whether they really meant that or whether it was just a fluke thing. And if they actually flat-out apologize, then that's the best outcome.

But the fact that this came up all of a sudden is making me sense that this is just a "pickles aren't straight" kind of situation and not a sign of an ongoing lingering concern they've had about you all this time. And your boyfriend not being able to respond immediately sounds more like he was just caught really off guard and needed a minute to get his brain out of "what the hell?" mode and into "how DARE you say that, Dad!" mode.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

For one, your boyfriends family is saying jerky things, and are showing their blindered (bigoted) view. The WASPy wealthy background has very few overweight people in it, and they sound uncomfortable with any visual reminder that you're "not like them" (like weight, or weird hobbies, or taking photos (maybe they felt like a tourist attraction?)). And it is 100% okay to be angry at them. As Narrative Priorities says, though, they are highly unlikely to ever say anything to your face.

About your boyfriend taking a little while to warm up to the idea of standing up for you, I'd cut him some slack. Make it clear that people who say things like what his parents said make you very angry, that you won't stand for it, and that you expect him not to stand for it either. That's about the future, though. As far as the recent phone conversation, don't take a few-minute conversation too seriously. It sounds like it took him off guard, and everyone acts a little differently around their parents. I suspect this isn't a conversation he's had before, so he doesn't have a fountain of righteous indignation just waiting to burst out. If your weight is truly not important to him, i.e. something he's never spent any time thinking/worrying about, then he might not have realized how insulting they were being, or how important this is to you. Or maybe he was in avoidance mode: 'this is uncomfortable, just say "yeah, whatever, dad" and get off the phone'. The thing is, though, that doesn't really matter. It's in the past. Tell him what you want for the future, and see if he'll do that for you.
posted by aimedwander at 6:46 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think werkzeuger has it; this is an in-group, class thing. The guy thinks his family is such hot shit that you would take pictures of them as evidence of your association with them. You could recast this episode as fiction and it would sound like a story by Updike or Cheever. I am sorry it happened to you but ultimately, you still get to be you and he still has to be that guy.
posted by BibiRose at 6:49 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

his father also commented that I took a lot of photos (I do) and he wondered specifically if I was taking them to show my family.

This doesn't seem to match the rest of the post so I'm curious: what is it you were taking photos of? Things like birds or things like their house?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:52 AM on September 6, 2012

I gues my comment is going to be way off the reservation.

I would be hurt, too, and I don't mean at all to undermine that feeling, but I am actually not getting "she's not good enough" from his inappropriate commentary about your weight and (in my mind possibly reasonable) questions about your picture taking. I am wondering if perhaps you are projecting your discomfort with their "world" and other people's reactions to your weight onto your boyfriend's family, especially since in the year plus since you've been with your boyfriend, you didn't feel this way. It doesn't seem likely that if they really felt that way, that this is the first inkling you'd have had of it, unless it's something they've expressed previously that you weren't made privy to. I just want to caution you about going down a "thought path" that may cause conflict in your relationship with your boyfriend.
posted by sm1tten at 6:52 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

WASPy wealthy background has very few overweight people in it, and they sound uncomfortable with any visual reminder that you're "not like them" (like weight, or weird hobbies, or taking photos (maybe they felt like a tourist attraction?)).

I though this as well. In the UK weight and class are linked - because people on low incomes eat cheaper food, and cheaper food tends to be more calorie-dense, the assumption is made that those who are overweight are either poorly educated on health or do not have the time/money to eat more nutritious food or work out. If you were a size 6, they'd probably tell your boyfriend that you have crooked teeth or your nose is too big, or that you aren't wearing the right shoes - but because body size is so visible, it's an easy hook to hang issues on.
posted by mippy at 7:03 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

You have every right to be angry. Congratulations on having a boyfriend who is strong enough and loves you enough to stand up to his family for you. Don't be mad he didn't say just what you wanted during the first conversation; in all likelihood he knows his parents and their tendencies better than you and began tuning his dad out as soon as he heard The Tone.

As far as this being out of left field, a friend went through something similar--divorced partner, had met the family many times before, had been nothing but wonderful for him and kind to his family and had no idea there was any issue with her. Then after a few years, it came out that the bfs dad had started making similar comments. The best we could tell is that the parents thought she was a rebound, a phase, until it became clear she wasn't. That's when they started voicing their "concern."

Y'know what? He did what your boyfriend did. He stuck up for the woman he loves :) they're very happy now, still, btw. They just spend holidays with her family instead. His family's loss!
posted by OompaLoompa at 7:04 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know what, I'm looking at sm1tten's comment and thinking: as sinister as my interpretation of the guy's behavior is, in your place I would probably either go forward on the assumption that it was a blip, OR mention to him that I heard he has a problem with my weight. Either way I would try assuming stupidity not malice, at least in terms of how it affected my behavior. This gives him a chance to do better. If you change your attitude towards him markedly now, you risk getting locked into a bad place.
posted by BibiRose at 7:30 AM on September 6, 2012

I am a person who is into photography, and I used to take a lot of photos at different family events. Not posed pictures, but candid shots taken without flash. I liked being able to capture people's natural expressions in their own environment, and it was practice that was helpful in getting better at my hobby.
But my family (not WASPy at all) was usually uncomfortable with it, and would make comments. I internalized a lot of these comments and now feel shame and anxiety about bringing out my camera around my family, even for posed shots or pictures of the little kids. Of course, they wonder why, because I am a great photographer and worked professionally for awhile. If they want photos, they can take photos. I just sit and enjoy the conversation. This is probably passive-aggressive of me, but it's just not worth hauling out expensive equipment just to hear the family's comments.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:41 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just going to tell you my similar experience and what worked for me. I am 16 years older than my husband, also a US size 22 and Australian, well traveled and with socialist leanings. I married a man whose parents are very conservative people who have never left the midwest and who where not thrilled when their son bought this strange old loud fat foreigner into their lives. Add to that that at the time my husband (then boyfriend) was worried there would be a fight, had not even told them I existed until we went back to his home town so you can imagine the shock at that first meeting.

They were perfectly nice to my face, and then proceeded to take him to one side and have a long long long talk/yelling match with him. For the first 12 months they wanted me gone, they were never anything but nice to my face but did not think I was good for their son. Talking to my mother in law now it is clear that it was never personal they just wanted what they thought was best for their son and it took both my now husband and I a little while to convince them I was.

Things that helped were me ignoring that this was going on in the background, believe it or not. I left all those discussions to my husband and his parents, he defended me in his quite way and they slowly realised he wasn't going to change his mind. He also very intentionally increased his displays of PDAs around his family as he is normally very reserved, but seeing him holding my hand or hugging me helped his parents see that he actually did care and that I wasn't some cougar trying to steal herself a toyboy.

It is hard but what you have to realize is that what they are saying right now is based on their misplaced concern for their son, they don't know you well enough to have an informed opinion on you so they are picking on the obvious things.

None of this is personal about you even though it feels it and it sucks, trust me I know. Whenever I go to one of his family gatherings I'm treated like some sort of freak every time I open my mouth and they hear an accent. I've taken to a when in doubt assume stupidity instead of malice attitude because like it or not all these crazy Mid westerners are now my family too. Funny thing is after 3 years of marriage my MIL is like a second mother to me, who goes out of her way to be kind because now she considers me family, and she is basically a kind person who was for a while there protecting her son. I am not saying it will all work out with your partners parents, I'm saying give them a chance and yes I know it's hard to do.
posted by wwax at 7:48 AM on September 6, 2012 [27 favorites]

I gues my comment is going to be way off the reservation.

Not so far. I don't have any idea what the photo thing is supposed to mean (maybe email a mod with a clarification?) but the part where a retired doctor talks to his son about health ramifications, etc. seems pretty at-odds with the way this post opens, "My boyfriend's family is concerned he's dating a Fatty."

That opening line led me to expect something like maybe the boyfriend's family was concerned that there was a problem with his self-esteem because he was dating a Fatty when he "could do better." But it doesn't sound like you have that problem at all, just an overbearing doctor who maybe felt inclined to give patients more advice than was appropriate and who maybe sometimes forgets that family members aren't patients.

If that read might be at all accurate (and maybe it isn't!), then I would suggest it might be the type of family behavior that you just roll your eyes at. I know it's tempting to want to correct every injustice on AskMe and a lot of people will insist that you either push back strongly until Dad's mind is changed, or else never speak to them again...but just speaking from my own experiences, that sort of obstinacy doesn't keep the gears turning in family situations. It isn't your job to correct his thinking any more than it's his to correct your weight. Consider whether the smartest solution for everybody involved might be to just roll your eyes and move to the next topic.
posted by cribcage at 8:08 AM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

He didn't say his son shouldn't date you.
He didn't say he didn't approve of you.
He didn't say you were beneath him.
He didn't say you were of diminished value as a person due to your weight.

Maybe he means those things, maybe he is super judgey and making his mind up based on size and class difference. MAYBE. But to decide he is doing that with no additional information is making a value judgement based on class/size differences.

To be fair he is a retired doctor, i've had more than a few retired doctors give me unwanted medical advice. (comes up a lot in my field) And healthy at any size was most certainly not in vogue when he was practicing medicine, hell it's not the predominate thinking now. I guarantee he is honestly concerned about your weight's impact on your health. He may also be a son of a bitch but that doesn't change his world view regarding your weight.

You are becoming a mother to his grand-kids, he may have honest concern about you lifespan. Not that he should care or isn't being pushy and weird but not necessarily as malevolent as you're assuming.

my 2 cents.
posted by French Fry at 8:11 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
My bf's father actually said "she's morbidly obese and should lose weight." Perhaps his only concern was my health, but as it turns out, there was one sister-in-law going around saying how great she thinks I am and how good my bf and I are together. This, from all accounts, was met with discussions and commentaries about my size. I guess I take that as a statement of the size trumping all of my good qualities. You are right that I don't know -- but I know I feel hurt. I am trying to not influence my interactions with them. Fortunately they live out of town and I won't have to deal with them often.

As for the photos:

They were mostly candid, artistic shots of the activities that weekend. I took pics of bf and bro playing basketball, of the kids with their grandparents, and general pics of the outside of the house and the scenery. I did take pics of their barn and horse. Yes, an entire stable and horse. These were taken so I could send a thank you card with some nice pics. I wil still do that. But, he specifically asked what I was doing with the photos and if I was taking them to show my family. This makes me, and my bf who obviously knows him better, think that he assigned some malice to my frequent photos.

As an aside - the parents and siblings found fault with his ex and they frequently comment on her personality and parenting style. I've met his ex and we get along fine - she seems kind and accepting, and I can understand why she withdrew from his family after taking so many negative comments.his parents and sibs really don't involve themselves with the kids(he's the only sib with kids), and they only intervene to correct them. I don't think dad's concern has anything to do with concern for the grand kids.

Thanks for your help so far!
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:45 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry that you're dealing with this. I agree that his dad's comments were off-base. To play devil's advocate, I agreed with cribcage on reading, though--my impression from what you posted (especially asking whether you had had a physical) was that he was a dad and also a lifelong physician expressing genuine concern about your health, not concern over whether you were "a fatty". The tone sounded a little different. Again, he may not have realized that his comments were unwanted or obtrusive. (Which they were!)

Even if his initial reaction was not what you wanted, I think your boyfriend did a good job of dealing with a tough situation by standing up for you to his family as soon as he saw that you were upset. That is important. I would try to be understanding that it's hard to know what to do when ambushed by your own family about another part of your family (you), and it's sometimes rough to think well on your feet. He sounds supportive.

Regarding the photo thing, I am going to say something that may be unpopular, but perhaps your very well-meaning abundant photo taking made the family uncomfortable for boundary reasons? I say this as someone who used to have a boyfriend who took photos all the time and was quite adamant about not considering if it was an appropriate time for others or asking anyone else if it would be okay first. It made me, personally, uncomfortable, and was sometimes intrusive. His stance was photography was a creative expression for him, and that the whims of others should not be allowed to dictate what photos he decided to take. By contrast, my husband, who is a former professional photographer and still-avid photo guy, is always very sensitive about when to pull out the camera and usually will casually ask if anyone minds if he start shooting in those situations. If people say no, he knows it isn't a good time, and if they say yes, it often helps to draw people out a little bit. Not only is it considerate (especially in a place like someone else's home or family event), but more comfortable people make for better, more candid photos. I'm not sure what happened, but could his reaction have come from some clumsily-expressed discomfort related to that? Just something to consider.
posted by anonnymoose at 8:49 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

2nding French Fry. I'm a medical student and One of my good friends has been steadily gaining weight and I worry about her. She's been big as long as I've known her, and she looks fantastic- she's a sharp dresser and aesthetically, her size is a part of her, and I live her to death. But I don't want to live her to death. She believes in health at any size, but she's been struggling with joint and endocrine problems which are tied to her weight. The very sickest patients I see at the hospital are also the largest - heart disease asside, there are complex endocrine issues at play, and the risk of infection with surgery seems to be much higher for a number of reasons. People with diabetes or even moderate insulin insensitivity seem to pick up infections more easily, some of which can be life threatening, and some of them are just darn nussiances (ahem yeast infections).

So to play devils advocate, he might actually be looking out for you, or at least trying to keep his future daughter in law alive and well for as long as possible. Weight loss isn't easy, but if you talk to people at a weight watchers meeting (if you haven't already) you'll hear what a difference losing even a few pounds has had on their quality of life.
posted by abirae at 9:03 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, especially with your clarification it seems crystal clear that this guy is just letting his medical feelings into the mix in a way that is coming off as rude. I'm a doctor too. When I see people who are morbidly obese, I think my my medical mind that "they are morbidly obese and should lose weight." It's just automatic. It's like seeing someone with a suspicious looking mole and wanting to tell them they need to get checked for skin cancer, or knowing someone is a smoker and feeling the urge to tell them to quit smoking.

Now, I would never even consider telling my child's significant other my medical opinion about their health, unless they explicitly asked for it, or maybe if I thought it was something really life threatening in the short term (like the possible skin cancer). That's just socially inappropriate. But I'm just saying I understand why it's in his head. Doctors see people having medical complications from obesity every day and that makes it hard to see obesity as something other than a health risk factor. I have to admit that I would find it impossible to accept the health at every size philosophy because it does not seem medically accurate to me. I'm sorry.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:05 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

About the photos: There are families for whom the 'family photo' is a posed, portrait-studio type thing, even if it's not actually taken in a studio. (And the 'artistic photo' is taken by a professional photographer with gallery representation.) They're not so in to the candid shots, and may not understand it when other people are. They may be highly image-conscious or intensely private, and want to have control over the photos of them that get out into the world. In my experience these traits occur more often in wealthy and/or WASPy families than could be accounted for by a purely random distribution. So, perhaps boundaries were an issue with the photos. And don't underestimate the gulfs in our understanding of each other across class or other cultural lines - the father may truly have had no clue what anyone would want with those candid or artsy shots.
posted by expialidocious at 9:07 AM on September 6, 2012

Or I should add that it is certainly possible that I just don't understand what the health at every size movement is and that's the problem, I certainly do think that people can be by medical standards overweight and yet they exercise and eat well and that such people probably have much less to fear in terms of complications of obesity. That just doesn't jive to me with the "every size" part of the phrase, though.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:08 AM on September 6, 2012

I did take pics of their barn and horse. Yes, an entire stable and horse. ...he specifically asked what I was doing with the photos and if I was taking them to show my family.

Based on what you wrote in the post about the family's wealth, and the way you characterized your disinterest in "grand houses" and how you added, "Yes, an entire stable"...? If someone were to read your comments here uncharitably, they could not-unreasonably infer that you have some issue with the family's wealth.

Is it possible you've made similar comments to them? I don't mean to criticize you, but I think it's helpful to try and imagine what the other perspective might be. Assume that they are aware of the wealth disparity, and maybe they are predisposed to feel sensitive about it. Just for sake of argument, assume that's true of them. With that assumed, have you made comments—similar to some you've made here—from which they could reasonably infer that you do have an issue with their wealth?

Because if so, then the Dad's question about your photos might make sense. "I noticed she was taking pictures of our barn. Was that so she can show her mom, 'Hey, look at these ridiculous rich people with their entire barn for just one horse!'"
posted by cribcage at 9:19 AM on September 6, 2012

Just saw all my typos. That's what happens when I feel something is important enought to attempt to write from my phone.
posted by abirae at 9:24 AM on September 6, 2012

My interpretation is more along the line of sm1tten's.

Your bf's father is a retired doctor. Couldn't it be that he simply has some professional concern about your weight and was expressing this to your bf? I'm somewhat overweight with a BMI of 28.5, but have overall good fitness for a non-sporty type due to the miles of daily walking that go along with living in NYC. Nevertheless, my doctor would like to see me lose 20 pounds and doesn't miss a chance to say so.

It's also (in my experience) somewhat a feature of wasp culture to "just say it" about a few things -- and this is one of them. This is not necessarily done with a mean, judgmental or condescending intent, although of course the recipient might receive it this way. To make another example from my personal life, my mother's father struggled with weight during his lifetime and my mother can barely keep herself from commenting on my weight, either positively or negatively, every time she sees me (I am his spitting image).

It's clear that you have some sensitivity in this area, as do most people who are overweight. I am certainly no exception in this regard. It can be especially grating sometimes when we know that an overweight person can often have better overall fitness than a person with a lower BMI. I can out-endurance plenty of skinny people. But... it seems likely to me that you may be reacting to this conversation by feeling "negatively judged" by your bf's father when this may not have been his intent at all. Quite to the contrary, it may be the case that your bf's father likes you and has some professionally-informed concern about your weight that he expressed to your bf. It does strike me that you're reading an awful lot into this. I wouldn't necessarily interpret any of this as an indication that your bf's family thinks you are "not good enough, don't fit their image of what is acceptable, and are not a good match for their son."

To be honest, it's hard to know how off-base any of these concerns may be without having some idea as to your height and weight, and dress size doesn't give a very good idea of that. There are women wearing a size 20 dress who are 5'5" and 250+ pounds. This is a size that most people would find concerning from a health standpoint, and at a BMI of over 40 does equate to "morbidly obese." On the other hand, there are people wearing a size 20 dress who are considerably smaller.

As for the photo-taking... if someone is taking a zillion photographs at the annual gathering some people may find this strange or noteworthy behavior, especially by someone who is relatively unfamiliar to them.
posted by slkinsey at 9:24 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the photography thing is something that just makes some people uncomfortable, especially if they're wealthy. Once I was at a wealthy friend's house, and I had a new camera, and I started taking pictures of little things (like their cuckoo clock etc.), and I stopped when I saw how uncomfortable my host was getting. I think it must have seemed like an invasion of his privacy, and I suspect that he was was a little concerned by where the photos might end up.
posted by hermitosis at 9:26 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Consider yourself very fortunate these are the only 2 comments made to you by your potential in-laws.

Something to note....

You didn't have any indication he was thinking about your weight during the holiday. You only came to realize by overhearing a private conversation. That means, he treated you without judgment during the holiday. If he was an ass, you would not have lasted 1 day at the holiday.

2nd ... Did you expect your BF's family to never discuss things about you with their son, if you may become a part of their lives? As a medical doctor, it would be neatly impossible to not bring up your weight. He didn't do it openly, but privately. That points to concern , not hostility.

Just as you are so acutely aware of your weight, so are others who are a part of your life. There is a difference between your father and his father: your father was not kind. Do not treat both of them with the same approach.

Your BF, and his family seem like decent people. You have lived many years as obese, and the way the world has treated you thus far can cloud your perception of genuine and innocent concern - but it's not right to respond without truly checking the spirit behind the words they use.

Finally, I suspect you are much more negatively conscious about the wealth and status disparity than they are. Will this present a problem for you as you get further along in life with your BF?

posted by Kruger5 at 9:57 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Could the concern about the photos have been "are those photos of our grandchildren going on the BIG SCARY INTERNET WHERE PERVERTS LURK?"

It sounds like they are of the age to still have a potentially tepid and mistrustful relationship with the internet.
posted by jph at 10:23 AM on September 6, 2012

Wait, did your boyfriend tell your father that his questions about whether you took a physical were inappropriate, and need to stop, or did just call to tell his father that he loves you at any size.

Because I think the first one is really, really important. It's setting boundaries. Just saying the second one doesn't really cut it for me. Certainly the family has the right to talk to their son about you and express concerns, but they need to do it respectfully. Asking about your physical - Inappropriate. And unless his father actually said that he was concerned about YOUR health, and future children having a mother, or whatever, it isn't reasonable to assume that this was his intention.

Lastly, that his father said that he wouldn't undermine your boyfriend is faint, bare minimum bullshit. What about actually saying that he would support him and his decision to be in a relationship with you? That's like saying you won't trip someone (actively undermine them) but if they fall, they're on their own. I'd like to think that my parents would give me advice and support for my relationship if I was struggling, which is why see those statements as different as well.

I think I'd really need by partner to recognize this. If they didn't, I'd be pretty miffed as well.
posted by anitanita at 10:39 AM on September 6, 2012

On the bright side, you now have the world's best excuse for not having to spend time with your in-law equivalents. If I were you, I'd avail myself of it liberally. Screw them.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:41 AM on September 6, 2012

I would feel really weird if I invited someone over and they started taking pictures of my house and outbuildings. I think most people would, regardless of the grandiosity of their home. Add to this the fact that when you're wealthy, you frequently have to deal with people having some exaggerated reaction to your wealth--either wanting to be your friend because of it, or resenting you because of it, or wanting other people to know that they're friends with you as some kind of status symbol because of it, etc., etc. It's a constant thing and one of main reasons that the wealthy tend to be insular. Consequently, it would be natural to have a feeling of suspicion about someone taking pictures of your house and stable.
posted by HotToddy at 10:52 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Given the previous nice things said about you, I would guess this is probably a cover story for something else. Dad is a retired MD and it is probably not hard to guess this is an emotional Achilles heel for you. This strikes me as a power play. He is trying to assert some sort of authortative power (tretired MD "concerned" about your "health").

My guess as to the real issue setting him off: Wealthy people are very vulnerable to social predators. They are very prone tohaving "dozens of friends and the fun never ends...that is, as long as I'm buying". He probably is wondering if either you are casing the joint or looking to brag to family and friends about their moneyor something similar. People with money can be real touchy about anything which strikes them as a potential threat to their security, invasion of their privacy, or otherwise treating them in a dehumanizing fashion which values their money and possesions over the fact that they are still human. It is kind of like how pretty girls can get jaded about compliments: They can be quick to assume you are out to use them, and don't care what the negative impact to them is, because they have seen it too many times before.

I would proceed with treating this as a need to win daddy's trust. (How you use the pictures could be a great place to start and how you word that thank you note, with pics included, could be an important tipping point.) I would also take the position that an adult male in his 40's can decide for himself whom he wishes to be involved with and if his parents want to question his judgement, that neurotic crap is something he needs to work out himself. It is between him and them and may be rooted in very old family dynamics, having little to do with you per se. If they started being rude to my face, then I would let SO know that was not acceptable, I would not go visit again, etc.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:59 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

(Just realized that I mixed up "no" and "yes" responses in my above example of asking people if they mind photos being taken in social situations. Sorry, I hope my post still made sense!)
posted by anonnymoose at 11:00 AM on September 6, 2012

There seem to be two separate issues. The intrusive comments and the reaction to your photography.

I think the fathers comments point to the families realization that your relationship with their son has become important and may be moving towards marriage. I would ascribe them to the parental desire to protect and steer a child from harm. Misguided and inappropriate? Yes. But at this point you are not their family, he is.

On the plus side their behavior to you over the weekend was hospitable. Your boyfriend defended you. Both of these are very good indicators!

You need to be the wise one here and try to not take this personally. Your choices now will have huge ramifications later. Be gracious and give them room to accept their sons choice and your place in his life. Prove them wrong!

Is it possible that you felt more comfortable behind the camera rather than interacting directly over the weekend? If so, they may have sensed that and been aware of your discomfort. Which in turn created discomfort for them, and on it spirals.

The fathers question about you showing the photos to your family was based on his realization that you two are serious. In his mind this would be a precursor to engagement.

Not every family is into photos. Some find it intrusive, akin to feeling annoyed when someone checks their phone in the midst of a conversation. While your intent was lovely they had no idea of it. Proceed with your planned gift of the images - it will be a gracious act, will allow them to move forward with you more easily and it will answer their questions about the photography.

This is not about you. This is about them, their concern for their son and grandchildren and their personal boundaries. Hold your head high, keep being the fantastic person you are and let them discover how deep the love you share is. If you can do this there is a very good chance that they will accept the relationship and eventually embrace you.
posted by cat_link at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

As for the photography thing--I think that is just a boundary issue. Some people might see it as more invasive than others. Photography is something I love, and it is something I do professionally, so believe me, I understand the desire to photograph things. However, if a new person came to my family get-together and had never been to my family's house before and started taking a lot of photos...well, I might feel a little weird, like my family and my home was a tourist attraction. Many people do not like having their photo taken, and while you have met his parents before, I am assuming you were meeting other members of his family for the first time, and I could see how that might make them feel a bit strange. Sure your intentions were great, but no one knew your intentions when you were walking around snapping photos.

he wondered specifically if I was taking them to show my family.
Perhaps taking photos to show your family was the outcome he was hoping for, but didn't want to ask, "are these photos of my family and my home going up on her blog/flickr/facebook?" A SO of one of my family members used to do that, and it became really strange to see photos of every family event (something I had become accustomed to being a private thing) posted on a public website.
posted by inertia at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oops: In case it isn't obvious, my thoughts in paragraph 2 (that you could be casing the joint, etc) is in relation to why the "excess" photos upset him.
posted by Michele in California at 11:11 AM on September 6, 2012

I actually think it's likely that your boyfriend's family will eventually make remarks about your weight to your face. WASPs have a reputation for not bringing up uncomfortable topics, but weight isn't necessarily one of them. The upper crust WASP obesity rate may be low in part because some families police each other about it.

I dated a heavy guy from a wealthy WASP family and his parents frequently discussed his weight, particularly at mealtimes. They never remarked on mine but if the relationship had lasted and they felt closer to me, it probably would have come up. It's like racism; people who feel this way can't hold it in for long.

I think the ideal response is that you're seeing a specialist and following their advice, thanks for your concern.
posted by gentian at 11:13 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I personally find picture-taking intrusive, so it's not hard for me to imagine that at least a few of your boyfriend's family felt the same way. I would disregard the whole "did she take them to show her family" thing because I do think that taking a ton of pictures of people you don't know that well is off-putting even though you had good intentions.

We are about the same size and while I've never dated someone that came from a family that had money, I have dated people whose families had issues with me over similar things (age, race, etc.) Some of them also said, "She has such a pretty face!" which of course is code for "it's a shame she's so fat, otherwise she'd be a really pretty girl."

I know it's hard right now to say fuck them because your feelings are still hurt, but from one fat chick to another, I'll say it for you. Fuck them. It doesn't matter what they think, because they are not dating you, your boyfriend is and he has your back.
posted by crankylex at 11:25 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it depends how they treat you otherwise, and whether they are actually trying to undermine your relationship or are generally supportive.

I was always overweight growing up. Looking back, it's difficult to know whether I was really obese or just a little chubby because while the pictures look otherwise, my mom told me on a daily basis how fat and disgusting I was. Whenever she sees overweight people, she goes on a rant about how they're so fat. It took me a long time to reconcile that with knowing that she does love me. I've seen this with other people too -- they hate people of type X [whether X is a body type, religion, nationality, whatever] but they can sincerely like or even love a specific person of type X while still having a big problem with that aspect of the person and vocally expressing their disapproval of that characteristic. It's wrong and it sucks. But if you can move past it once you're over your initial shock and disappointment, it doesn't necessarily need to poison your entire relationship with them IF it's good in other ways. Especially if your boyfriend is firm with his parents and shuts them down every time they try to bring it up.

For the pictures, I think if you send them a nice card or a photo book as a gift, they may be reassured that you weren't taking tons of pictures of their family for your own personal use. I can see how that would be weird. After a year and a half they may not consider you to be really "part of the family" enough to want to take pictures of everybody.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:00 PM on September 6, 2012

If you go forward with your plan to give them some prints as a gift, I would only include shots that are candids of people, showing them in a positive light, or perhaps artsy close-up studies. Nothing featuring their property or reinforcing the notion they're wealthy.
posted by werkzeuger at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I second abirae's and treehorn+bunny's comments. I love my sister dearly. More than a decade ago, she married a man who was significantly overweight. Over the past decade he's continued to gain weight (maybe another 100 pounds?) until he is actually, medically, morbidly obese. He's showing all the signs of having diabetes, and has been for many years now. He's watching his own family members be nearly bedridden because the bones in their feet cannot support their weight, and he's watching them die of heart disease. He himself cannot do normal physical activity without stopping to catch his breath. His feet are constantly swollen. The veins in his legs are now varicose veins. He has a difficult time finding clothes that both fit and are appropriate for the workplace. I believe he now sleeps sitting up in a chair. He becomes very flushed and overheated in normal room temperatures. He refuses to go to a doctor for any reason. He believes he's healthy.

I like him a lot, but I love my sister. Occasionally over the years we've asked my sister about his health. She loves him, and he has been very good to her. But when he dies (and we all die), she will be devastated and completely lost without him. We'd like for that to be much further down the road than it seems now that it will be.

Given that your boyfriend's father is a doctor, and a father who loves his child and grandchildren, I would absolutely guess that this worry is his worry too, and that that is what he was trying to express especially since your relationship is becoming very serious. I'd give the father the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he is worried that his son and grandchildren will be hurt.
posted by Houstonian at 6:55 PM on September 6, 2012

My grandmother once told my Jewish girlfriend that it was time for Israel to give back. They had just met for the first time... Now, my grandmother is a very sweet and very caring person, but she says what's on her mind without thinking about it.

Parents are going to talk with their kids about anyone they're seriously involved with. My Mom, for instance, was concerned that one of my ex-girlfriends might be self-centered and leading me on in certain respects. There was another girlfriend she felt was flat out crazy. In other words, it happens. Parents are people too, and need to get any concerns out, regardless of how off base they may be.

Finally, if my son were marrying someone I considered obese, I probably would make sure my kid knew that there are health implications. That's just looking out for my kid. The photo thing is a pretty crazy accusation to make. Maybe they were genuinely confused as to why you were taking so many photos? A lot of people my parents age don't understand why I take so many photos, they're still thinking in terms of film rolls with 30 shots.

Definitely try and take the high road here.
posted by xammerboy at 9:00 PM on September 6, 2012

You're bringing a ton of baggage to the weight thing - your Dad's comments, your belief that your partner's family members look down on you. With all that stuff, you're not exactly positioned to see this clearly. Maybe it is just a physician looking out for the physical health of his child and grandchildren. Since your boyfriend stood up for you maybe it's worth letting go of this for awhile and seeing how his parents respond in the future.

The photos? Yeah, I get where he's coming from on that. I would be thinking, why is someone taking a bunch of photos of people she doesn't know? I get that you had good intentions with the photos, but I also see how it would feel invasive to have a stranger clicking away. If they wanted a photographer to come photograph the reunion, then they would have hired one. No big deal, but in the future ask before you get overly snappy with the photos.
posted by 26.2 at 11:41 PM on September 6, 2012

Finally, if my son were marrying someone I considered obese, I probably would make sure my kid knew that there are health implications.

Unless your son grew up with literally zero access to any western media, he would realize the health implications without you having to call attention to them. Every single potential health issue surrounding fatness is covered constantly on television, newspapers, magazines, and the internet.
posted by crankylex at 8:44 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I read this situation differently than nearly anyone else posting.

1) Pictures of the grounds probably unnerve this wealthy, WASP-y family because they are conscious of the fact that if you marry this guy, they may have to rewrite their wills to make sure their grandkids inherit, not you. In other words they're questioning your motives in dating their son, because they need to do that in order to eventually be comfortable with you. The wealthier a family is, the more this goes on, I find; and I also find it likely has nothing to do with your personal character - it happens to any significant other with a pulse.

2) A doctor inquiring about someone's weight may honestly be concerned about that person's health, which is intimately tied to their happiness. It may in fact be an expression of caring. Not every doc is up on the latest thinking regarding overweight, by the way - older docs tend to hold older attitudes - and even some modern docs question the fat acceptance/healthy at any weight movement, so I think I wouldn't jump to conclusions about what the motivations are.

3) You overheard half of a conversation that wasn't intended for your ears - commenting on such an overheard conversation is considered ill-mannered in some circles, by the way, so take steps to ensure it doesn't get back to them. In any event you seem to be jumping to a lot of conclusions on what is a generally sensitive topic, and one that seems especially sensitive for you. Go slow in your interpretations. Get more evidence. Spend more time with these people and try to understand why they make you so uncomfortable.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 10:35 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

But, he specifically asked what I was doing with the photos and if I was taking them to show my family. This makes me, and my bf who obviously knows him better, think that he assigned some malice to my frequent photos.

As nicely as possible, taking photos of people is fine as long as you don't put any of them on Facebook or Flickr or anywhere else. Photos of people's houses and grounds can feel to your hosts like class tourism and is awkward. Send them a photo of the horse as a thank you rather than anything else.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:27 PM on September 7, 2012

On the photo side: Did you ask before taking the photos? If not, the I think they might have considered it rude. I would not appreciate someone taking photos of my home without having a conversation about it first.

Also, since his father is a doctor, I am sure it would be odd for him not to ask his son about your weight at least once. Then your BF set a boundary and is father said he would stay out of the way. Can't really get much better than that.

I know your feelings are hurt, but it sounds like you are projecting your struggles onto these bits of information. I would just let both of these pass and I bet in a few weeks, this won't be an issue anymore.
posted by Vaike at 5:36 PM on September 7, 2012

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