Please help me figure out my friend's annoying comments
July 13, 2018 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I went on vacation with a group of friends recently. One friend made numerous annoying comments about her looks and eating habits and I'm trying to figure out the root cause of those comments.

She and I are both thin women, she a little thinner than I. At every meal, she made several comments about how little she'd eaten, how full she was, how she couldn't possibly fit any more in her stomach even though she'd only had a small amount, etc. She also commented that others had eaten more than her, particularly me. I felt like she was making meal amounts into a competition, except it wasn't a competition I'd signed up for or wanted to be in.

We went to a sauna and had to rent swimsuits. She asked for an XS but was told S was the smallest they had, so she took a S. Then I asked for a S as well. While changing, she complained that her swimsuit was "a billion times too big". It looked like it fit her perfectly and I said so, and she replied that it was really loose. As far as I could tell, the size S fit both of us just fine, not too loose at all.

She also made numerous comments about how blonde she is (she has naturally light blonde hair). Examples:
- "Oh, the reason that person thought I didn't speak English is because she must've assumed I was Swedish or German because I'm blonde."
- "I stood out so much when I was in China because of my hair!"

I got really really tired of constantly hearing about how thin and blonde she is. But I'm also curious why someone would make these comments. Possibilities I've thought of:
- she's simply arrogant about the way she looks and wants to bring it up a lot
- she's insecure about the way she looks and tries to overcompensate by bringing it up a lot
- she somehow views me as competition (which is silly, as I'm brunette, a bit heavier than she, and eat more than she does, so if the competition is who can be blondest, thinnest, and eat the least, she clearly wins!). But she is a competitive person generally and always has to be right, so maybe this is a possibility.

I'm guessing people will suggest that she has disordered eating but I really and truly don't think that there's anything abnormal about her eating. She does eat small amounts as she mentioned but nowhere near the starving herself category or anything of that nature.

I'm curious what others think. Thanks in advance!
posted by sunflower16 to Human Relations (48 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I’m no psychologist, sociologist, psychiatrist, therapist or astrological psychic, but maybe your friend has an endorphin button attached to feeling outstanding, and she’s too self-centred to recognize that she’s constantly hitting that button for more stim.

One could only wildly speculate why she’s feeling sufficiently needy to require constant self-affirmation.

The root cause of her anxieties could be anything, but in the interest of wild speculation I’m going to say secret murder. She’s probably committed a secret murder and it’s been eating away at her ever since.

More plausibly, she may have compiling errors in her self-esteem.

Either way she’s feeling an itch inside that is easiest scratched via self-praise. The scratching is likely reflexive and unconscious. The itch is either dramatic enough or pervasive enough to override any awareness of the crassness of self-praise, or its effect on others. She hurts.
posted by Construction Concern at 6:55 AM on July 13, 2018 [48 favorites]

I don’t know that we’re going to be able to give you a satisfying answer to this question. I can agree with you that this all sounds very tedious, but I don’t think I as an internet stranger am well posed to explain why your friend is annoying. I think the explanations you’ve come up with on your own are plausible enough. “Preoccupied with looks because of what society tells us is important for women + lacking the social skills to avoid blurting out whatever is on her mind in the moment” is what I might reach for, but you know your friend and I don’t.

Are you looking for advice on how to handle it in the moment? I think the venerated advice columnists of the internet might suggest that naming the behavior can go a long way to changing the dynamic. “Friend, you are talking about food and bodies a lot this trip. What’s going on?” Then listen. You can also say, “Talking about this stuff so much makes me feel uncomfortable.” And then change the subject; repeat as needed.
posted by eirias at 6:57 AM on July 13, 2018 [34 favorites]

- she's simply arrogant about the way she looks and wants to bring it up a lot
- she's insecure about the way she looks and tries to overcompensate by bringing it up a lot
- she somehow views me as competition

I think you're right on with your suggestions. I'd also add that she's probably fishing for attention and/or validation from you as well. I find this kind of behavior exhausting and immature, and move away from those "friendships" as quickly as I can.
posted by PosterGirlwithNoPoster at 6:58 AM on July 13, 2018 [15 favorites]

My thoughts – She's both insecure, about her image and body, obviously, but possibly about whether she measures up in your eyes. She might really think you are pretty awesome but hasn't figured out that what she has to offer you for friendship is just, you know, being a good person and friend.

She may also have a side of not realizing how annoying the thoughts in her head could be to the people around here. I remember making some stupid comment about my body when I was young and one of my friends at that time remembers it pretty well as a super eye-rolling moment. It wasn't quite along the lines of what your friend is doing but to my friend, she remembers it similarly. It was me trying on some Cosmo stuff I had heard and seeing how it would go over. Not well!

But, one pointed comment could shut this down if she's more the latter than the former, "Okay, friend, we get it, you're the tiniest and the blondest!" then give her a big smile and a nudge that says, 'I like you but knock it off.' If she persists, you may have a long road of hanging with a person who is obsessed with some aspects of her body beyond all sense.
posted by amanda at 7:00 AM on July 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

- she somehow views me as competition (which is silly, as I'm brunette, a bit heavier than she, and eat more than she does, so if the competition is who can be blondest, thinnest, and eat the least, she clearly wins!). But she is a competitive person generally and always has to be right, so maybe this is a possibility.
My guess is that it's a competition over who can be the best more generally, and because you intimidate her a little bit, she's fixating on comparisons where she thinks she clearly wins. She's thinking "sunflower16 is really cool, and I bet I'm not as cool as her. But I'm thinner than her! And I'm blonder than her! And I eat less than her! So I'm not totally uncool. I'm ok." Which is sad, because part of what makes you genuinely cool is that you (presumably) don't view every other woman as your competition. She sounds really insecure and pretty tedious. I think you're going to have to decide whether her positive qualities offset that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:14 AM on July 13, 2018 [19 favorites]

I don't think it's always insecurity. Some people want to be the smartest person in the room. Some want to be the best parent. Some want to be the most fit. Some want to be the most attractive. And others want to be the most adventurous.

If the friendship is strong enough I'll sometimes say, "Yes, aren't you the smartest person here!" or "You're the most exciting person who's ever done exciting things!" As long as they don't put me or others down to feel that way, eh, whatever.
posted by kimberussell at 7:20 AM on July 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

"She also commented that others had eaten more than her, particularly me."

Ugh whaaaaat that is so obnoxious. Making this type of comment changes the issue from "Constantly praises herself" to "Belittles others to make herself important." The first is a kind of immaturity that can be gently chided or ignored, the second is toxic and could really affect YOUR mental health.

I'm guessing she has created some zero-sum "competition" between her and all other women to see who is the most "feminine" aka teensy and eating the least. She is deluded enough that she thinks it's appropriate to subject others to her twisted internal monologue.

Why? A few ideas...
(a) she used to be overweight (or heavier than she is now), lost weight by restricting calories and now makes these comments because she feels she must be vigilant 24/7 so her old habits won't return
(b) she eats small amounts in public and then binges/purges in private, and her remarks are a deluded way of getting people "off the scent" of her eating disorder (you would be surprised at how common this is)
(c) she sees her body size and hair color as the chief merits she brings to the party, and in the future when she experiences age, metabolic change and/or any other change in her body she is going to be living hell to be around b/c of so much self-hatred.

As ArbitraryAndCapricious said, it's a question of whether her other qualities offset this. From personal experience, spending time around people who make these kind of petty digs about body size/constantly talk about dieting is toxic, even if you intellectually know it is all about them and has nothing to do with you.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 7:26 AM on July 13, 2018 [12 favorites]

I'd say massively insecure & assumes her looks are all she brings to the table. It's kind of sad, but also really annoying to be around.

How long did she stay in China when she was there, was she living there? She may well have heard comments about her size & what she ate while there. Even people that are small sized in the west find they're on the larger size in parts of Asia, also people are much more open to talking about someone being fat & how much they eat to their face. Different cultures have different ideas of what's considered rude to discuss I guess. My very fit size 14 friend had a person yell at her "Too fat nothing for you." in English when she walked into a clothes store in China, she tells the story while laughing but if you're sensitive that could wear you down fast.
posted by wwax at 7:30 AM on July 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think you're getting some really, really good answers, so hope you'll forgive that I'm only speaking to some parts!

When I read your above-the-fold question, my initial response was "western civilization", and I'm kinda gonna hold with that. Reading the rest of your question, I was reminded of talking with an anthropologist who had done work on eating disorders in France -- she said that they're specifically performative there, with women very obviously and publicly not eating food they'd ordered, so as to display how thin/clean/pure/etc. they are. I think this woman does a lot of similar performative proof of how she fulfills certain societal requirements for beauty.

(Incidentally, eating disorder goes well beyond anorexia, and I suspect she has a generally disordered relationship to food, even if she's eating enough to stay physically healthy.)

It sounds like you're puzzled, annoyed and a little curious, rather than hurt by her? I think if you have to spend time with her in future, maybe modeling better behavior could be an option? Specifically not talking about what you eat, or even responding to her comments about how things fit, etc. I worry that shutting her down would just encourage her more, or open up a dialogue that won't go to helpful places. If her comments cause you harm or make you feel bad about yourself, though, please take care of your own mental health and avoid spending time with her.
posted by kalimac at 7:30 AM on July 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

I feel like things like this tend to come from a place of insecurity and needing affirmation. She's putting all her self-esteem in this basket of (mostly) looks-related qualities that require others' endorsement.

One doesn't have to outwardly exhibit any signs of disordered eating to have an unhealthy relationship with food and body image.

However, that doesn't mean that she gets to involve you in her need to be acknowledged as the thinnest, blondest, whateverest person in the room.

I suggest you deflect her weird comments and questions if you want to stay friends (though I would find this tiresome enough and annoying enough to spend less time with them.)

'Wow you must have been hungry, you ate so much more than me!'
'I'm not sure why that matters.'
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:32 AM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


This is tedious as fuck. But it's also incredibly common socialized behavior. I have family members who use "skinny" as a synonym for "pretty" and their small-talk revolves entirely around their bodies and appearance, and they are for-real-for-real not being jerky or passive-aggressive, they just don't realize how much they do this. It's a proxy that has become a habit.

I react with something in the "arroo? What a super weird thing to say" family and ignore the rest. But it frustrates me to no end.

And yes, this woman sounds super insecure.
posted by desuetude at 7:35 AM on July 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think you're on to something with the observation that she has to always be right. For whatever reasons, she's decided that's she's really thin, has conspicuously blonde hair, and hardly eats anything, and she really wants everyone to affirm how very correct she is about these things. You could try just really blandly letting her "win": "Yeah, you hardly ate anything." "Too bad they didn't have an XS for you." "Your hair is really light." If she seriously then tries to make it about you, you'd be totally within your rights to tell her to stop, but you could also just be like, "Yep, I was hungry." "The S does fit me well." "My hair is darker, yes." (This is basically the "grey rock" technique for narcissists if you want to read into it more, though I'm not saying your friend necessarily is one.)
posted by teremala at 7:41 AM on July 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

Body dysmorphia? Just a thought.
posted by greermahoney at 7:42 AM on July 13, 2018

When she crosses the line into talking about what you ate, I think "Let's talk about something else" is as polite as I could be. And it's not v. polite.

Your theories are good. I think she may be competitive with you, as in she sees you being happy on Facebook and it bugs her, or some guy (person) likes something you've posted on FB and she's jealous that you get some attention that she wants.

It's too bad that eyerolling isn't audible, because I would be letting her hear it.
posted by puddledork at 7:48 AM on July 13, 2018

If she's a friend and she doesn't normally bother you with this stuff, I'd suggest looking at things like Martha Rosler Reads Vogue (1992; 26 mins.) or research on the impact of media on self-image/body-image so that you can reframe this as more of a cultural issue. My assumption is that different people experience common cultural messages differently--like, some glide past them, some look at them oppositionally, many are pushed into unhealthy places, and some like your friend take them up with enthusiasm as something to chat about. We all look for ego rewards somewhere, and we also need incidental topics of conversation and easily mistake what seems common and interesting to us as something other people care about too.
posted by Wobbuffet at 7:53 AM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think she's young. Too young to know... But I know a woman who absolutely tortured her three daughters, two of whom were active sufferers of anorexia nervosa, and she's in her early eighties and still pulling this shit, so maybe your friend will never learn. It would be really beneficial to her and all who know her if she would learn, and I think it's worth sacrificing the friendship, especially since she's currently a total pill.

Maybe you could take a week and hang out intensively and respond to every one of these with "I know, you look absolutely amazing." "Right? So blond! Like an angel, except sexy." "I could only dream of such beauty..."

Then take a week off to regroup and get over that feeling that you get when you read too many fashion mags.

Then do another week of intensive hangout except respond to every one of these with "Shit, I know, and I'm so sorry, my friend, because: YOU. HAVE. NO. ASS!" "Yeah, sorry for you: nobody suspects it's natural, I'm afraid. (Is it natural?)" "Yeah, you ate basically nothing. Do you know what that's doing to your bones and your teeth and your skin and your barelyassthere hair? I mean, damn: read an article or something, or, like, go to the doctor, maybe?"

Then take the rest of your life off to regroup and get over having known her, unless and until she reforms.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:53 AM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think this is a combination of insecurity manifesting as "humblebragging" and women being socialized to view each other as competition (which is also a matter of insecurity). She may not even realize she's doing it, honestly. For her, this may just be the way she thinks women are supposed to relate to each other, and it's an easy way to get attention/confirmation.

I like teremala's suggestions of just blandly agreeing and moving on. She'll either outgrow this or she won't.

I hope the rest of the friends in this group were modeling better behavior. If she's relatively new to the group, she'll catch up.
posted by darksong at 8:00 AM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

The comments about eating do suggest eating disorder. This comes in all kinds of situations and pushing herself to eat less than others, to only eat small amounts, and to insist she's full when clearly she's barely touched her food are really common eating disorder traits. Turning it into a competition may be because she's at some level fighting the disorder - the push within herself to eat less, but it's okay because she ate less than other people. This is the same thing with the swimming suits, that she wants to feel thin and if she's thinner than someone she sees as thin (you) then she feels like she's doing it okay. That she's saying it out loud is obnoxious and best case scenario is a cry for help.

She may also have some kind of need to be competitive and put other women down. This wouldn't contradict any of the other stuff.

Other people have made good suggestions for ways to talk to her about it. If she keeps doing it and doesn't get that it's a problem, stop hanging out with her.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:06 AM on July 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think it's not your problem, fortunately, so you don't have to worry about it.

If you don't enjoy being around her, don't call her up. If she asks for help, you can be a good friend.

Otherwise it's not your bailiwick to decide how your friend gets to refer to herself.
posted by Nyx at 8:10 AM on July 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have known two women with eating disorders. One was extremely competitive in sports and just an overachiever in general, and the other was very vocal about her body weight and how light and breezy she felt and how she'd skip dinner because she just rarely felt hungry enough. Maybe your acquaintance is a combination of these traits? It's all armchair psychology, though. Someone else in your group of friends who knows her better might be able to provide more background on her.
posted by missmobtown at 8:19 AM on July 13, 2018

Maybe she's spent a lot of time around other people who talk like that, and it's rubbed off on her.

Since you said this was a vacation with a group of friends, I'm wondering what the rest of you were talking about when she made those comments. Maybe she didn't know what to add to the conversation and felt like she had to say something, and that's what came out.

Maybe she thinks about that stuff a lot.

If you two are close enough, it might be worth privately pointing out to her that she does this, and ask if there's a reason why. Maybe she'll be able to answer that.
posted by bananana at 8:26 AM on July 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm going with "feels bad about herself maybe especially in new situations such as travel because of anxiety".

When I was a young person with fewer manners and more insecurity, I would sometimes pop out with things that were basically "look how I don't eat fattening/immoral/etc food", and it was not until someone told me that I'd really hurt her feelings that it even occurred to me that I could possibly be heard enough to hurt anyone.

My headspace had been this: "I am obviously so much worse than everyone else in the entire world that no one could possibly be hurt by anything I say, also everyone is constantly judging me because I am so terrible, so I need to show them that I am Doing My Very Best, also while other people who [are bigger than me/eat more/etc] are fine just as they are because they are Legitimate Humans, I am a terrible pile of fail so if I were to be bigger/less healthy I would be utterly worthless".

Honestly, if she has other redeeming qualities as a friend, I'd just be super direct with her and say, "when you say that, I feel like we're competing to be the thinnest [or whatever] and it's not how I want to interact with you, let's not" or "when you beat the drum about how little you eat, you're going to make other people feel bad - is that really what you want?"
posted by Frowner at 8:30 AM on July 13, 2018 [54 favorites]

She indeed could be manifesting some kind of self-consciousness that's going on in her own head, and it's coming out of her mouth because she has no self-censor. Her internal monologue is just leaking out, so to speak.

I also have an idea for how to handle it:

Set up a coffee date with her, saying that you want to have a talk with her about something. Do this in a quasi-private place; because you are going to call her on this. Not in a "j'accuse!" way, but a "I notice you say these things about yourself and these things aren't true, and it's making me scared for the way you see yourself."

You know? Calling her on it when she's in the middle of the whole "ugh I ate so much and I'm so fat" mindset won't work because she's stuck listening to herself. But if you take your conversation out of that context, it may make her more likely to realize "wow, yeah, I do that a lot."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on July 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

She may have disordered eating of some sort, she may be insecure, she may be fucked up by her parents and society.

But she also may simply be an insipid git who doesn't have anything interesting to say, but also likes to talk. It's sort of the opposite of not assuming malice when stupidity is an option -- I also don't like to assume that people are victims when there are plenty of other explanations. It's good to be compassionate, but some people are just assholes.

There's a lot we don't know here. Do you like her? Does she like you? How long have you been friends, and is that relationship healthy and fulfilling, ever? If she's otherwise a lovely person and you care for her deeply, maybe it's worth reaching out, letting her know how she comes off, offering assistance and kindness if she wants it. But if not, I'd simply hang out with her less and not worry about why she says this inane shit.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:43 AM on July 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

You don't want to hear this or validate friend in this way. It sounds like she is not a close friend you're going to talk about therapy with. You can let her know you don't care about these topics.

Friend: I've eaten so little!
You: whatever, friend (bored tone)

Friend: I'm so blond in this light
You: uh huh (bored tone)

Friend: look how big pants Are!
You: eyeroll

Subtly train her, nobody cares.
posted by Kalmya at 8:46 AM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Patriarchy? Anxiety? Severe childhood trauma? I would find this deeply sad, and not vilify her, because she seems to be wrestling with some really awful stuff in a really awful way.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:51 AM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

"...when she's in the middle of the whole 'ugh I ate so much and I'm so fat' mindset"

But hers is not a whole "ugh I ate so much" mindset. Rather, she is at the ascendant end of the eating disorder continuum. So if you went the coffeedate route, you'd be saying: "I notice you say you're an extrasmall, not a small, and that you say you feel full after a teaspoonful of clear soup. These things aren't true, and it makes me worried for you." Actually, though, going for coffee with somebody and listening to them whisper their gentle concern that your body image might be too good would make anybody murderous with rage. So if you want to blow up the friendship, that's a far more efficient way than my elaborate three-week plan.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:55 AM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

If she only says these things to you and not all friends, and you're also thin, maybe she has just enough awareness to realize that saying this stuff to heavier women will not be received kindly, and doesn't realize that women her size don't like it either. I think it's more likely that she's trying to ally herself with you as two of a kind than that she's trying to compete.

it would not ever occur to me that a blonde woman talking about her hair was trying to make me, a pronounced brunette, feel inferior. the idea is ludicrous. even if this really is what she's doing, don't dignify it by noticing.

anyway, you don't have to pretend that as two thin women this is a fun way to bond, or that you understand and share her various obsessions. but it would also not be great to try to stage some intervention or line up snappy comebacks. she's being weird and boring, that's all you know. if you knew and liked her well enough not to suspect petty competitiveness, you might just say Hey, you talk about being thin a lot lately, is everything all right? and either she's all right and stops doing it, embarrassed, or she tells you what's wrong. but you don't sound close enough for that.

if an insecure person asks me straightforwardly if they look ok, I'll say Sure, no matter how much I suspect that they already know that. but even if this comes from the same place, it's too unpleasant to indulge and encourage. if a pained look followed by pointed silence is too awkward to pull off, "I really don't know what to say to that" is an all-purpose response to this nonsense.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:55 AM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

As a possible tack - this is common in my social circles where mental health issues are something we are mindful of - you might just say something like, "Hey, friend, I can't help but notice how much you talk about food and size and appearance, and I'm struggling with some disordered thinking around that stuff and could use less emphasis on it, if you think you're able to help me with that?"
posted by Lyn Never at 9:56 AM on July 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

All we can do is guess. I'm curious as to why you didn't ask her, though. It's possible if you note the behavior in an inquisitive way and full-on ask her what type of response she's looking for, i.e., "Hey, I can't help but notice that you continually mention how much food you've eaten and how blond and small you are; just wondering if there's a reason you do that? How would you like for us to respond? Do you want us to agree with you or something else?" and see what she says.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:03 AM on July 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

My cousin has done something similar to this for a long time - she is constantly "fixing" my appearance or commenting on something minor, like how my shoes are really worn out. She did this our whole lives and earlier this year I snapped and yelled at her for talking to me like this. She hasn't done it since and has actually said nice things occasionally. It is quite clear that she is jealous of me for various personality traits that make us very different and which make her feel inferior to me. In her case, this also applies:

(b) she eats small amounts in public and then binges/purges in private, and her remarks are a deluded way of getting people "off the scent" of her eating disorder (you would be surprised at how common this is)

Conclusion, based on my experience: she is envious of you and trying to build herself up in comparison, and she has some level of disordered eating which influences the way she tries to build herself up.

I think the "try to make it boring for her" technique will not work (it already sounds like your responses were pretty boring) and you should take it on directly. In my personal experience, I chose not to address my cousin's eating disorder and just addressed her behavior and how sick I was of it. Otherwise I just try to always be body positive and shutdown fat shaming, including fat shaming directed at oneself. She has a therapist and I am not capable of solving her problems.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:10 AM on July 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you get together with this person again, and she exhibits the same conversational pattern, I’d just be like, “You keep bringing up your haircolor and your size and how much you ate, and comparing yourself to other people. This isn’t a beauty pageant and I don’t appreciate having someone constantly judging everyone on how they look or what they eat. I hope nothing is going on with you that is making you feel that you need to eat less food or look a certain way, but regardless, your comments are really off-putting and need to stop.”
posted by Autumnheart at 10:12 AM on July 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have a slightly different take on this. I think a lot of women don't notice other qualities of themselves (or other women). It takes a certain amount of training/socialization to notice that, say, Jennie is really good at interacting with strangers, or Julia is unusually skilled at sussing out the good restaurants based only on looking at their menus and questionable Yelp reviews.

So, she may have only this as her identity, and her way of, in a sense, putting herself out there to relate to others. I'm not saying it's healthy, just that she might -- *might* -- just be nervous and saying something that she knows is true. Coming up with ways to relate to people is difficult, but for under-socialized (immature) people it's even more tricky.

I’d just be like, “You keep bringing up your haircolor and your size and how much you ate, and comparing yourself to other people.

I'd try hard to find something else good about her and direct her attention there. Maybe something like:

“You keep bringing up your hair color and your size and how much you ate, and comparing yourself to other people. Those are so superficial! What I think is really important and great about you is that you are the kind of person who [insert true thing here]."

"True thing" might be that she's willing to prioritize friendship enough to actually show up on this vacation, after rearranging her schedule. Or it might be the way she remembers people's birthdays, or her excellent color sense, or the fact that she texts back promptly like someone who cares. Whatever -- just give her something to hold on to about herself other than whatever her family or male friends have been feeding her.
posted by amtho at 10:26 AM on July 13, 2018 [23 favorites]

I would simply say that this is extremely common behavior, where you have a person who is deeply insecure about their rank in the social hierarchy, so they work really hard to create a narrative that puts themselves at the top of it, giving them the power to decide who the cool people are. If it wasn’t about appearance, it could be about job title or industry, education or lack thereof, whether you’re married or not, number of kids, wealth, sports team preference, Star Wars fandom, what type of videogames you play, other nerd culture...pretty much anything people gatekeep about.

So that’s what she’s doing, trying to set a narrative based on things that are observably true (yes, Karen, you are in fact the thinnest and blondest person here) and then ascribing a social rank to it (therefore you are the coolest and the rest of us are less cool in order of weight and hair color).

You don’t have to deny the observably true facts, but you can definitely short-circuit the attempt to ascribe a social rank to these qualities, by addressing the behavior directly (Karen, you seem to be focusing a lot on how everyone looks, that isn’t cool) and by ascribing equal value to other people’s qualities (I think Julie has a gorgeous hair color, and doesn’t Shannon look great in that dress?).
posted by Autumnheart at 10:37 AM on July 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would also say that you could reassure this friend by saying “We like you because of XYZ qualities, not because of your weight and how you look, you’re more to us than that,” but if she doesn’t quit it with the comments then you could also say, “You know what, we value each other based on more than our appearance, and if you can’t stop making comments about how we look or how we compare to you, then we need to part ways. That’s not how friends should treat each other.”
posted by Autumnheart at 10:39 AM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've dealt with this for so long, with women and sometimes men, depending, that my go to response is "It's not a competition."* That typically shuts down everything they're attempting to accomplish pretty fast.

*Unless it is, there a no-eating competition?
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:05 AM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm guessing people will suggest that she has disordered eating but I really and truly don't think that there's anything abnormal about her eating. She does eat small amounts as she mentioned but nowhere near the starving herself category or anything of that nature.

There are different ways disordered eating presents of them is definitely focusing intensely on what and how much everyone is eating. She doesn't have to be literally starving herself to have disordered eating.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:08 AM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

This sounds extremely like insecurity and possibly disordered eating. I honestly feel very sad, not annoyed. Because she can't feel comfortable with herself. Don't take it personally. Don't be annoyed. She sounds like she's struggling with body image.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:18 PM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have a friend like this (the weight part). I honestly don’t know if she has an eating disorder or is fishing for compliments, or what, but I got really tired of having this conversation.

One day, after confiding in me that her tiny meal made her feel fat and she could feel her size 0 pants were so, so tight, I suggested that maybe she should speak to her doctor about it. Not in a nasty or snarky way, but sincerely.

My thought was if she had a medical issue, this would be the right thing as she should be seeing a professional, and if it was just stupid conversation, she’d knock it off.

I don’t know what she did, but we haven’t discussed her weight since.
posted by AMyNameIs at 12:59 PM on July 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

It could be a bunch of the above, and an eating disorder is what came to mind first, but in general I sympathize with this as an instance of materialism. For instance, does she ever talk about how good the food she ate tastes? Places to go get food (or even suggest the place to eat)? Cooking for herself? Does she have a love life?

I sympathize because I have a good friend who is a DJ and who says he's not a record collector, but all he ever talks about is the records he just got, how little he paid for them, who else owns know, record collector talk. He never asks what I've been getting into, just his own self-absorbed travels and humblebrags.

I've known him a long time, so I can say stuff like, "don't you ever talk about music?" and, "I don't want to hear about who owns what $500 45," but it has no effect. Consider they might just be harmlessly broken people.

You could also egg her on: "Blondes are stereotyped as dumb, have you ever thought about dyeing your hair?"
posted by rhizome at 1:38 PM on July 13, 2018

Ignore. I have friends who do this, and eventually I realized that they want me to engage with them, which only prolongs the conversation further. Just ignore it, or redirect if you can. It's insecurity which is masquerading as gloating over how little she eats, how blonde she is, how her size small bathing suit is way too large, etc.
posted by 41swans at 2:19 PM on July 13, 2018

What if you were straight with her and replied with something along the lines of, "you know, you don't have to do that" or "what makes you say that?" (said in kind ways, not in sarcastic or annoyed tones).
posted by kokaku at 2:31 PM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think you’re on target as to why she does this. For how to react, perhaps the kindest thing you could do is make sure she knows you (all) value her friendship for other reasons. And create a micro-culture where people eat things that taste good with no regrets, hang out without their makeup on, and never make comparisons. Of course you’re not required to spend time with her if she’s being toxic, but if she’s actually a generally nice person, you’d be giving her such a life-changing gift by showing her you’re not assessing her looks but caring for her as a person. I’m kind of surprised she fell in with you rather than with a more, uh, competitive group. You probably can’t fix her - she may need therapy - but you’re showing her a different way to exist and that’s so important.
posted by Knowyournuts at 5:15 PM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ding training was invented for someone like her.
posted by Jubey at 8:25 PM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

If it were me though, I would let it all slide right up to where she starts having a go at what you eat or do, then my response would go something like this,
Her; You’re having all of that?
You; You know what else I have? Manners.
posted by Jubey at 8:28 PM on July 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

People's insecurities always seem to come out on group vacations, as well as their competitiveness, unconscious aggression, and any other learned defenses that they have not yet acknowledged, much less worked through, in their lives. I would think about what I like about this friend and limit our shared activities to things that bring the good side out. And I would not go on vacation with her again.
posted by Morpeth at 2:37 AM on July 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have no compunctions about asking people to leave their camera comments re food, nutrition, eating and bodyweight/shape outside of the shared eating space. It’s rude as fuck, triggering for many and to me totally uninteresting.
posted by Iteki at 3:26 AM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

What got me to stop making comments about my appearance like this was when a friend of mine responded, affectionately but firmly, "Get over yourself, (my name)."

My favorite response to any unwelcome question or remark is "why do you ask?" Or if that seems too coy, the more pointed "what's it to you?"
posted by milk white peacock at 8:39 AM on July 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

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