Ask­ing for a friend

Annabel Rivkin and Em­i­lie Mcmeekan

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

Your prob­lems solved by The Midults

Q:Dear A&E, I’m sick of my friends com­ment­ing on what I eat. When I used to or­der pud­ding af­ter ev­ery meal and guz­zle vats of wine over din­ner, they said noth­ing. But now I’m try­ing to eat cleaner (no sugar, less booze), they have an opin­ion on every­thing that passes my lips – which all came to a head at a birth­day party. I asked them to stop com­ment­ing, but they car­ried on. One emailed to say she was wor­ried about my ‘crash diet’ af­ter I or­dered sashimi and edamame beans. It’s in­fu­ri­at­ing. What do I do? — Fu­ri­ous

Dear Fu­ri­ous, this is both a heavy one and a timely one be­cause it sits in the cross­over part of the Venn di­a­gram where two things come to­gether: peo­ple’s patho­log­i­cal fear of change and a cul­tural back­drop that tells us only thin can be beau­ti­ful.

You feel that all their nit­pick­ing is barbed and un­sup­port­ive. Why wouldn’t your friends want you to be health­ier and feel bet­ter about your­self ? You hear their lack of sup­port as the pass­ing of judge­ment – and you do not know what you are be­ing tried for.

We think the thing they are slam­ming against is your de­sire for change. Not many of us love change, least of all the kind of change that forces peo­ple to re­assess their own po­si­tions in terms of the group and the wider world. Just think about the way fam­i­lies pi­geon­hole each other: there is the tricky sib­ling, the mad one, the wild one. When some­one wants to change, they some­times run smack-bang into those la­bels and, how­ever hard they try to show that they are evolv­ing, the fam­ily strug­gles to ac­com­mo­date. Be­cause if you are no longer the wild one, then who is? And if you are no longer the chubby one, who is?

We try so hard not to, but we un­con­sciously repli­cate this with our friends. We adopt lazy ex­pec­ta­tions of ev­ery­one and their role within our friend­ship group. If you were the one they could al­ways count on hav­ing a drink with, or a bowl of chips, or could use as an in­dex against which to mea­sure them­selves, then, dammit, you should have the de­cency to stay that way. When some­one gets a high-pow­ered job/moves to a big house in the coun­try/leaves their bor­ing hus­band / what­ever, it throws ev­ery­one else’s lives into re­lief. That is un­com­fort­able and we re­sent be­ing made to feel un­com­fort­able. So we try to be happy for them but find our­selves say­ing things like, ‘We’re wor­ried about how much you’re work­ing.’ ‘I don’t envy your com­mute.’ ‘Don’t you think you should give him an­other chance?’ We are a bit jeal­ous and that fills us with self-loathing and con­nects with our pas­sive-ag­gres­sive re­flex.

The sec­ond is­sue is a broader one. Naomi Wolf put it beau­ti­fully in her sem­i­nal book The Beauty Myth :‘A cul­ture fix­ated on fe­male thin­ness is not an ob­ses­sion about fe­male beauty, but an ob­ses­sion about fe­male obe­di­ence.’ And while we hear that you are mo­ti­vated by health and not by size, a by-prod­uct of eat­ing well and not drink­ing will be weight loss. And this clearly cre­ates a rip­ple ef­fect in terms of the hi­er­ar­chy of the group. We are still liv­ing a world where thin is king, where the sup­pres­sion of fe­male ap­petites is en­cour­aged. So when one woman in a group makes a change, ev­ery­one feels un­easy.

What to do? It’s sim­ple: you do you. Their strug­gle is their strug­gle. Your jour­ney is your jour­ney. En­joy it. If they per­sist in needling you, just go a bit floppy and be­atific. You’re ab­so­lutely fine. Kill them with calm­ness and merely say some­thing like, ‘I’m hav­ing a re­ally nice time…’

Any­way, we salute your ap­petite for health (while slightly pan­ick­ing about our own habits), al­though we hope it comes from em­pow­er­ment, rather than sur­ren­der. Re­mem­ber to love who you were be­fore. Your friends are still hold­ing on to that per­son – they are just be­ing a lit­tle slower to ap­pre­ci­ate her evo­lu­tion. They will, though. Af­ter all, shift hap­pens.

Do you have a ques­tion or dilemma that you’re grap­pling with? Email Annabel and Em­i­lie on [email protected]­ All ques­tions are kept anony­mous. They are un­able to re­ply to all emails per­son­ally

If you are no longer the chubby one, who is?

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