Asking for a friend
Annabel Rivkin and Emilie Mcmeekan
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]graph.co.uk. All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to all emails personally
If you are no longer the chubby one, who is?