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Today's question & discussion: Family, food, & holidays

Posted by Robin Abrahams  November 10, 2013 09:53 AM

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Today's column is online here. The Letter Writer wants to skip out on a family function because, thanks to an accidental email forward, she "overheard" (overread?) her mother and aunt discussing her--the LW's--weight. My advice:

As far as reconciling with your mother, keep your expectations modest. People's ideas about bodies, and their ideas about their children, are notoriously stubborn. You're going to get one of those "I'm sorry you were upset" apologies, and you should probably settle for that. In return, however, tell your mother--tell, don't ask--that your weight is now and forever a forbidden topic of discussion between the two of you. You would prefer she not discuss your body with other people, as well, but you realize you can't control her behavior, so this is merely a request.

I hope the LW uses the exact words I did, because "I prefer you not discuss my body with other people, but I realize I can't control your behavior" conveys a message that even the most clueless parent, I think, might hear.

Food and the holidays are always a minefield. As I wrote in the column, "every time you turn around someone is shoving either a cupcake or a diet resolution in your face" during November and December. What are your concerns, dear readers? Share your stories and advice for eating and drinking what you want, and only what you want, during holidays.

(I am Jewish and my family is not, so food and holidays with my clan are even more complicated. This year there's a beautiful synchronicity afoot, as I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with the Southern Baptist side. Hanukkah begins over Thanksgiving, and fried foods are traditional for that ... so I'll be getting fried turkey for Thanksgiving! It's a Southern thing. And a delicious one.)

What made the LW's question particularly difficult for me was the whole mother/daughter angle. I have almost never known a mother who could leave her daughter's body alone. Whether it's how much food and exercise you give it or how you choose to decorate it or whether you utilize its reproductive capacities or where you house it or whom you choose to share it with, mothers get very upset at what daughters do with their own bodies. At least brush your hair before we go out! You'd be so pretty if only ...

That maternal policing of the child's body comes from a place of deep damage, and causes deep damage in return. I didn't write about that almost-psychoanalytic aspect in the column because I don't know what to say about it. I only know I had to talk about it. So I did.

What do you think? What are your stories?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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