Auntie SparkNotes: My Aunts' Compliments Make Me Hostile
My aunts make me feel uncomfortable. I love them, of course, but all they ever seem to care about is my waistline. One's always taking pictures of me (even though I am extremely camera-shy and have forcefully said no), and the other is always making comments about my body and how much boys must pay attention to me. They're both overweight and not very attractive. I don't like their behaviors towards me, and it makes me hostile. I don't want to be rude. What do I do?
The next time an aunt says something about your bod, take her aside and kindly, politely say, "I know you're giving me a compliment, but I'm uncomfortable when people make comments about my body, and I'd really appreciate it if you would try not to do it so much." (And then, if it happens again, just say "Thanks" and immediately change the subject.)
And for the shutterbug aunt: "I'll pose for this photo, but no more, okay? I hate having my picture taken and I'm starting to feel like I'm being chased by the paparazzi." (And then make good on your word by posing nicely, because I don't care how camera-shy you are, allowing yourself to have one picture taken is not going to kill you.)
And THING 2:
Ask yourself why, in the name of all that is cheesy and delicious, you felt compelled to adorn a reasonable complaint about some boundary-challenged relatives with a nasty, totally unnecessary little dig about your aunts' weights and appearances.
Only here's the twist: I want you to do the second thing first. Because I've read over your little letter a dozen times now, and each time I get to that sentence, it pokes me like a poorly-placed tag in an otherwise comfy pair of underpants. What was the purpose of including that information? Does it say something about their motives? Does it mean something sinister or insulting if the person complimenting your body doesn't have a very nice one, herself? Does it make your beef somehow beefier if your antagonists are fat and ugly?
Or did you, by any chance, just unintentionally tip your hand as to the roots of your hostility? Namely, that you're primed to take offense at your aunts' behavior because you already don't like looking at them?
I'm not asking you this to trap you, Sparkler; I have no idea what's going on in your head, and I don't know the answers to these questions. But I do know this: as a species, humans can be awfully uncharitable toward people whom we find physically unattractive—and awfully good at finding reasons to forgive in pretty people what we wouldn't put up with in ugly ones. And more than that, I know that a derogatory comment about someone's appearance, tossed into the middle of a completely unrelated complaint about her behavior, is a surface desperately in need of scratching.
Which is why, before you go confronting your aunts, you should at least question why you felt the need to bring that up, and whether you're being entirely fair, and whether the hostility you're feeling is coming from a not-so-attractive place.
Because in the end, even if you don't like what they're saying, you must realize they aren't saying it from a place of malice. These are two family members who love you, who think you're beautiful, and who want to tell you so. And maybe they're doing it in an awkward, embarrassing way, and maybe you have every right to feel squicky about it. But since you say you love them, and since their feelings will be hurt if and when you confront them, the least you can do is think before you speak. Try to figure out why you feel what you feel. Ask yourself how big of a deal this really is, in the scheme of things. And if you conclude that maybe it isn't — that maybe this is more of a minor irritation, and one you don't even have to deal with that often—then go ahead and set your boundaries. But do it wisely, do it sparingly, and do it with maturity and kindess.
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