Today's Dear Abby post (yes, I still read her on occasion—sue me) dispensed some highly questionable advice to not one, but two letter writers in the same post. The first solicitation comes from a young woman whose mother is uncomfortable with her daughter's audacity to cavort around in perfectly appropriate swimming attire whilst being in possession of an admittedly overweight body. But it is a body that the letter writer loves; she confesses that she "feels good when [her] curves are properly accentuated."
DEAR ABBY: I'm a 24-year-old plus-sized woman (60 or 70 pounds overweight), but very comfortable in my own skin. When swimming in public, I wear a one-piece bathing suit because it doesn't attract a lot of attention. When I'm home, I have a bikini top and shorts I prefer to wear. This is because I don't like being covered up like it was in the 1950s, and I feel good when my curves are properly accentuated.
When I go back to see my family and swim, I wear a bikini top and black shorts. Recently, my mother said, "When the family comes over, you can't wear that. It makes people uncomfortable."
I was shocked, and we had a huge argument. Most of my cousins are fine with my attire, as are my aunts. Only Mom has a problem with it. I asked if she'd feel the same about a large man swimming without a T-shirt. She said it's different for women.
Am I wrong for wanting to be comfortable in my childhood home? Mom should be proud to have a daughter who accepts herself as she is. Who is wrong here? — OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO
The woman is bothered by her mother's judgement of her appearance, while she plainly expresses that her own self-esteem is intact. But Abby nevertheless feels justified in telling her that if she lost this unsightly girth, her mother might then finally provide her with the approval she never really asked for in the first place.
DEAR OFFENDED DAUGHTER: You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else's home, that person's wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home.
While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.
Funny, but the only person who classified this woman's weight as a "problem" is Abby. Certainly the Offended Daughter does not see it as a problem beyond having to deal with her mother poolside. In addition, diagnosing this woman by assigning the term "obesity" feels like invective, since current Abby writer, Jeanne Phillips—the original Abby's own daughter—has yet to earn her Phd in the medical sciences. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that her much sought-after guidance on weight-related issues has spectacularly missed the mark. A little over a year ago, a woman who had the temerity to walk the world sporting a zaftig midsection, was advised to resort to extreme surgical measures to eradicate her grotesque situation tout suite.
If that wasn't cause enough for a little Sunday morning outrage, Abby's advice to the second letter in the post was enough to boil even the mildest of Jezebel blood.
DEAR ABBY: I am the mother of three beautiful daughters. I have been married for 11 years now. I married at 19, just after high school. My husband is 18 years older.
The first five years of marriage, when I fully depended on him, he was arrogant, violent and unfaithful. He hurt me so badly that I vowed to work hard and when I was independent, I would move away. Now I have a stable job — but my kids love him, and I know they will be hurt.
My husband is jobless now. He tells me he supported me when I was jobless, so it's my turn to take care of him. I stay because I feel guilty. Should I finally forgive him, and if so, how? — BITTER IN NAIROBI
DEAR BITTER: If you truly want to forgive your husband for the physical and emotional abuse you suffered in the early years of your marriage, a place to start would be to talk with your spiritual adviser.
You didn't mention whether your husband is trying to find another job, if there is a valid reason why he can't work, or if he's still unfaithful. If it's the latter, then in my opinion, you "owe" him the same amount of financial support that he gave you and nothing more. However, because I am not familiar with the marriage laws in Kenya, you should discuss this with a lawyer.
Not only does Abby presuppose that the woman is religious enough to have a spiritual adviser she might consult, but she doesn't even seem remotely concerned that this woman might remain in danger as long as she lives with her abuser. Then, to add remarkably tone-deaf insult to senseless injury, she indicates that the woman who cooked and cleaned and raised his little brats actually OWES this hobgoblin anything other than a signature on their divorce settlement.
So, for the first time in all my years of reading hers—or her mother's—advice, I decided to give Abby a piece of my mind. Surely, after reading my vehement objections, she will see the light and change her responses to people whose lives do not mirror the standards of her own, such as her adherence to the Body Mass Index Chart or her need to worship an approved deity. She can't really help it; it's not as though she is exposed to people with varying opinions and lifestyles every single day she opens her mail...
I have been reading this column off and on all of my life, but have never written to you before about anything ever. However, I was very shocked by your advice to not just one, but two of the letters that were posted on August 10, 2014. One was from a woman whose mother told her not to wear a certain swimming outfit because she was overweight. You wrote: "While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem."
Although the writer herself indicated that she was overweight, employing the term "obesity" somehow felt like unnecessary name-calling. It is the clinical term, but you are not a clinician and have no business rephrasing it as a medical condition when she clearly loves her figure and might very well exercise daily and eat perfectly sensible meals.
In addition to that, you indicate that her mother might be more proud of her if she lost weight, which continues the disservice to this woman because she is perfectly fine with herself and her figure while you prescribe unsolicited health advice from a perch above her. And then you refer to it as a "weight problem" when the writer herself did not speak about her body in those terms at all. I partially take issue with all of this because my own mother has always assigned value to me based upon my appearance and you seem to condone the same harmful behavior here.
What about a mother being proud of her daughter because she is a decent and good person? Or because of her accomplishments? Her body is hers and not anyone else's to place value upon.
And then, incredibly, I was further upset by your second letter that told an abused woman to seek spiritual guidance, which ignores the fact that many of us in the population do not seek out religious-based guidance, even in Kenya. And finally, she raised his children. She "owes" him nothing and to indicate that she does, binds her to a man who is a danger to her and to her children, whether directly or vicariously!
How confusing all of this "advice" was today, Abby! I wish I could understand why you understood so very little about what was being communicated to you so distinctly.
—Longtime Reader First time Flabbergasted