Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: This seems like such a small, nitpicky issue but, honestly, it’s making me a little batty. I’m a vegetarian, run long distances on roads and trails, and have a regular yoga practice. All of these things make me happy and I enjoy them. My husband and I are non-procreators, so the only person it takes time away from is him (and I think he cherishes those hours I’m out of the house!). I have had a few injuries over the years but always take care to heal and rest properly.
For some reason a small cadre of people (mostly my judgmental mother-in-law, ’cause what kind of question would this be without a mother-in-law aspect) consistently are on my case about how all this running will “ruin my knees” and how I’m certainly malnourished because “people were made to eat animals” (?!). It’s always something on anything I post on Facebook about a race or yoga class, or in person when they ask what I’m up to.
Should I censor myself to those who are not truly supportive? For the record, my husband loves that I’m as into my health as he is into his … but he never gets the comments. Is there a comeback other than telling them to back off? I don’t want to be a jerk, but I am SICK of being criticized for positive things!
I’m Not “TOO” Healthy!!!!
Have you ever asked her why she says X to you, but not her son? It’s the kind of question, when asked in a gentle tone at a calm moment, that can leave someone stammering for an answer, or start a thoughtful conversation. And you absolutely have standing to ask it. Just be open-minded and prepared to respond kindly no matter how she reacts.
Something else: The way you’re looking at this is orienting you, no doubt unwittingly, toward defensiveness. Just look at the number of times you justify your lifestyle choices in a short letter … I count five or six, depending on how I tally compound justifications. The thing is, if you want to play Xbox and eat Funyuns, that’s no more anyone’s business than your yoga and carrots are.
Granted, people tend to feel threatened and self-conscious by others’ virtue where they feel validated by snack-gorgers, but the fact remains that you don’t need to explain yourself, period.
So please internalize that message and make it the launch pad for any response you have to your critics from now on, including passive or non-responses such as setting up a “health” friend list on Facebook that excludes your critics, and employing it liberally. That way, you'll be defending your right to make your own choices, versus the choices themselves. Much more effective, and empowering too.
And since someone is going to write in with this point, I shall pre-empt it:
Shoving our choices in anyone’s face is a social infraction no matter who’s doing it. So, if you’re overdoing the I'M SO HEALTHY, to the point where people try to shield their plates from you so you won’t make an “ew” face at them, then dialing that back will be key to getting your critics to dial back their comments to you.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.