When my brother was recovering from his first round of chemo for intestinal cancer, he put on a lot of weight. He was 45 years old, six feet tall and he blimped up to almost 300 pounds.
My mother was unhappy about it. She was worried, of course, that weight gain was unhealthy but that's now how she chose to address the issue: She was distressed at his appearance--she had always been concerned about our weight gain during my brother's and my childhoods--and asked me to tell my brother that he should lose weight. I, in wisdom gained from my own battle over pudginess as a little girl, refused to do it. My operating principle: No one who has gained a hefty amount of unwanted weight gets up in the morning, peers into a full-length mirror and says, "Dang, I look good!" (My brother may, in fact, have felt that weight gain was a sign the illness was in recession.)
I share that anecdote because it touches on an issue many of us face: What do we do when our grown kids "let themselves go" by gaining too much weight, dressing in a sloppy way, failing to groom their hair, letting a beard become unkempt or something along those lines. It's hard to watch and the pandemic may have exasperated the issue. I have friends whose daughter and son-in-law have not cut their hair and he hasn't shaved since the 2020 quarantine set in. They live a three-hour plane ride away and when my friends fly there for a semi-annual visit, they admit it takes a lot of self-control to zip their lips and say nothing.
One reason to keep our commentary to ourselves (or to limit our whining about it to close friends) is what I realized about my brother: He was not unaware of how he looked at 50+ pounds but by calling attention to it we are not adding useful information.
Another reason: It won't do any good. Our kids are no longer living under our roof or purview. We are not in control of their bodies, appearance, food intake or shaving habits.
But the biggest reason is this: It's bound to alienate our child. Plus, if there's an underlying cause behind the unappealing appearance, we would show a lack of empathy, support or understanding. Here's a case in point straight from the annals of Carolyn Hax:
A mother writes that her daughter has gained 40 pounds since she quit her "high-paying" job to stay home with her two elementary-age kids. The mother says she has "made some comments "about her daughter's appearance" and since then her daughter has cut way back on in-person visits and stayed offscreen when the mother zoom-chats with her grandkids. Did she, the mother wants to know, "really screw up that bad?"
"Apparently so," Hax writes, noting that the daughter's weight gain might be a signal that she's struggling, and the mom's response is, "I'll say. You look like crap.” Beyond the chastisement, Hax adds these insights into what might be going on here.
So the first step in making amends with your daughter is a reckoning with yourself. Have you done this before — have you missed her inner struggles because you couldn't get past the surface? Have you hurt her when she needed help? Have you done it a lot, a little, just this once?
Apologizing to your daughter is still the second step, regardless — but since its quality will directly reflect the quality of your introspection, save it for when you're ready to assume the full scope of the responsibility for whatever you did wrong. Do so even if you believe she has overreacted, because .... your job right now isn't to be accurate, it's to be self-aware, humble, and sorry for real.
painting: David C. Driskell, Yoruba Circle