Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

 

I have a friend who is obsessed with her figure. She keeps telling me how fat she is and in fact she's just a normal weight. But she goes on and on about it, and it's driving me mad. She's always trying diets and no matter how much I tell her she looks great and she doesn't need to do anything about her weight, she can't stop. I'm starting to feel it is something of an obsession. We can't talk about anything until she's gone through beating herself about how she looks for about half an hour. How can I help her? Yours sincerely, Zara

Virginia says... The way to help her – and you, by the sound of it – is to break this pattern. And since she's clearly not going to stop, then you're the only one who has any power. Why does she obsess like this, demanding your reassurance? Is because she's genuinely worried about her weight or because she craves attention? I mean, if you succeeded in reassuring her about her weight, would she then start on something else – her nose or her personality? What do you think?

If it's her weight she's really worried about you can try a variety of tacks. The first is to ask if she doesn't think she's becoming a bit obsessed about this. Stop her in mid-stream and put your cards on the table. "Look," you can say, "every time we meet you go on about your weight and every time, I reassure you. Have you thought you might have some problem with this obsession? It's clearly blighting your life. And you're clearly not fat. As your friend, I'm worried, not about your weight but your obsession. Why don't you try cognitive behavioural therapy?"

Another method would be to stop reassuring her. The problem with reassuring people too much is that by reassuring, you're colluding in their anxiety. By saying "Oh, you're not too fat" what you're really doing is agreeing with her that being slightly overweight is a terrible thing. Why not say "Well, yes, I suppose you are a bit plump, but it suits you – I'd stay the way you are." That would stop her in her tracks. That's why if someone thinks they've done something awful, rather than saying that it was understandable or that they won't be found out, or that the person they did it to deserved it, it's better to say: "Yes, it was an incredibly mean and horrible thing to do. We all do horrible and means things sometimes and this time it's you who've done it. You're going to feel terrible about this for ages, I'm afraid. There's nothing that can be done about it." Then at least you're acknowledging the fault, but still accepting the other person as a friend.

Another way out might be to leap in first with some anxiety that you have, for a change. I'm sure you can find a worry – most of us have tons of them lying around and even if they're not lying around, we can usually find a few in a back drawer. Before your friend has time to get on to her weight, get the conversation going around your problems for a change. You could try one of these or each of them one at a time.

Readers say...

Change the subject

Your kindly reassurance is what feeds your friend's obsession, so she engineers the conversation accordingly. Try new tactics. You could agree with her: "Yes, you keep saying so." Assuming you see her fairly often, there's no need to ask her how she is, simply ask: "What's new?", and if she starts on one of her me-me-me rants, repeat the question. This is the old assertiveness technique called "broken record", to divert someone and not fall in with their, possibly subconscious, schemes. It helps to have another topic in mind, ready to switch into as her jaw drops at your audacity...

Sally, by email

She needs tough love

All groups have their own, well-understood, method of greeting each other. Old people say "You look well!", the Queen asks if you have travelled far and women talk about their weight. It's preparation for the real conversation. Your friend's mistake is to spend too long in this greeting period. But why should she want to leave this happy place, if you spend it stroking her ego and telling her she isn't fat? You need to show tough love by refusing to play along. Tell her once and once she isn't fat, then firmly move the conversation on.

Felicie Oakes, by email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, I'm just about to go off on a gap year before I start my studies at university, but I'm really worried. My Mum and Dad have always smoked dope in the evenings occasionally, even though I've never liked it much. But Mum told me last week that Dad is hooked on cocaine and she's worried sick. He's spending too much money and he's getting paranoid, even though he still works at the advertising agency he's always worked at. I feel I can't leave Mum alone, but so want to get away. Should I go away? What can I do? Yours sincerely, Georgie

What would you advise Georgie to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk, or go to independent.co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewine.sellers.co.uk)

Virginia will appear in her one-woman show, Growing Old Disgracefully, at the Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Festival

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

    £40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

    Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

    £26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

    £17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

    Day In a Page

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back