Q: My sister (who is three years older than me) and I are very different and have never been close. Now that we’re grown, we lead very different lives: she is a teacher in a quiet town in the Midwest, and I am a marketing manager in a city. We see each other for the holidays, and occasionally exchange texts and Facebook messages, but we otherwise don’t have a very active relationship.
While I wish we were closer, the truth is that she really aggravates me. It’s not because we’re so different, but because she’s lazy and stubborn with respect to her appearance. To paint a picture, she gets her hair cut about once or twice a year. Between cuts, because she doesn’t really understand how to wash or care for her hair, it is matted down with months’ worth of shampoo. This causes it to look really grey and gunky, not to mention smell sort of weird. She has body odor generally. She hasn’t seen a dentist in at least five years, which has caused her teeth to steadily look more and more yellow. She does not exercise, and she has a very poor diet (e.g., Kraft mac and cheese, soda, brownies, etc.). And she doesn’t wear clothes that fit her.
I could go on but I think you get the point. I love my sister, but every time I see her, she seems to have “let herself go” even further. I try to talk to her about things she is interested in. I try to subtly encourage her to choose healthier foods. I have brought her hiking. But those few times when we see each other are not enough to make a dent. She prefers to spend nearly all of her time watching TV and eating junk food.
My sister is extremely sensitive with regard to any sort of criticism about her appearance or her hygiene habits. If any family member so much as slightly indicates that she should, say, brush her teeth, or, brush her hair, etc., she gets VERY offended. These conversations always end up in her yelling/sobbing that she is treated like the black sheep in the family.
Now that she’s a part of my bridal party, I’m starting to get stressed about my sister’s appearance at the wedding. I hired a stylist to do our hair and makeup, but I’m worried that not even the best stylist in the world will be able to do anything with such matted, unwashed, uncombed hair. I just want her to care about what she looks like. I want her to want to see a dentist, to want to learn how to wash her hair, to want to look like the best version of herself. I don’t want her to look perfect, but I want her to want to try to look nice.
What should I do?
—Frustrated and Sad Sister
A: Dear FASS,
Just leave her alone. You’ll have some say in how she looks whether she likes it or not. That’s how this wedding stuff works. Though you express doubts, picking her dress and hiring a hairdresser and make-up artist give you a lot of control, and I can’t imagine she’d find a way around all of that. I’m sure your sister will look very nice on your wedding day.
And even if she doesn’t, just let your sister be who she is. Not everyone has the same priorities, and it’s okay that your sister’s differ from yours. Yeah, sometimes neglecting aspects of your appearance can signal something deeper about self-care and emotional health. But it sounds like this is just who your sister is, and always has been. Haircuts and healthy eating aren’t important to her, which is allowed. Both at your wedding, and in life in general.
Part of what itches at me about your letter is that I think that you think you’re helping your sister by worrying about all this for her. But are you? She’s content in her life, so why change it? Is it possible that, more than being motivated by concern for her, you’re worried about being embarrassed by her? Which probably stings to read (sorry), but in all fairness, any of us can understand. My point is to keep that motivation in check. No matter how much you try to convince yourself that you’re helping, chances are that needling your sister about what she wears or eats only hurts her. Your sister is who she is. The wedding isn’t going to change that, and you shouldn’t try to, either.
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