Q: Dear Jareesa,
I am struggling with how to be a supportive friend while wedding dress shopping. My friend is getting married next year and the shopping group will include her mother, myself, and probably one or two other friends of the bride who I do not know well. My friend is already starting to dread wedding dress shopping—specifically, having to sit through her mother’s comments about her physical appearance. She tried telling her mother that it was okay if she did not come, since her mother would have to fly in from out of state, but her mother said that she wants to be part of the dress shopping. My friend is now planning to go wedding dress shopping by herself before she goes with the group to weed out any unflattering dresses before she tries something on in front of her mother. I offered to go with her on this trip, but she has declined. I hate to think she declined because she really does not want anyone, even a friend, to see her in something she finds unflattering. Heartbreakingly, my friend is also planning for both trips to be on a weekday so there are fewer people around to see her.
My friend is a beautiful person but not a vain person. When someone makes a negative comment about her size without intending to be mean she tries not to let it bother her or to let on that it bothers her. In our private conversations, however, she has revealed how much it does bother her at times. It sounds like her mother has always made these kinds of remarks when it comes to clothes shopping, usually passing them off as “helpful.” Time and distance (her mother now lives out of state and they typically only see each other twice a year) have helped ease their interactions during the short times they are together, but my friend is certain her mother will make negative comments while she tries on wedding dresses. Of course, because it is wedding dress shopping and not just a trip to the mall, any negative comments will be all the more hurtful.
I got mad just listening to my friend talk about how her mother treats her and let her know that I would be happy to call her mom out on any such comments. Understandably, though, my friend said that she does not want a scene and she does not want to stir up any bad blood with her mother during wedding dress shopping. She knows who her mother is and what she can expect from her mother. She also believes that her mother’s comments stem from her mother’s unhappiness with her own life (probably also why her mother likes to criticize her fiancé).
Now I am also trying to mentally prepare myself for this day because I am having a hard time imagining not saying something if my friend’s mother does make inappropriate comments. I want to my friend to feel beautiful and supported by her friends and family, and I do not want her mother to think that it is okay to make body-negative comments. They’re not “helpful.” At the same time, I know that I need to respect my friend’s request to not add to the drama and that anything I say will not magically fix her mother anyway. I am trying hard to think of a diplomatic way to explain how hurtful any inappropriate comments are so that, hopefully, this woman gets the idea and stops making this a bad experience for her daughter without getting defensive and dramatic. I would appreciate any advice on how to handle the situation.
A: Dear Anonymous,
You sound a lot like me when it comes to my good friends: I love them and will fight for them fiercely. We all learned in Good Friend 101 that we don’t let anyone talk shit about our friends. But this isn’t just any random person with negative comments; this is her mom. I bet that what she has shared with you about her relationship with her mom is just the tip of the iceberg. Mother-daughter relationships can be fraught, and a high-stakes experience like wedding dress shopping can make the relationship even more fraught. But that’s not your battle to fight or problem to fix. Your job is to be a good friend and support your friend, in whatever she needs, and what she’s already told you that she needs is for you to keep the peace and bite your tongue.
Instead of actually biting your tongue off to keep from biting the mom’s head off, try redirecting by showering the bride with well-deserved comments. When Mom notes how fat the bride’s arms are, note how the gown accents her waist, or how pretty her shoulders look, or how to the dress color compliments her skin tone. Mom might get the hint and clam up, or she may be oblivious, but either way, I’m sure the bride will appreciate hearing some kind, truthful words in that moment. I can personally attest to the fact that trying on wedding dresses can make even the most secure woman question herself.
The best thing you can do for your friend, is to respect her wishes and keep your mouth shut in the moment. Once mom is out of earshot, you’re allowed to vent about her behavior as much as you want to, but maybe don’t vent to the bride. Save that snark for someone else.
—Jareesa Tucker McClure
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