Ask FGG: Should I attend my family and class reunions?
Posted by Toni in Ask FGG
Reunions call for writing your own Cinderella story.
(Image by Molmanik)

Dear FGG,

I have two reunions coming up this summer: a family reunion, and my 15th high-school reunion. Most of the people that will be at both of those remember me as a cute, slim girl just out of high school/college. Now I'm pushing 300 lbs and am DREADING the shocked and embarrassed-for-me looks I'm sure I'll get. I don't want to cancel, I'm excited to see a lot of the friends and family I've been missing, but it's making me sick. Any advice?

This is a tough one. We've all known someone who starved or took diuretics in order to squeeze herself into a dress for a high school reunion--behavior we at FGG would definitely place in the "Don't" column. Or perhaps you helped a friend decide whether she really can go home again when facing an extended family gathering. There's a reason for this sort of anxiety: fear of the unknown. What will people think of us? Will we be judged--or worse, will people gawk and laugh, or gloat? No matter how far these worries may be from reality, they feel real in our minds. But in my experience, our fears over how we'll be perceived because of our size often don't come to life. Here are some quick tips to help you push past that anxiety and attend these milestone events with your head held high:

* Grab a girlfriend or two and make a day of finding an event-appropriate outfit that looks and feels fantastic on you. Bring pals who will give an honest assessment on whether that cocktail dress really does make your ass look fat without making you feel deflated but will also whoop and holler when you've found The One in the dressing room. Even if you're attending a casual family picnic three states away, find a cute summer dress or flattering tee and skort. Why? Clothing that fits and flatters not only makes you look great, but if you feel comfortable and confident, you'll feel less worried.

* Make an appointment at a salon or spa and sign on for every beauty treatment that you've been putting off: hair, nails, wax--the works. Yes, you're beautiful just the way you are, but being made-over makes us feel special, and the fresh look will give you a boost of self-confidence that can make a big difference when you greet everyone. Don't go for anything too drastic (or at least untested) here; the key is to feel beautiful, not regret that brassy color that seemed like a good idea at the time or fret over too-short bangs.

* Decide whether to bring a date. My husband and I didn't attend each other's high school reunions; with all that "remember when" talk, we figured it would be merciful to each other to go solo. While not everyone feels that way, it's up to you to decide whether having someone who's 100% in your corner will help you feel more comfortable. Family reunions are a different story, dependent upon how (dys)functional your particular clan is likely to be and how well a date or spouse will fit into that mix.

* Don't mention your weight. Period. Odds are nobody will comment on it, at least not to your face. And if they dish behind your back, you likely won't hear it anyway, and what you don't hear can't hurt you. I attended my 20th high school reunion weighing 100 pounds more than the year I graduated. I'd just had my third son, my hair was another color and texture (what can I say? I fell prey to the unfortunate '80s perm trend), and nobody recognized me until they read my name beside my yearbook photo. And you know what? I survived. It wasn't easy, but people were every bit as excited to see me whether I looked like I did then or a supermodel, and not a single person remarked on my appearance.

* Don't do the "fat girl who makes jokes about herself to deflect from her appearance" thing. Follow the "if you can't say something nice about yourself" rule at all times. Why? I'm the queen of using humor in any situation, from uncomfortable to cozy, but here's an important distinction: I make fun of my actions, not my essence. I believe we take away from ourselves if we tear ourselves down, even in jest. And most people are aware that self-deprecating fat jokes are usually used to mask some deep insecurities. It only makes you and everyone else more uncomfortable deep down.

* Prepare a response to any intrusive or rude remarks before attending. Some people don't have an internal filter, some people are just blunt, or insensitive, or just plain rude. This is often the case with family, where people sometimes feel they can throw down the "You'd be so pretty if . . . " chestnut unchallenged, all under the guise of being "helpful." Of course, this is a case-by-case situation, but if you know (or are afraid) a high school bully hasn't changed and is likely to say something hurtful or your Aunt Betty will be pushing you to join Weight Watchers, have a response planned. Keep it neutral, calm, and don't leave it open to argument; this keeps you from feeding any potential drama. To send a subtle message, try ignoring the comment and changing the subject. If you're feeling bold, try, "I'd rather focus on enjoying myself and the reunion than sit and pick apart how we've all gone downhill." If you're dealing with someone who's not good with subtleties then a flat, "Thanks for your opinion, but I didn't ask for it" ought to do the trick.

Everyone wants to look and feel their best when seeing friends or loved ones after several years or even decades have passed, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But underneath that surface anxiety about our appearance, what truly matters is the sense of connection we feel with the people in attendance--whether you had dozens of besties or a carefully chosen inner circle. Chances are you'd regret not going more than you'll end up regretting going, and as we all know, life doesn't hand out very many do-overs.

Girls, have you attended (or skipped) a reunion recently that kicked up feelings of anxiety about your weight? Tells us about it in the comments.