Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Boyfriend hides his cell phone from you? Sister fat-shamed your niece and not sure if you should confront her?

DEAR NATALIE: My boyfriend and I have a really good relationship. But recently, he has been really weird about his phone. Every time I come around, he grabs it and pretends like he was looking at something important. It’s starting to make me paranoid. Then, when he was in the shower, I took his phone to look on it (I know, that’s bad, but I was really suspicious) and he changed his password. We always had each other’s passwords so now I don’t know what to do. Do you think he’s cheating on me? -- PHONE ALERT

DEAR PHONE ALERT: This must be a relatively new behavior since it has taken you by surprise. You could play this two ways. You could come out directly and just ask him what is going on. You could say something like, “I know this is going to sound weird, but you’ve been really possessive about your phone lately. I am not trying to jump to conclusions, but I am wondering why?” Or you could take a slightly “sneakier” approach and say something like, “I forgot your password to your phone, what is it again?” If he gets defensive, especially when he hadn’t been defensive about it in the past, a red flag would go up for me. But, if he says something like, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to make you feel that way, work (or something) has been crazy lately and I’ve been dealing with a lot on my plate…,” then maybe it’s nothing. At the end of the day, follow your instincts but remain calm until you have enough information to know what’s best to do for you.

DEAR NATALIE:  I witnessed my sister, Clara, being really hard on her daughter, Olive, recently over food. My niece is on the “chubby” side, but who cares? She’s a sweet, healthy and smart 11-year-old kid. She went to have a few Christmas cookies at my house and my sister told her she needed to “quit indulging.” My niece looked really sad and put them back, but later I saw her sneak a few upstairs. I didn’t say anything but it has really been bothering me. I don’t know if my sister is honestly aware that she body-shamed her daughter. My sister is really beautiful and very particular about her appearance. She’s very disciplined about food and cooks really healthy meals for her family. What’s the harm in a few cookies? Should I say anything? I just don’t want my niece to grow up equating her worth to her waist size like so many of us do. -- NOT SO SWEET

DEAR NOT SO SWEET: Eleven-year-olds shouldn’t be fat shamed. Period. Ever. End of conversation. Your sister did so unknowingly because I am sure she has internalized her own issues of food and need for perfection in her mind. Restricting what/how much her daughter can and cannot eat, may lead to the behavior that you witnessed, which is sneaking food. This could turn into disordered eating and possibly bigger issues as she gets older. Your niece is approaching puberty. It’s a time where many young people feel awkward, emotionally fragile, confused, uncomfortable in their bodies, and insecure. I truly believe every parent is doing the best they can with what they have. Your sister probably thinks she is being helpful to her daughter. Maybe say something like, “Hey, I noticed the other day that Olive went for a few of those awesome cookies and you told her to stop indulging. I’m just concerned that phrases like that may make her feel weird about eating in front of you. I know you love her more than anything, but I’ve been doing some reading and thought I would share some of the new ways to approach things like this for the future because I know you would never want Olive to feel badly about her body or herself …” There is a lot of helpful literature out there on this topic and I suggest you do a little reading before you approach your sister. Hopefully, once she realizes that her words really matter, she may think twice before shaming cookies out of her daughter’s hands again.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Even if you are nervous about going to a networking event, try to arrive on time or even early. There will be fewer people to contend with, which means making connections will be easier.

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, nbencivenga@post-gazette.com; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)