DEAR ABBY: First of all, thank you so much for your column. My husband and I read it every day and appreciate the advice and support that you give so many people. We, too, have been in the helping profession for almost 30 years.
I am writing about the letter from "Upset Mom in Bellflower" (Feb. 2), about a father who told his daughter's friend she was getting fat. You rightly pointed out to Upset Mom that the remark made to "Willa" was insensitive and inappropriate, and that it cost her daughter a friend. You also stated that perhaps Dad would be similarly hurt if he were told he was getting a paunch or losing his hair.
Abby, I wish you had added one more comment: Young girls are particularly vulnerable to remarks about their size, and many cases of eating disorders have stemmed from a single, insensitive, ignorant comment from a coach, boyfriend, parent or other adult -- whether or not it was the truth.
It's very important that Willa hear from her friend's mother or another trusted adult that in fact she is beautiful and can be healthy at any size or shape, so that she will not be tempted to use harmful practices in acting on something that should never have been said in the first place. -- LINDSEY COHN, CARLSBAD, CALIF.
DEAR LINDSEY: Thank you for your important addition to the advice I offered Upset Mom. There were plenty of other readers who felt similarly. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: When I was a child, my father made similar comments to me, my mother and most of my girlfriends throughout the time I lived at home. A few years ago, my best friend from grammar school visited me. With tears in her eyes she expressed how hurtful the comments my father had made about her size had been.
Abby, that happened more than 30 years ago, and my friend was still affected. Please remind your readers that it is never appropriate to make disparaging remarks about a person's weight. -- MARY IN ROCHESTER, N.Y.
DEAR ABBY: When I was 15, my father made a crack about my weight. I'm sure he thought he was being "helpful," because he had seen my mother struggle with her weight. (Mind you, I was 5 feet 9 inches and 120 pounds.) I am now 48 and a successful scientist with a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university, yet I will never forget that remark from my dad. It hurt me to the core. -- STILL STINGING IN ARIZONA
DEAR ABBY: The woman's husband was wrong for saying what he did. You should have told her to insist that he go over to the girl's house when her mother was present and apologize profusely to both of them for his inconsiderate remark. Maybe then his daughter could get her friend back. -- CECILE IN MAINE
DEAR ABBY: I disagreed with the examples you suggested to criticize that man to make him understand the impact it can have. For the most part, men respond differently to criticism than women do. If you tell most men, "You're getting a paunch" or "Your hair is getting thin," you won't get as strong a reaction as when you tell a woman she's getting fat. Instead try, "You're not very strong," "You don't know much about sports, do you?" or "Your lawn is looking kind of shabby," depending upon what the man is most vain about. Then you may hit closer to home. -- HENRY IN CORONA, CALIF.