Dear Prudence

One Ugly Mother

I used to be beautiful. Then I had a child. Now I’m a troll.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I used to be a very beautiful woman with a fit body and pretty features, but since I had a child 11 years ago I have become a hideous troll. My stomach was destroyed by my pregnancy. What was once a flat tummy turned into a full-blown panniculus. At age 45, I’m overweight, I inherited a giant bullfrog neck and jowls from my grandmother, and my nose is growing into a perfect replica of my mother’s giant schnoz. I absolutely can’t stand to look in the mirror. I have a great husband, beautiful child, great friends, and I love my job. I am still fairly young, in good health, and I have so much to be thankful for. I’m happy with my life, but I’m miserable with my troll-like appearance. A couple of years ago I worked very hard and lost 40 pounds through moderate exercise and religiously counting calories. But I was miserably hungry most of the time and my body shape was just a smaller version of the disgusting new apple-shaped me. Within a few months of coming off the diet I gained all of the weight back. I’ve tried new hairstyles, dressing better, scarves, makeup, etc. I know I’ll never be 120 pounds and gorgeous again, but how can I accept the unsightly creature I’ve become? I feel so bad for my husband—he married a princess, but now he’s stuck with a giant toad.

—Aging Ungracefully

Dear Aging,
I will accept you have a belly you don’t like and jowls that drive you crazy, but I don’t believe you’re the monstrosity you’re making yourself out to be. First of all, you give no indication that your husband has complained about or is even aware of your supposed transformation from princess to toad. You say he’s great, so it sounds more likely he accepts that neither of you look like you did when you first met. From your own description, you indeed have an enviable life, surrounded by loving people, engaged in satisfying work, enjoying good health. So there is an abyss between how you see yourself (and how the people in your life see you), and what appears when you look in the mirror. First, think about the effect of your self-loathing on your child. You want her or him to absorb the lesson that one should be grateful for one’s good fortune and not obsess over superficial things. But it’s undeniably true that how we feel about how we look matters. You’ve gone the hairdo, scarf, and makeup route and it just makes you feel like a spiffed-up ogre. That’s debilitating, and though by inclination I’m not a plastic surgery advocate (as the bags under my eyes will attest), I think in your case some alteration on the outside might cause a big shift in how you feel inside. A tummy tuck is major surgery, but you are majorly unhappy. I’ve had friends who felt the way you did about their belly and neck, had them fixed, and were delighted with the results. If you consider plastic surgery, make sure you do your due diligence and find an experienced and reputable surgeon; you don’t want to end up on Botched. If you go under the knife, make a serious vow that you will limit the number of improvements. I’m sad about the death of Joan Rivers, but down the road you don’t want your friends and family, when they look at you, to think they’re seeing her double.


Dear Prudence,
I recently bumped into an old friend and his sister who I hadn’t seen in may years. After enquiring about their parents, I was informed that their mother was in a long-term care facility with advanced dementia and that their father had committed suicide only a couple of weeks prior. They told me that he had become increasingly despondent and suicidal after the institutionalization of their mother. They persuaded him to move out of the family home and into an eighth-floor apartment with a balcony. He jumped to his death on his first day there. These two siblings hated their father, who was a terrible parent. But I have been nagged by the feeling that their installing him in an eighth-floor apartment, knowing his suicidal tendencies, constituted a perfect murder. I know this is not something I could report to authorities but I am so bothered by what I was told that I feel I have to speak to someone. Is there any course of action I could or should take?

—Perfect Murder?

Dear Perfect,
How glad this suffering pair must be that they ran into their long-ago friend, Sherlock, who now wants to pin the death of their depressed (and rotten) father on them. Thank you for not going to the police with your fantasy. Now that you’ve floated your deduction in this column, I hope that satisfies your desire to bring even more misery to these people. Let’s look at the events as they likely played out. Their mother became so disabled she could no longer be at home and had to be put into a nursing facility. Their father—aging and despondent—was no longer able to maintain the family home. Given the huge expense of caring for an elderly parent, the children—with their father’s agreement—sold the home to help pay for both parents’ needs, then installed Dad in an apartment. That plan sadly lasted only one day, and however awful a father he may have been, surely these two are reeling from what happened. There is a course of action I do suggest you take. Get out your stationery and write a note to your old friends. Say you were so happy to run into them but distressed to hear the painful news of their parents. Say your heart goes out to them and they are in your thoughts. Make no mention that these thoughts include pinning patricide on them. Then be content to get lost from the lives of these long-lost friends.


Dear Prudence,
I have always had an extremely sensitive nose, and I have learned to block out scents that I’m around for short periods of time. My boyfriend, who is a great guy, has a smell I can’t ignore. He is a very clean, hygiene-conscious person, but I hate the way he smells. It’s just his natural odor and it makes my stomach turn. When we first started dating it wasn’t a problem, but as it got more serious, he started spending the night and leaving his scent on my bed. It’s become nearly unbearable. I’ve done his laundry with my detergent to make sure it wasn’t that and also checked out his deodorant and cologne, which are fine. He’s a wonderful guy and I see a bright future for us, but his natural scent is almost a deal-breaker. What do I do?

—A Sensitive Nose

Dear Sensitive,
I’m not sure how bright the future is for the couple when one partner, to avoid smelling her beloved, has to wear one of those protective suits worn by medical personnel combatting Ebola. You have to sort out whether your boyfriend’s unpleasant aroma is caused by something he can tweak, or whether the problem is simply the essence of him. (Or, frankly, whether the real problem is you.) Bringing this up is going to be an awkward, possibly even offensive conversation. But you can honestly present this as being about your own hypersensitive olfactory system. Explain that when certain people eat certain foods, what oozes out of their pores can be quite odiferous. Then ask if he’d be willing to change his diet—if it’s as simple as his dropping the sauerkraut, you two are in luck. You could also offer to go soap shopping for him—maybe something in sandalwood or mint would ameliorate things. You don’t say whether this is a unique situation for you, or whether you’ve had to keep an airsickness bag handy when intimate with other lovers. But no matter how great a guy your boyfriend is, he’s not the guy for you if being near him makes you gag.


Dear Prudie,
I am an only child with a well-off mother who divorced my father and remarried when I was an adult. My husband and I have two elementary school age kids. My mother has never lived terribly close to us, but recently she decided to relocate to a tony retirement community on the opposite side of the country. Her solution to seeing the grandkids is to have weekly Skype sessions with them. On my end, this goes badly. I have to threaten and cajole my kids to engage through a screen with someone they understand loves them, but who they don’t really have much of a relationship with. I’ve been doing it dutifully for more than three years, but it is starting to wear on me, and, frankly, I feel as though if it were important to her to have a relationship with my kids she could have chosen to live closer to us. We live in a highly desirable part of the country for retirement, but this is not where Mom or her partner want to be. So what is my obligation to her? Can I tell Mom that one of the consequences of choosing golf over grandkids is that she can’t then expect them to choose her over coloring?


Dear Luddite,
There’s a lot of quiet seething in that description of Mom gallivanting in that tony golf community with her new love. It may be that your children have picked up on your resentment of what you perceive as a mother who’s more into her own pleasure than her family. Instead of burying your feelings and cajoling your kids, you need to have an honest conversation—through Skype or not—with your mother. Set up a time for you two to talk and lay out to her what you’ve laid out here: the kids don’t really enjoy talking to their disembodied grandmother because they don’t really know her. Then say you understand that she’s moved somewhere great, but it hurts to have her live so far away. See what she has to say. Maybe she can take some time away from the links and show up for a real visit. Maybe your kids are getting old enough to fly out and spend some time with Nana. As for the Skype conversations between grandma and the kids, instead of ending them, try to make them more fun. Have the kids get together a bunch of their best drawings to show her, or sing her a song. Even if you aren’t thrilled with the current arrangement, you can tell your children you expect them to take five minutes a week to talk to a grandmother, however distant, who loves them.


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