How to Deal with Body Shaming Comments
Written by: Lily Vose-O’Neal, M.S.
Fatphobia is totally normalized in our culture. It hurts people of all body sizes and fosters disordered eating and body self-hatred. We hear body shaming comments from friends, family members, and strangers–we might even hear them coming out of our own mouths, in which case we can acknowledge that it makes sense we would have size prejudice given the culture we live in and make a decision to stop making these comments. What can we do when other people make body shaming comments? We can ignore the comment, make a quick “I’m not into what you just said” reply, or initiate a more extensive conversation about why we’re uncomfortable with fatphobic comments. To figure out what route make sense in any given moment, it is helpful to think about the relationship we have with the commenter, imagine possible outcomes of the options above, as well as take our own temperature in the moment. We might ask: How resilient am I feeling? How do I think I would bounce back from the conversation getting heated or unproductive? How much energy do I have to explain my position?
It can also help to practice various responses with a supportive friend, so we are ready and less nervous when responding to body shaming comments in real life. When our tone is calm, confident, and matter of fact it can sometimes be easier for others to take in our message. We can’t change everyone’s minds, and we may find there are some people who just aren’t open to shifting their point of view. Sometimes these may be people who are in our lives and aren’t going anywhere. Ignoring their comments and minimizing the harm they cause might be the best we can do. If you have people like this in your life, plan self-care around exposure to them. You may want to listen to a body positive podcast before and after you see them, or plan to connect with a friend before and after exposure to this person.
In many situations the quick “I’m not into what you just said” comment is a good option. Develop a few pithy sayings that feel authentic for you. You might say: “I don’t like to hear those kind of comments. I like hear body respect.” Or “Ouch, that’s kind of harsh.” Or “You probably don’t intend it to be, but to me that is a hurtful comment.” This may lead into a deeper conversation about size prejudice and misinformation.
Often people are more open to learning about negative impacts of things they have said one on one where they are less likely to feel embarrassed and defensive. In a group, it may be more important to say something in the moment, for the wellbeing of the everyone exposed to the comment. We all have biases and blind spots. It’s productive to reflect on how we want to be approached about our misteps, so we can learn from them. It’s also helpful to remember that at times people might not respond positively in the moment, but may later reflect on what we presented. We might be surprised by how some people have never thought about how things they say are fatphobic and body shaming. The more we educate ourselves the more information we have to share, and the more we free ourselves from the impacts of size prejudice. Developing solidarity with others can help us build resilience to body shaming and promote justice. We might also benefit from talking with a therapist about how we’ve been impacted by fatphobia, diet-culture, and body shaming.
Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight Linda Bacon, Lucy Aphramor https://lindabacon.org/body-respect-book/
Food Psych Podcast