How to respond to body-shaming comments

respond to body shaming“Wow! You are really short, aren’t you?” My head snapped around to see who had asked such a rhetorical and awkward question, and I discovered a pair of unblinking eyes, a head taller than me, looking straight down into mine. An older woman I had never met was watching me, waiting expectantly for my response. I was taken by surprise. Her question had transported me back to middle school, a time when I was the daily (maybe hourly?) recipient of similar observations about my small stature. A time when I felt not just physically smaller than everyone else, but smaller on the inside, too. Insignificant, immature, unworthy of notice.

I register at 5’1” on a good posture day. These days, I own being a short girl, although I prefer to refer to myself as “petite”. Whether you’re petite, or statuesque, willowy, or curvy, light skinned or dark-skinned, or freckled, or anything remotely “different” or sheesh, maybe even “normal” featured, whatever that means, I know you’ve been the recipient of a Comment (with a capital ‘C’)- perhaps it was well- meaning, perhaps it was malicious, or maybe it was just uncomfortably awkward. I know you probably felt a rush of conflicting emotions, just as I did- a sense of having the rug pulled out from under you, and of being forced to fight your way out of a corner.

For me, in that moment, I was caught up in those conflicting emotions and I didn’t really respond other than what felt like incoherent mumbling, and I moved on.  But I was bothered. Should I have just ignored it?  Put her in her place? I could have thrown her words back at her, with barbed edges.  However, I sensed that this woman’s body shaming comment did not have any malicious intent, and most likely was due to her feeling some level of insecurity about herself.  I certainly didn’t want to make the same mistake she did. Upon further reflection, I realized that I wanted to be able to respond in a way that was both a gentle correction, and that validated each of our worth as a person. Here’s how I would respond if that situation were to happen again:

Commentator: “Wow! You really are short!”

Me, with a smile: “And aren’t we both lovely? It’s amazing how beauty comes in so many different forms.”

We’ve all been the recipient of body-shaming comments, or comments that touch on a sensitive area for us. People remark on our height, weight, shape, coloring, outfit, hair, makeup, hygiene, marital/relationship status, apparent level of prosperity, etc. The list goes on and on.  It’s easy to get caught up in it, and create a never-ending cycle of resentment, self- loathing, and judgement. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time or the emotional stamina to be on that hamster wheel!

I would like to offer some advice:

  1. Don’t be the commenter in this scenario. Choose not to participate in body shaming. Do not remark on the size, or shape, or any other characteristic of someone’s body, either to their face, or behind their back. Sure, you may feel like you’re just being honest, but ask yourself these 3 questions first: 1. Is it true? 2. Is it kind? 3. Is it necessary? Do both of you a favor and make an effort to see past what’s on the outside and find out something about the person they are on the inside. Yeah, I know it can be hard to dig that deep, especially in superficial situations. But you might make a new friend and be better for it. If you really can’t figure out anything else to say, just close your mouth and smile.
  2. If you have an “oops” moment, and you realize that you just became the commenter (and we’ve all been there), take a deep breath, don’t beat yourself up, but acknowledge the feelings and thoughts you had that caused you to make the comment. Apologize if necessary. Make a commitment to yourself to use words that uplift.
  3. If you are the recipient of one of these “helpful” comments, resist the urge to be offended. Pause, and take a deep breath. Resist the urge to internalize those words. Resist the urge to fire back a retort about the other person’s height, or weight, or appearance in general. Instead, take a moment to internally reaffirm your worth. Recognize that the comment is most likely based in the other person’s insecurity. Choose to make this a learning experience for both of you. Don’t reverse- body- shame the other person- you might feel better temporarily, but it just puts the other person on the defensive and doesn’t invite positive change. Don’t respond to the comment other than to express love and total acceptance of yourself, and the other person if you can manage it sincerely. Yeah, I know it can be hard to dig that deep, and find something kind to say to someone who made an insensitive or rude comment to you. But you’ll be at peace, you’ll have self- respect, and you’ll hopefully teach that person to be better by your example.
  4. Lastly, make a conscious choice to love the skin you’re in. This body, this gift you’ve been given, is the only one you’ve got, and it is your vehicle for experiencing all the beauty and joy that life has to offer. The more you nourish your physical body with self- love, self- awareness, and total acceptance, the less you have to fear other people’s judgements. This is a process and a journey. Be gentle with yourself even if you find yourself sliding back into self-critical thought patterns. If you need to change deeply rooted, negative thought patterns about your body, may I suggest choosing a positive affirmation and saying it out loud, many times each day? We’ll cover crafting an effective positive affirmation statement in another post, but “I am…” statements are a good place to start. Here’s my favorite affirmation, that I come back to over and over: “I am beautiful, vibrant, and worthy of love.” If that feels difficult to say, just know that it gets easier the longer you practice it.

What do you think? Have you been the recipient of a well-meaning Comment? How did you respond? Or, were you on the other side of scenario? What would you do differently the next time you’re in a similar situation?


Beginner’s Mind. Small. Life Changing.

Do you ever roll your eyes when you hear about the concept of “Beginner’s Mind”? Like if I just suspend judgement for a moment and make-believe that I’m a baby and don’t know anything at all, suddenly everything in my life will be solved. Riiight.

Well…kind of, actually.

As humans, we are experts at drawing lines from A to B and finding patterns that make life more efficient with subconscious lightning quick speed. We’ve done it since the moment we were born and we do it constantly throughout the day – if we are having a conversation with a relative we find annoying, we know how we are going to feel about what they say before they’ve even said it. In fact, this plays out in our conversations all the time: Try and have a conversation, or better yet, an argument, where you don’t think at all about what you are going to say until the other person is completely finished speaking. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

So how do we learn to differentiate between patterns that serve us, don’t exist, and patterns that we can trust and use with good judgement?

You guessed it: Beginner’s Mind.

Did you know that studies have shown that one of the reasons children are better at learning a second language than adults is that they aren’t afraid of making mistakes in front of fluent speakers of the language they are trying to learn? Adults, on the other hand, fear failure or looking like they aren’t proficient at something and shy away from taking risks in front of other adults while learning the language. Think about that. It’s in the creativity and even wrong use of the rules that children become experts while most adults never achieve mastery. It’s in the willingness to not be the expert that children gain a better understanding!

As soon as we view ourselves as the teacher or expert, we stunt our growth because we stop learning. When we approach a situation, even a mundane every day task like eating an apple, with curiosity and mindfulness, we experience things far beyond what someone who assumes they know what that apple tastes like and what the experience will be when they eat it. That same principle translates to our relationships with others and especially with ourselves.

Pausing for a moment when our child asks a question we already have a formulated answer to. Eating breakfast while aware of the tastes and sensations, even thinking about where it came from.  Taking a breath and observing why we are so critical of ourselves in a certain area. Waiting to formulate a response in our own head when someone else is talking are all forms of Beginner’s Mind. Often when I try to listen to someone else without thinking of a response I am surprised to find that my response is a question rather than a statement. The conversation takes me places I wouldn’t have expected, and I learn from it.

Beginner’s Mind comes from Zen Buddhism, which has an ancient legend that illustrates this beautifully.  The story goes that there was once a wise Zen Master who people came from far and wide to seek wisdom from. One day a person of high social status came to him, asking the Zen Master to show him the way to Enlightenment and teach him more about Zen. The Zen Master invited him in for tea and while the Zen Master prepared the tea, the man began talking extensively about all of his knowledge regarding Enlightenment. He droned on and on, clearly feeling very pleased with himself. As the Zen Master began to pour the tea in the man’s cup, he continued pouring even as it filled to the brim and spilled over, even going so far as to continue pouring when it began to pour onto the man’s beautiful and expensive robes. The man exclaimed “Stop! Stop! You fool, what are you doing?!” The Zen Master replied, “Your mind is like this cup, so full it cannot hold anything else.  No new ideas or thoughts. Come back to me when you have emptied your mind and I will teach you about Enlightenment.”

Beginner’s Mind is not abandoning reason or common sense. It’s making space in our cup to discover new solutions, experiences, and relationships. Instead of assuming that we learned everything we needed to know in the first few years of our life, we are open to limitless possibilities. It’s simply suspending judgement for the moment – the judgements we make so quickly we don’t even realize we are making them – and instead being curious about a situation. When we do that, we open up just a little space to possibly learn something. We stop the exhausting ritual of resisting anything that doesn’t immediately fit with our perception of life and pause. Relax. Learn.



Meditate with just one breath

“One conscious breath -in and out- is a meditation.”
–Eckhart Tolle

Did you know that out of all the systems in the body, the respiratory system is the only one that can be controlled either consciously or unconsciously?  By choosing to consciously control what is usually an unconscious process, you can change unconscious patterns in your thinking. Want to change the way you respond to things that trigger you to anger, fear, or shame? Start with the way you breathe. Notice if you’re holding your breath or breathing shallowly during stressful situations, then make a conscious choice to breathe more deeply and more fully.


When talking about breath, we can’t neglect addressing prana, which is tied to our breath. “Prana” is a Sanskrit word meaning “life force”. It represents absolute, divine energy. According to ancient masters, “Prana is a mystical force that is found in all living physical entities, but which is non-physical. It is in the air without being air. It is in water without being water. it is in food without being food.” Ancient sages taught that wherever there is life, there is prana.  They also taught that each person is allotted a number a breaths for their lifetime, and that conscious breathing would lengthen a person’s lifespan. Scientifically, this is true, because mindful breathing over time is shown to reduce stress, which is linked to a large assortment of chronic health problems.

Pranayam/ Pranayama

Pranayam is the use of breathing techniques to control the movement of prana- the life force energy- through our bodies. Though prana comes into our bodies with the air, it doesn’t necessarily go to the lungs. Prana can be directed to different areas of the body through conscious breathing.  Even a slight change in the way your breathe can change the way you feel and see the world. If you want to change your mental or emotional state, change your breath. Do these breath exercises in bed, seated at your desk, in the car, while making dinner, as part of a more formal meditation, or even discretely during a stressful workday (which for me includes my writing and working from home time, running my kids around during carpool, studying, cooking, and running the household). Here are my favorite 3 simple go-to pranayama, or breathing exercises:

North- South Breathing (aka Alternate Nostril Breathing)

This breathing technique puts the mind and body into harmony. It balances the right and left hemispheres of your brain. I love to use this pranayam to start my meditation time, and it is also extremely helpful to remain calm and grounded during transition times, such as ending the workday and moving into family time, before public speaking, or shifting into productivity mode. North-South breathing helps create a sense of well-being, and can even help mitigate headaches and other stress-related symptoms. Here’s how to do it:

  • Use the thumb of the right hand to close the right nostril, and gently and fully inhale through the left nostril.
  • Then close the left nostril with the index finger of your right hand and exhale through the right nostril.
  • Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril.  
  • Close the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
  • Continue repeating, alternating nostrils after each inhalation- so you exhale and inhale on one side, then switch and do the same on the other side, alternating which side you are breathing on.
  • As you alternate sides, visualize the air passing in and out as a cleansing light.
  • Complete 12 complete rounds of North- South breathing.

*Breathing through the left nostril is associated with Calmness, Empathy, Sensitivity.

*Breathing through the right nostril is associated with Concentration, Alertness, Readiness-for-action, Willpower

7-11 Breathing

This breath technique is a lifesaver during frustrating and stressful situations, especially ones that trigger anger and powerlessness. Best of all, it is sooooo simple.

  • Breathe in slowly for 7 counts, then breathe out for 11 counts (You are free to alter the numbers and do any variation of this).

The important thing is that you are breathing out for a longer time period than you are breathing in.  This may take a little practice but you don’t need to count slowly- it should be comfortable. The trick is to space your breathing so that you are inhaling and exhaling evenly over the  7 or 11- count span. By emphasizing exhaling during this exercise, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. (Remember the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems? The sympathetic nervous system is where your “fight or flight” response occurs- the stress response. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for resting and digesting- the relaxation response.) The parasympathetic nervous system slows the heartbeat and relaxes the circulation, nerves, and digestive system. It relaxes us and promotes elimination of waste and toxins, both physically and emotionally.

Humming Breath

Humming breath is a very soothing, anxiety- relieving breathing exercise. It is also very simple, but it might feel awkward to do around other people, so it’s best done when you won’t be worried about anyone raising their eyebrows at you. That said, it can be a very powerful experience to do Humming Breath with others in a group meditation setting.

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose.
  • Hum “Mmmmmmmmm” — in an even tone as you exhale. Hum until the very bottom of your exhalation, but do not strain.
  • Repeat this inhale/humming exhale cycle for as long as it feels good. For some this is a few breaths, for others, a few minutes. If you’d like a set amount of time, try starting with 3 minutes.
  • Finish with a few deep, normalizing breaths.

What do you think? Can you find a way to incorporate more conscious breathing into your day? We’d love to hear your experiences.


PS- Follow us on Instagram! We’ll be talking a lot more about the specifics of breath this week, so check us out for how-to videos and personal application of this information!