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?