Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dealing With Negative Comments About Your Body

In the last few weeks, I’ve had several clients and readers ask me about dealing with negative comments about their bodies.

So I want to address negative comments head on and give you some tools for dealing with them, because, frankly, I’ve had enough of this crap.

A Little Context
I don’t really follow non-plus-sized fashion very much, so until this week I had never heard of the swimsuit model Kate Upton (I actually had her confused with the awesome Nancy Upton, but I digress.) Lately, Kate Upton has been torn apart by bloggers for being too fat, having “huge” thighs, etc.

I bring this up only to demonstrate that nowadays, everyone’s body (especially non-male bodies) are apparently up for debate, scrutiny and derision. No one is immune from it, not even swimsuit models.

Of course, there is still a difference between being a straight size swimsuit model and being a size 12 or 22 or 32 (and the degree of comments you get at those different sizes), and the war on obesity rhetoric isn’t helping. Fueling societal scapegoating of fatness with rhetoric about fat causing rising health care costs and pushing the idea that fat people are just a bunch of soda swilling, cheeto eating, lazypants (while thin people mostly hike and eat homemade granola from biodegradable rucksacks) makes commenting on someone’s fatness into a sort of public health message.

Why am I sharing all of that with you? Because I think sometimes you need a reminder that negative comments about your body aren’t even really about your body, they’re about society and our society’s wrongheaded and impossibly narrow definition of a “good” body. Your body didn’t do anything wrong. What’s fucked up about your body is not your body at all, but that your body has to live in a society that thinks it has a right to say fucked up things about your body.
At the same time, I realize that societal change is often glacially slow and reminding you that society is messed up may help you at some times and not others. So I want to share some more tips with you on dealing with negative comments in certain circumstances.

Some Tips For Dealing With Negative Comments

On The Street Harassment
This is some awful shit. If you have to deal with street harassment on any kind of regular basis, I am so sorry. I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this, and I’m not sure why. It may be that I developed a serious “don’t fuck with me” look in my teens that has served me all of these years, or it may just be luck. I have no idea.

But here are some things to remember:
  • Your Reaction In The Moment Is Perfect — Whether you slam the harasser with a witty retort, silently keep moving, and/or report it to the police, your reaction is perfect. You don’t have to do anything, you don’t even have to respond. It’s not your job to fix the situation or deal with it or whatever. The harasser is wrong and you’re right and that’s that.
  • Your Reaction Afterward Is Perfect — A client recently shared with me that she was walking with her friends and a man pointed to her and said something rude about her fatness. She acted like she didn’t care at the time but when she got home she was really upset and cried about it. Part of the reason why she cried was that she was mad at herself for getting upset about it. I think it’s really important in these situations to let yourself feel your feelings. You have the right to feel however you feel about someone commenting on your body. The reality is that there is an ebb and flow to all of our lives. Sometimes, you may feel really great about yourself and your body and a nasty comment rolls right off your back like nothing. And maybe on another day you’re feeling a little more insecure and the negative comment really hurts. That’s the reality of life, and there is nothing wrong with feeling the way you feel.
Comments From People You Know
This stuff is seriously problematic. I think we’ve all had people in our lives (family members, friends, work colleagues) who think it’s completely fine to comment on our bodies and how we look.
Unsolicited commentary on your body is not okay, and the people in your life need to be reminded of that. However, it can be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to get people who are used to giving you negative comments to stop. (I also realize that in some cases it can be literally unsafe to do so, so it’s important to seek out professional assistance with this if you’re in that situation.)

Keep in mind, again, that your response to receiving negative comments, whether you talk back or don’t, cry or don’t, etc. is perfect. You don’t have to respond or do anything you don’t want to do.
However, if you’re looking for a way to change the dynamic with people in your life who make negative comments about your body, please consider actively setting boundaries with them. This can be a little tricky, so I recommend checking out this post on boundary setting for some in depth help with it.

On The Internet
DO NOT BOTHER. If someone says stuff about you on your blog, facebook page, whatever, do not engage. Delete their comments. Block their IP addresses. This is one instance where you have a lot of control, so don’t waste any of your precious energy on them. Seriously.

A Final Note
I don’t think there’s any way to make yourself completely immune from negative comments. Words hurt, you’re human, and it’s natural to feel shame, embarrassment, anger, etc. when someone makes negative comments about your body.

However, one of the best things you can do to soften the impact is to strengthen your self esteem and body image. When you know in your heart of hearts that you are fabulous other people’s opinions of you will matter less. That’s one of the many reasons why I do the work I do!

I hope this helps the next time you have to deal with negative comments.

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