"You look great! Have you lost weight?" "Wow, I wish I could eat like that and still be thin." "Careful, you don't want muscles that make you look like a man." Holidays, reunions, bumping into family at the grocery store - for some reason, these encounters offer the opportunity for people to make comments on our bodies. For those of us on our journey towards body acceptance (or really, anyone with a body), these comments can leave us stumbling over our words, searching for an appropriate reply.
Do I just laugh it off?
Do I give them a piece of my mind?
How do I even talk about this in the first place? How do I even feel about it myself?
I get it. It can be overwhelming figuring out what to do or what to say when someone makes a comment about your body—especially when it's the people who are close to you that make these comments. Often our loved ones have good intentions when they make these comments, but regardless, it can be so uncomfortable. So, what's the best way to respond to these kinds of comments?
Here are my top 4 suggestions:
1. Re-direct or change the subject
If you just don't have the energy or capacity to get into an in-depth conversation with these people, you can redirect the conversation. Here are some good one-liners:
- "Thank you."
- "I am not sure if I have lost weight, and I do not weigh myself and try to focus on other things."
- "I am happy and healthy."
- Change the subject by asking them if they have read any new books lately or if they are watching a new show on Netflix.
2. Have an honest conversation
This one might be a bit more challenging. If you feel that you have the energy and capacity to do so, you can dive into a deeper conversation.
When someone comments on your body, it could be an attempt to make a genuine compliment, or it could stem from their own insecurities—the fitness and wellness industry markets body image as an indicator of health and wellness. As a result, many of us have grown up with the idea that body weight or the appearance of someone is a reflection of their wellness. So when our family or friends see us eating healthy or exercising, they automatically assume we are doing this to lose weight or change our body composition.
When they make a comment about our body, this is an opportunity to talk to them about it. You can be direct and say that your body is not a topic for discussion, or you can offer them another way of viewing health and fitness.
You can explain to them that fitness is not about changing the way you look; it's about building your healthiest life. Explain to them that exercising and eating well makes you FEEL good and supports your physical and mental health.
3. Phone a friend.
Okay, you don't actually have to call someone and tag them into your conversation, but you can have someone to vent to. Let a good friend know that you might be venting to them because your aunt Georgia always comments about how big your muscles are getting, and you can't say anything to her. Venting to someone who will listen to you without judgment always makes it easier to get through uncomfortable moments.
4. Set boundaries.
Of course, we can always strive to be gracious and kind to people who make comments about our body, but don't be afraid to set your boundaries! It is okay to tell people that your body is not a topic of discussion.
It's okay to tell people to please not make comments on the size of your body or others. It's okay to tell people to please not comment on the food that you are eating. That you are working on having a healthy relationship with food.
When setting boundaries, it is always helpful to use "I" statements. For example, you can say, "I notice when comments are made about the food I am eating, I feel anxious. I would prefer it if we do not talk about it."
Hopefully, these tips will help you navigate those tough conversations with friends and family if they comment about your body. And always remember, even if people are talking about or making comments about your body to you, you get to decide how you feel. Some people might understand, and some might not.
Exercising, eating healthy are ways that you are taking care of yourself. You have your reasons for taking care of YOU. And that is enough.