Let’s talk about how to deal when our loved ones participate in body shaming, either of themselves or of others. What do you do when you are determined to be positive about yourself and love your body, but the others around you bad-talk their own bodies or those of others?
I’ve noticed that some people even bond over self-shaming. I’ve especially experienced this with American women. Bonding over body shaming may be less common among other genders, but that doesn’t mean they don’t trash-talk their bodies as well. I’ve heard guys lie about their height, hate their receding hairlines, etc. Transgender folks are already confronted with a complex range of body issues by a society that still largely validates only cis-gendered bodies — and must negotiate this among lots of cis-gendered self-hating.
Apparently these kinds of body-denigrating conversations are so pervasive that it is actually an object of psychological research. Decades of body-positive campaigns may be paying off in many ways, but negative body talk remains a common bonding ritual.
Furthermore, hearing my beautiful friends, my handsome husband, my lovely sisters, my gorgeous mother, denigrate their bodies only serves to make me question mine. We have to think about the impacts of our words — when you say something negative about your body, whether it be your chest size, your lack of hair, or your hair texture: how does that make everybody around you feel about their bodies?
So what should we do when our beautiful loved ones body-shame themselves or others? Here are some of my favorite strategies adapted from comments on the Tribe:
1. Refuse to engage or perpetuate the shaming
If you validate the person with a comment like “You are beautiful,” stop the discussion right there. Don’t add on a line that denigrates yourself to help somebody else see their own beauty. Then divert the conversation in another direction.
2. Acknowledge what is happening
Here is some copy-and-paste wording:
- “I’m so sorry that you can’t love my/their/your body the way it is. That makes me sad. I think I’m/you’re beautiful and lovable the way I am/you are.”
- “Why are we focusing on what’s bad about how we look? Let’s focus on what we love about ourselves!” This goes for clothes shopping, too: “Let’s focus on what makes us feel beautiful!”
- “The way you are talking about yourself (or someone else) is making me feel really bad about myself. I love you, but if our conversations continue to make me feel bad, we may have to spend less time together.”
- “Sure, I’d love to walk with you/work out with you/swim with you/work on getting more veggies into our food. But that’s a totally different conversation. That has nothing to do with loving how beautiful you are and I am. So let’s acknowledge our gorgeous selves right now.” (My sweetie says things like this to me all the time).
3. Decree everybody beautiful.
“Hey, I am the bride, and as the wedding industry pretty much tells us, that means I am QUEEN. My royal decree is that EVERY PERSON coming to my wedding is BEAUTIFUL, just as they are, and that any claims to the contrary are hereby outlawed!” Of course, you don’t have to be a bride to declare yourself body positive royalty any day!
4. And if you’ve experienced body shaming, do things that make you feel confident and beautiful!
- Spend time with the people who make you feel loved and beautiful.
- Blast your favorite dance music and dance around the house! (better yet, do it naked!)
- Put on your favorite sexy outfit and lather up in your favorite smelling lotion, pull on a pair of stomping shoes, and stalk around the house feeling like a lubed up glamazon!
- Do your hair/make-up up in your favorite special way! (Don't wear make-up? Me neither, though I do love a sexy lip gloss.)
- Do something that is a physical challenge for you (but that you know you can do) for a feeling of accomplishment.
- Shower and put on your favorite feel good clothing item: Silky robe? Fluffy robe? Your birthday suit?
- Create something, fix something, or grow something. Do something you know you do well, and think about how you use your body to achieve that feeling of accomplishment. And since there are a lot of academics around here — don't forget — your brains are part of your bodies.
5. Share your favorite strategy for celebrating your gorgeous bodies and preventing body shaming!
I’m happy for you if you are achieving your fitness goals, feeling healthier and happier, reducing your chance for heart disease. Find pleasure in your body, claim its beauty, and care for your body to the best of your ability. Do this because you love your body, not because you hate it. We should all be loving and caring for all of our beautiful bodies — whether they can be “healthy” or not, whatever shape and size they might be. Self-care does not mean self-shame, however.
Remember: Our bodies are not accessories. We ARE our bodies, we live, love, and experience the world with them. And they are pretty amazing.