5 strategies for responding to or preventing body shaming

Guest post by Sunny

By: Ky - CC BY 2.0
By: KyCC BY 2.0
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.
  • Masturbate.
  • 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!

Let’s not focus on the mean things people say (we hear enough of that all the time, already), but the things we can do to promote body positivity.

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.

Comments on 5 strategies for responding to or preventing body shaming

  1. My favorite way is simply taking care of my body (and forcing myself to do it if i feel particularly mean towards it) – using nice products in the shower (not necessarily expensive, but just a shower gel i really like as texture and smell), scrubbing, epilating, using moisturiser religiously. If you take a lot of care of it, you start liking it. Also, all the tips about using fabrics and textures to feel sexy help.
    Another tip would be to spend time outside if possible. I think that walking or exercising outside gives me more contact with my body and makes me way more content with myself than exercising in a smelly gym (though not always possible to do – still, worth doing it regularly). I don’t concentrate on my huge thighs if i am running by the lake near my house or walking in a garden, because of the great views and crisp air. It’s a way of discovering new ways to enjoy your body.

  2. To go with point 1, when someone self-shames, train yourself to stop with the automatic response: “Oh my God, you are so not [x]!” If someone else pipes in with that little gem, try to avoid nodding along or offering verbal agreement.
    It’s the response the person is trying to illicit by participating in bad body talk, and it’s saying that [x] is an essentially wrong, very bad thing to be in the first place.

    • My husband even calls this “fishing for compliments” and he refuses to participate in it with me. It helps me notice when I’m in the middle of a destructive thought process, and by calling my attention to it, I can work actively to quell the thoughts.

    • ” it’s saying that [x] is an essentially wrong, very bad thing to be in the first place”

      So true. I’m sure we’ve all been in the situation where we are MORE [x] that the person who starts the bad body talk. So your mind goes to, well she’s less [x] than I am, so I am even further away from the “ideal.”

    • I agree – this is SUPER important. By saying “you are so not….” you perpetuate the conversation rather than ending it (which is what is most important to me.)

  3. When I’m feeling down about my body I like to find pictures of other big beautiful women strutting their stuff. Pinterest is good for this, but there are also some awesome blogs out there, including the Offbeat Empire. I’m visual, seeing big is beautiful helps me more than reading it. And then I remember that I’m just as lovely as those girls. 🙂
    I’m also trying to live by the “be a friend to yourself” rule. I tend to be my own worst critic, so I’m trying to not say anything to myself I wouldn’t say to a friend, and even throw in some encouragement.

    • I have a hidden board called “Confidence” that does exactly this. I pin images of curvy women, confident women, anything that immediately changes my mood. 9 times out of 10 it has lifted me out of a funk or given me that little reassurance that, yes, I am worth it.

      • I agree that having a body positive board on Pinterest is really helpful! All the thinspiration/fit inspiration posts weren’t personally helpful to me (although I realize different things work for different people) or leading to good feelings about my body, so I started pinning pictures of different body types to show myself there are many types of bodies out there and mine is not as abnormal or unacceptable as my mind likes to tell me sometimes after looking at bodies that are positively, predominantly featured. I feel like it helped me grow as a person because not only did it make me more aware of all the different sizes out there but also helped me become more aware of all the other types of bodies that also are not shown as regularly in the media or even on Pinterest’s main everything/popular pages, such as various ages, races, genders, abilities, etc. Trying to cultivate a board with a focus on being inclusive of all kinds of bodies has been really positive for me. Sometimes it feels like the people I’m around off line aren’t as interested in talking about these different body or social issues, and it is nice to have safe places online like the Offbeat Empire or ones I’ve found on Pinterest (such as other body positive and feminist boards) to see and discuss these things.

        My body positivity board on Pinterest is http://pinterest.com/ravensflights/body-positivity/ if anyone is interested. I’d love to get links to other people’s boards, if anyone is up for sharing, so that I can have more positive content in my main feed. =)

    • A few years ago (before pinterest existed) I started looking for real women who look like me, and deciding what made them beautiful. I found a lot of women in my shape, who are georgous. It really helped me see myself that way too!

      • A while ago I discovered My Body Gallery – it’s full of user-submitted photos of women who list their height and weight, so you can see what women with your proportions look like, objectively.

        It’s also really interesting to see the different shapes, even among people of the same height and weight.

        Here’s the URL: http://www.mybodygallery.com

        Also, every now and then I check out this post from BuzzFeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicamisener/these-women-are-plus-size-according-to-america

        Which, I realise, is chock full of its own problems. Besides their non-model weights, the women are still conventionally attractive, and objectified.

        I also liked the bit in your post about the brain being part of the body – if we can shift the focus to abilities and personality/goodness, then body shaming wouldn’t even be an issue.

  4. I love this post so much! My mum will at times talk about my weight, which I hate – I feel so much better in my body and my life now than back when I was a skinny teenager. I’ve tried to tell her that it’s not helpful at all, that it just makes me feel bad and not motivated to change anything (because granted, I could lead a healthier lifestyle – but that has nothing to do with my weight), but 50 years of being told ‘fat = bad’ is hard to wipe out in a conversation or two. I’ll have to memorize some of the responses in this post for future use.

  5. I used to have horrible body image, including panic attacks that I thought I was fat/ugly/stupid/unworthy of love… But I feel like I’ve grown now and I don’t have those feelings as much anymore.
    I just want to recommend some books on this topic that REALLY helped me.
    Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything” by Geneen Roth (this is actually a secular self-help book), and “Do I Look Fat in This?” by Jessica Weiner

    Jessica Weiner’s book actually recommends against some of the recommendations in this post. Mainly if a friend brings up “Fat Talk” that you should simply not engage it. Even commenting saying “But you look so beautiful!” can perpetuate fat talk and reinforce harmful thought cycles.

  6. I stop myself from doing it by doing things that make me FEEL good. I’ve found that when I exercise regularly, I actually weigh more since I eat more, but I feel better about my body.
    I also just don’t buy clothes that are tight across my butt. Every time I wear them I feel fat, no matter how I actually look, so I just don’t wear them! And flow-y skirts are more fun anyway.

    I think a lot of people have a disconnect between how they look and how they think they look, from mildly to pathological.

    • You guys, guess who just re-read her comment and realized just how much she can’t separate out society’s ideals and language from what she was actually trying to say!!??!! This girl! That was a poor choice of words to use “fat” when I actually meant uncomfortable. Because that was the whole point that I was trying to make- how I feel is more important than how I look.

  7. Just wanted to make sure to give credit where credit is due: a sentence was edited out (which I totally understand, because I tend to be longwinded!) that mentioned that many of these ideas came from several threads that were popular over on the Offbeat Bride Tribe a few weeks ago.

    • BWAHARHARHAR!! That video was awesome.

      I got a really important lesson on self-deprecation a few years ago when a friend called me out for always deflecting her compliments. She was like “Stop it. You don’t even realize it, but you’re basically insulting me by telling me that my opinion is worthless and misguided. Just say thank you and stop being so weird about it!”

      Erm. Oh. Right. THANK YOU! 🙂

      • My friend gave me this tough love talk recently too. It made me realize that I only do the compliment deflecting thing when I’m complimented on something I feel self-conscious or not so confident about. When someone praises something I feel confident about, I have no problem saying thanks and hell yes! So, when I deflect a compliment, besides making the person who gave it feel crappy, I make myself look self-conscious and not confident. Lose/lose.

    • Oh my god, that was fantastic! Giggling at my desk.

      I feel like I’m pretty good at accepting compliments, but I still get awkward about compliments on things I feel like I have no control over or didn’t actually work for. As in, someone compliments my hair when I just let it dry naturally, or something I did at work that I don’t feel like I put a lot of effort into. I guess the best thing is to just say “thank you!” and change the subject?

      I’m still working on it, and also try to give compliments that focus more on the effort someone put into something. The things people do, rather than what they are.

      • Honey, someone gave you compliments about things that you did NATURALLY. That you DIDN’T have to put any special effort into. If you look gorgeous when you don’t do anything to your hair, and do an awesome job when you’re not even TRYING at work – THEN YOU ARE AMAZING JUST THE WAY YOU ARE!!! So yes!!! SAY THANK YOU!!!

        • Well, thank you! That’s nice of you to say. I’ll try to explain myself a little more, though.

          The work one was probably a bad example, but I’ll give you another couple–both with people complimenting my appearance. With one of them, I was on my bicycle and was just coming back from the gym. I had been exercising regularly that summer, and my friend said, “wow, you look awesome!” which felt great, since I had been working hard, was noticeably stronger than when summer started, and exercise makes me happy. Thinking about that compliment still makes me feel good!

          A year later, a different friend complimented me on how flat my abs were. However, it was because I had just had a bunch of surgeries (like, one a month for three months, which she knew about). The queasiness after the anesthesia left me with very little appetite, combined with not being allowed to exercise all summer, so even less appetite and some loss of muscle. That compliment felt much more awkward–I wasn’t skinny through any concerted effort or work of my own (and didn’t want to be), I was frustrated that I hadn’t been allowed to run, and it was complicated by said friend negatively comparing herself to me. So I was at a loss for what to say and didn’t handle it too well, and the whole thing still makes me feel a little funny.

          Anyway, relating back to my first comment, here’s an article I was thinking of, about a study that looked at complimenting kids for intrinsic abilities vs. effort: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

          For something shorter, the adulting blog has a great post about this too: http://adultingblog.com/post/22861642970

          Hopefully that helps you see where I’m coming from!

  8. Does anyone have any advice/thoughts on how to respond when someone talks about losing weight and is seeking validation for it/discouraged when you haven’t noticed?

    I have had several instances of this come up recently. Previously I would have felt like “You look great!” is an appropriate response and validation for their hard work. But now I feel like that is saying that something was wrong with how they previously looked and shaming fat/bigger bodies. I also wonder how positive that really is for the person who is seeking that kind of validation when it seems a bit shaming to where they were before and could be shaming in the future if they gain the weight back. (Coming from my own experience and other people losing and then regaining weight over and over again.)

    I feel like I could simply say, “You are beautiful” as the article suggests (which I do think is good advice), but I don’t want that to come off as specific to them losing weight and saying “you look beautiful as always” seems like it might not be the right answer either. I did try to focus with one family member on how she seems to be feeling better physically and that reflects in her face (because she has been cutting out food that has been causing her physical problems separate from weight), but after she expressed disappointment specifically that I hadn’t noticed that she lost so many pounds, I was wondering if I could have handled it better.

    • Could you say something like “it sounds like you are really proud of how hard you have been working on this” or some other “reflect the emotion” rather than validate the skinny=good sentiment behind it?

    • I’ve said things like, “Hey, you look different!” or “Have you changed shape recently?” It’s a way of acknowledging that something has changed and that effort might have gone into it, without putting any good/bad value onto it or even talking about bigger/smaller.

    • I try to be super attentive to changes like better mood, increased strength, increased mobility, better health – and remark upon THOSE changes (and of course weight loss doesn’t mean better health for everybody. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite). If somebody actually called me out on not noticing weight loss, I would probably be quite explicit: I’m not going to define how beautiful you are by how much you weigh. But if this is related to changes that support your health – I’m very proud of you.

    • I like to compliment the hard work and self control that lead to the weight loss. “It looks like you’ve been working hard!” It acknowledges the change in body, without assigning emotions to the body before or after the change. And honestly, the hard work is more important and something to be proud of than just being skinnier. The weight loss is a result of hard work, and that’s what people want you to notice; the effort!

    • Unfortunately, everyone’s different, and everyone has a different relationship with their own body and a different attitude towards fat in general, so it’s going to be hard to communicate about those things in any one particular way that’s guaranteed not to hurt anyone.

      Speaking only for myself here–I’m someone who lost a significant amount of weight and has managed to keep it off for some time. When I first lost the weight, it made me very happy when people commented specifically on the weight loss. These days, though, if people comment on how well I’ve kept it off, or if they talk about how slim I am in general (especially if they make disparaging comments about themselves in comparison), I get uncomfortable. I feel awkward, and my relaxed and secure attitude towards my own body suddenly becomes less-so, as I start to feel as though these people would value me less if I did gain back the weight. If people tell me in general that I look great, or that I am beautiful, I feel better about compliments like that. Also, speaking to the people who are trying not to deflect compliments–my strategy is to thank the person and then give them a compliment in return! Everyone walks away feeling a little happier!

    • My fiancee lost a lot of weight after recovering from a torn ACL and finally being able to get moving again, and she actually hated people commenting on it. The worst for her was people saying something a work (she works in a great big call center so she sees a lot of coworkers every day.) She felt like 1. it’s weird that all these people were looking at and making judgments about her body which seemed sort of sexual harassment-y, 2. that meant they thought something was wrong with her before, and 3. what if she had had a severe eating disorder, or was losing weight because of chemo, or any number of other things that doesn’t exactly warrant a spontaneous “OMG, good job, you look so good!”
      I think you’re right to be cautious. I’ve struggled to be positive without stepping over boundaries lately with a roller derby teammate who got super healthy and lost as much as I weigh – I have mostly focussed on how impressed I am that she has changed how her children think of food and exercise, in this particular case. I would have to echo advice on talking about what the person is doing instead of how they look, right up until you KNOW they want you to say something about the weight or appearance, and then explain why you don’t think that is what makes them impressive. Maybe subtly share this article with them somehow?

    • “I’m glad to hear [life changes] are making you so happy.”

      “You’re glowing! You look [happy/healthy/radiant]. Keep up the good work!”

      “I’m proud of you for [act of self-care]” or “I admire your dedication to [healthy habit].”

  9. Never underestimate the power of simple role modeling for the children and young people in your life (well, probably ANYone in your life). I didn’t have a body image issue until I met my in-laws and then it felt like everything they talked about was how they looked or how other people looked. It was so foreign because my mom was always positive about her body, focusing on things like strength and ability to do things (hiking, cooking, etc) and never focused on our image. When I was really skinny as a kid/pre-teen I guess they sometimes worried that I was getting too thin (medically, not because I exhibited any signs of an eating disorder), but they never even hinted their concern to me. When I was really tall they never made me feel weird or different. I really credit my mom’s modeling of how she interacted with her own self as a real foundation for how I see myself now.

  10. Over the course of a year I lost 60 pounds and went from being “overweight” to being an “acceptable” weight.

    As someone who’s tried to stay body positive throughout, I’ve ironically struggled with the “positive” attention I’ve gotten with my weight loss. I know people think they’re being complimentary, but the fact that I’m 60 pounds lighter doesn’t make me a better or more loveable person. Sometimes I want to say in response, “Was I not good enough/lovable enough then? It’s still just me.”

    In the course of my weight loss I feel like I’ve learned healthier habits and better ways to deal with stress, and these are good things. But I still feel like the me of several years ago is getting body shamed and that bothers me.

    • Good for you for taking on the journey and for making it an all-encompassing one, not just a physical one. I do think there are some signs in your comment that what you’re currently dealing with may have nothing to do with the comments or the people or the weight and more to do with some internal stuff, and I think everyone should feel good about getting compliments!

      Are they actually making comments that they love you more now or that you’re a better person? Or is that just how you’re interpreting it? Also, the word “acceptable” weight… acceptable to whom? Your doctors, your friends, yourself? I think maybe you just mean “proportional” or “healthy for me” or something else. “Acceptable” is a body-shaming judgment already.

      You share that you’ve learned healthier habits, stress coping, and probably other things. I think that’s definitely something to celebrate with EVERYONE, NAO, YAY! Growth is amazing, and people are praising you for achieving goals you’d set. It doesn’t make you more lovable, but you do seem to think it’s an improvement over your attitudes and habits before. Every piece of desired personal growth comes with an easy out of, “Man, I can’t believe I used to do THAT or think THAT or say THAT… how embarrassing! I’m so glad that’s in my past and I HOPE THAT PART DIES FOREVER.” (and I’m talking from personal experience). I think it’s much harder to own up to previous bad habits (emotional or otherwise), laugh, and then celebrate the growth. It seems like maybe you are the one shaming that old you? This new you, with its stress-dealing mechanisms, is deserving of praise- and is simply an evolution of the old you (with many more evolutions to come).

      Butterflies don’t look disdainfully down at caterpillars and say, “Jeez, I’m so glad I’m not one of THOSE crawly things anymore, how gross!” Nobody compliments them as “beautiful ex-caterpillars”; all the compliments are for what they are *now*, and the transformation they’ve undergone is simply how they arrived. And so you are, beautiful butterfly 🙂

    • the “positive” attention given to weight loss drives me crazy. my spouse is “overweight” and it seems like the only way anyone knows to compliment her looks is “oh! have you lost weight?” which, no. her weight has been constant for years. yet every time we see someone and it’s been a few weeks they’re totally certain she’s skinnier. what the fuck is wrong with just saying “damn! you look good!” (’cause, yes.)

      or, if that’s too vague you could focus on shit that matters/is true. she looks good because she’s healthier, because she’s wearing clothes that look hot on her, because she’s damn happy. none of these things have caused weight loss, so i suppose no one cares.

      on the bright side, she’s gotten a bit more confident/frustrated and now tends to tell people straight-up “no” if they say she’s lost weight, which tends to fluster folks a bit.

  11. Thank you to everyone who has written something here. As a pear-shaped woman whose weight fluctuates a fair bit from year to year, I have struggled with my body shape and the frustration of finding clothes that fit my form right. Over the years, I’ve learned that this is just how I am, and that there’s nothing wrong with my body (I try to eat nutritiously and am pretty active), but I still have bouts of extreme self-consciousness.

    One thing I do worry about is how I will handle things like “body image” and being a proper role model whenever I have children. Regardless of whether our future (currently hypothetical) children are girls or boys, I think it’s so important not to seem self-critical about one’s looks/body in front of them, as it can send a dangerous message. I hope that whenever I have children, I can encourage them to appreciate not only their own bodies, but also not to be critical of those around them.

  12. This post really struck a cord with me. I struggle with feeling negative towards my body sometimes, and I really like some of these strategies for moving away from the body shaming. I’ve shared this on all my social networks.

  13. I love this post. <3

    Kinda makes me wonder how many eating disorders we could prevent by using body positive language, rather than body shaming. I know it's not the entire cause of ED, but I'm guessing it could help lower the numbers of people struggling with it.

  14. I love the reminder that the brain is also part of the body!

    It is easy to think or talk about mind/body connections and for me to notice that my mind feels so much clearer when I exercise. But I’ve not heard it put exactly that way. Not only are the mind and body related, but the brain IS part of the body. Such a great way for bookish types (like me) to celebrate.

    • We can’t care for one and not the other 😉 I think once we recognize that, we can also open ourselves to realizing that every experience we have of the world is experienced with our bodies. And therefore – that we can’t somehow turn our bodies into an object separate from our selves.

  15. Years ago I got very sick (like the almost died kind of sick) and lost a huge amount of weight in a very short period time. When I was finally well enough to return to work co-workers gave me lots of “compliments” on how thin I was and how great I looked. I had a hard time not screaming “I ALMOST DIED YOU STUPID F#%K!” It led to lots of tears on my part.

    As I started to gain weight back and my family told me how I looked more and more healthy, I was able to start telling people- “I looked great before I was sick. I’m just working my way back to curvy, healthy, and strong .”

  16. “…care for your body to the best of your ability. Do this because you love your body, not because you hate it”


    I wish it was easy to just start thinking this way. I work in the fitness industry- at a not-for-profit, inclusive and family friendly chain of gyms. But still, the modern fitness industry is so goal oriented and its so easy to fall in to the trap of “I’m working out to lose weight” or “I’m working out to replace fat with muscle”. Those goals are fine, but I constantly make the logical jump that if I want to lose weight or replace fat, I must be bad looking now. I’d like to rid myself of that particular conclusion!

    • I call my fitness regime getting “healthy for life”. I’m unfit, and I don’t like that as it makes me worried for my future. If I can barely run 1km without feeling like I’m going to die, how will I outrun the zombies in the apocalypse? It’s not about what I look like on the inside, it’s about how my lungs feel and my ability to keep up with the children I might have in the future.

  17. I am bookmarking this article. I struggle with both body image and weight (medically). As I work to fing y way, I find myself constantly reaffirming other people’s negative or “fishing” statements, and usually feel worse about myself (in comparison) afterwards. If I don’t engage in that, I can at least cut back on some of the unintended consequences (they feel better, I think, but I feel worse). These comments and links are great. I want to be healthy and positive and strong for my child (a son).

  18. For whatever reason, I often end up as the clothes guru for my friends. As someone who is creeping from size 14 into a 16, I’m definitely not skinny. But when I go shopping I try EVERYTHING on and I try not to get negative about my body. Yeah, I’m trying to eat better and exercise more, but I’m much more concerned with finding clothes that fit ME, rather than trying to fit into clothes.

    And that by far is the most valuable lesson I try to teach my friends – if the clothes don’t fit, don’t freak out! Everyone is differently sized anyway. Would you be super upset if that skirt was too long or the shoulders of that shirt are a little too big or if those cute shoes were too small? No? So stop freaking out if the waistband of those pants is too tight or that shirt doesn’t fit across your boobs! The clothes should fit YOU. End of story. If they don’t? Don’t get upset and either try a different size or pick something else.

    And DON’T buy clothes that are too small as an “incentive” to lose weight. Not only does it not work, it’s a complete waste of money because you’ll never wear them. If you are actively losing weight, don’t invest in a ton of new clothes until you reach your size equilibrium – that is, you don’t change weight or size radically for more than a year. Then you can splurge on a whole new wardrobe.

    One last thing: don’t go by the size! Women’s sizes in particular can fluctuate wildly from brand to brand. You might be a 12 in one brand, a 14 in another, and a 16 in another. To make things easier, I always grab a couple sizes of something I really like. If one doesn’t fit, I try the other. Although sometimes you get that frustrating thing where a 14 is too tight but a 16 is way too big. *sigh* Then you just shrug and move on to something else.

    Looking good in the skin you’ve got does sometimes take effort, but it’s well-worth it. Well-fitting clothes and feeling good in them are way more important than a number, regardless of what it might be.

    • I found that spending some time shopping for clothes on e-bay really drove this one home for me. Because you never know what a size 2 or 8 or 16 or whatever means, you have to take detailed measurements of your body and/or your existing clothing that fits best, and then ask the seller for detailed measurements of the clothing you want to buy. When it’s all reduced down to dispassionate numbers like that, it’s really easy to see how much extra baggage we attach to sizes.

      I think it partly has to do with measuring parts that we don’t fetishize as much.. When buying on ebay like that, it’s just as important to know the length of your inseam or the width of your shoulders as the circumference of your stomach or thighs. If I don’t care that the numbers aren’t matching up for my shoulders, why should I care if they don’t match up for my hips? It also makes it a matter of simple math, not interpretation. Recognizing that I won’t fit into that dress doesn’t mean admitting I’m a less attractive or valuable person (which is how many people seem to think of having to go up a size), it just means acknowledging that 35 inches don’t fit into a 32 inch space. It’s about how numbers and volume work, not about how I work.

  19. Thank you for this. I think that this will really help me to deal with my appearance-focused mother. Last weekend, at my graduation, she cared more about what dress I was wearing and taking pictures than my plans for the future. As I plan my wedding, I’m going to need all the help I can get in dealing with her and others with this habit/mindset.

  20. Yay this post and all the comments! I’m recovering from 28 years (and still going) of subtle and not so subtle body-shaming from my mom and step-grandmother. I’ve always been tall and heavy (with rocking boobs and gorgeous eyes, btw) so I never thought I was pretty and don’t recall hearing it a lot. The whole thing has been exacerbated by my formally very rotund step-sister dropping half her body weight and flooding facebook with weekly selfie montages about how pretty she is now that she’s skinny and can buy clothes anywhere she wants, and I have to hear about it from every relative whenever I visit >:(
    Anyway, a couple of my coping strategies to add:
    1) This one is actually stolen from What Not to Wear (love it, hate it, whatevs.) and that is to pick out something about yourself you like and own it. I love my eyes, so if I’m feeling crappy about the rest of me, I look at my eyes and remember that they are great so I do some make up to emphasize them.
    2) If you have a spouse, partner, best friend, talented dog, etc, have them right some positive post it notes about you and hang them wherever you get ready in the morning. About six months ago my then-fiance/now-wife started doing that on my bathroom mirror and I have noticed a distinct improvement in my self-mood. There aren’t comments qualified on anything other than her opinion and just say things like “you are beautiful”, “I can’t wait to see you,” “I love you,” and things like that (and a couple of naughty thoughts that were accidentally left up during the reception) . I find that since they aren’t in my handwriting, I can’t as easily dismiss the notion.

  21. I’m way late to this party, but I would like to ask this question. When people mention strategies to make ourselves feel better about our bodies, does this truly apply to everyone? The reason I ask is because I have seen some snide comments made about slender figures from those who purportedly champion body positivity, and I’m someone who’s naturally slim. I run for mental stress relief and have not gained weight like the rest of my family because I’ve always eaten well. Spinach was seriously my favorite food as a kid. In fact, I have been fighting like crazy to regain six pounds I didn’t need to lose due to an awful stomach infection that festered for about a month. Ironically, I haven’t been able to accomplish this over the holidays (in spite of all the food I’ve encountered and eaten; I had seconds at every party I attended). The point is, I’d like to be proud of my body, but I can’t tell if body acceptance is truly accepted when it’s practiced by those who are slender to start. Is it, or are my concerns justified?

    • I think many of these strategies can work quite well if you experience or witness body-shaming or denigration that is framed in terms of “thinness.”

    • I think it’s different. Not easier or harder, not better or worse, but different. People assume things about slim girls (like they’re vain, they spend all of their time working out, they obsessively diet or count calories, etc, etc.). And people assume things about people who weigh more (they must eat terrible foods, they must not work out, must be lazy, etc.). BUT THEY ARE ALL ASSUMPTIONS. You can’t really know someone’s life story by looking at them. Each of those assumptions can be offensive based on what you rank as important in your life.
      You might want to look into the concepts of privileges as a different way to wrap your head around it. Falling into society’s “ideal range” makes you LOOK like you fit the mold, even if your motivations aren’t to look the part. Why can Jennifer Lawrence talk about eating french fries but Melissa McCarthy can’t?
      And I think privilege varies by the community you are in. I’m maybe 15 pounds “overweight” which doesn’t make a difference in my day to day or professional life, but it can make a difference when I play community sports with really athletic people because it’s often assumed that my endurance isn’t as good as the thinner player standing next to me, before they’ve even seen either of us run. There are many other instances of thin privilege that I don’t need to list here, and I know that I’ve got a lot of them being in a not thin but more “socially accepted” weight range than other people. So in certain communities, thinness gives you certain privileges that you might not realize. And in other communities, I get the feeling that NOT being thin brings privileges about your “authenticity” or that you spend your time on more worthwhile things than working out, or you must be too busy caring for others to care for yourself. Remember that post of OffBeat families about the mom taking time to go to the gym where the comments got out of hand?
      So the overall theme is that people will make assumptions about you based on your appearance which may or may not be true. And we all have different priorities, so those assumptions can be offensive no matter what size you are. Your experience is your own and you have a right to it, but it doesn’t hurt to consider outside perspectives on your situation.

  22. I’ve worked in ladies’ retail for almost four years, and I can’t tell you how often I’ve had women tell me that they want to take me home with them so I can make them feel good about themselves all the time! Whenever I work in the dressing room, I declare it a “body-shame-free” zone and forbid body-negative talk (“Oh, my stomach looks so bad/I hate my knees/I’m so overweight/Ugh, look at my flabby arms”–you name it, someone hates it about their body 🙁 ). I make a point of focusing on how the clothes fit and flatter, how the colors work with her complexion, and–most importantly–how the clothes make her feel. Examples:

    “I really like that color on you; it really brings out your eyes/hair.”
    “Those jeans are really flattering on you! They make your butt look great!”
    “I love that dress with your figure. How do you feel in it?”

    Another reminder I make frequently is that it is NOT about the number on the tag. It’s about the fit and the feel.

  23. I know this is an older post, but it’s the one I have favorited to get to Offbeat Home. I recently met my husband’s cousin for the first time and she shared that her mom had been talking about how much she liked me. Then she continued, “She said that even though you’re fat, you’re really nice!” I laughed it off in the moment, but coming home and reading this post MULTIPLE times helped me not have a full-blown body shaming breakdown. So I just wanted to say thank you for keeping me sane.

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