Body Talk: How to Deal with Negative Comments

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A few weeks ago, I visited a friend I had not seen for quite some time. As she greeted me, one of the first things out of her mouth was: "You've gained weight, haven't you? You didn't have that chubby face last time."

As you no doubt have guessed from some of my previous posts, I am an avid self-love advocate and completely against accepting these kinds of comments without pushback - but this one left me in doubt.

I know that comments about one's body (especially from women to other women) are many things: they are normalized, often negative, and often intended to make the receiver police themselves in a way they may not have before. They also make the receiver feel like crap.

And indeed, regardless of how much time I've spent learning about better body image and thinking up responses to these unsolicited comments, I could only find myself sputtering some sort of refrain and going quiet. The worst part came later, when I started questioning. Am I really heavier? Does that mean I've become less healthy than before? And the best one: does this mean I have to forfeit the self-love and get back on track?

These meta-questions are all about that self-policing that is so encouraged by these words. It takes you out of your body and tells you that you need to justify what you're doing or change it. It's what sends people into fad diets and fat-shaming, into repeating the cycle of denial and guilt around tasty food, and into the impossible journey of trying to be "perfect."

So how do we stop it?

Well, the first way would be to get rid of that type of commentary at all - responding, as I did not, with an abrupt "I don't appreciate comments about my weight." But often, as with many other unsolicited comments, your reaction time is just slower. Or you're just beginning your journey with self-love and you don't quite believe in health at every size yet. So there are some other options that have to go along with this one:

Perform a self-love ritual. This may include: making a list (my favorite!) of all the positive things you've got going on both physically and mentally, giving yourself the "best of" treatment with all your favorite items and experiences, or just taking some time to reflect.

Ask yourself "what is this doing for me right now?" whenever you have negative or self-policing thoughts. What will thinking "I'm so fat" right now really do for you? What will it make you feel? When I started thinking that way and affirming the negative commentary, it only created more negativity. Putting a check on these kind of thoughts and taking a moment to reflect on what they are actually giving to you is often the most positive way to go about redirecting your energies. If you are gnawing on what you need to change, make sure that these thoughts are really coming from a place of love and not one that puts out greater negativity and self-consciousness.

Assume best intent and forgive yourself and the commenter. I have the hardest time with this suggestion, but I also find it the most healing. When I get comments about my weight, I get angry - I start to think "how dare you put me in this cycle where I need to be a certain thinness in order to gain your approval?" And while all of these things may be underlying the words, I do not believe that every person who makes a comment about my appearance is trying to give me ill will. Instead, they themselves find this a typical part of behavior that is supposed to help rather than hurt. We may need to reprogram society not to think in these ways, but there's no use in attacking the individual. Forgive yourself for falling into their trap, and forgive them for unknowingly setting it.

I admit, I am still trying to work out how I must respond in these instances - it hits much closer to home from a friend than from a stranger! I'd appreciate any comments you might have about this subject.

Continue to learn about body image and self-love at these fabulous websites: Already Pretty, Body Love Wellness, and Weightless.