Hurtful Body Comments from Family Members (how to deal with them)Jun 01, 2022
Body image starts at home. The way parents, siblings, and caregivers speak about bodies shapes our perception of our own body. Despite the significant progress of the body positivity movement, there are still many millennial women especially with parents who shame their body regularly when they come home to visit.
It's surprising to me people still make comments like this, but a member of The Body Image Solution program asked me this week how to reply when people make rude comments on their body.
Even seemingly innocent comments create the basis of your body image. They shape the values within your family. When a family unit seems to value you body's appearance more than your health, this distorts how to treat your body and think about your body.
Family members, especially, feel like they have special permission to speak their mind. My guess is because they assume you're "stuck with them" whether you like it or not. While this isn't true, let's stick to the question at hand and craft a few simple responses when family members make comments on your body.
You decide who has authority over your perception of yourself
First things first, let's challenge why you hold the opinions of these people so closely.
This is funny, because someone will always have the opinion that something doesn't suit you. But it's not their decision to make, it's yours. Family is a huge source of your body image issues. When you reflect and dig into the expectations you hold of your body, I bet they come from mom, grandma, or auntie. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and so are you.
Your hair might look bad to them
Your red lipstick might make you look like a hooker to them
Your eyebrows might look too thick to them
Losing weight might be praise-worthy to them
But who gave them authority over what looks good and what doesn't? No one. It's subjective and you get to decide what you like to wear and what you don't like to wear. You get to decide what looks good and what doesn't.
What to say when someone makes a rude comment about your body
Practical advice in these situations include, but aren't limited to, something as simple as,
"I don't see how that's any of your business"
"I'll be the judge of that"
"Thanks for the warning"
"I didn't ask for your opinion, and I actually feel good about how I look"
Or, if you want to be pretty bold,
"That comment is inappropriate and it makes me feel bad about my body, please don't say things like that to me."
When you start setting boundaries with people who've gotten away with saying rude things to you for years, they might get offended or react poorly. This is a reflection on them, not your boundaries.
How to compliment someone to encourage a positive body image
Let's say a family member is making comments on your body, but trying to help. This is tricky because body image issues come from an over focus on your body.
When someone wants to make you feel better when you're already feeling down, it doesn't help to disagree and say, "stop it, you're gorgeous!" or "well, at least you're skinny." They should encourage you that they love you no matter what you look like. Compliment you based on character traits,
"I love how funny you are"
"I love your kindness"
"I'm attracted to your enthusiasm for life"
"You make me feel safe to express myself"
"You're so dependable and I love that more than how much you might weigh"
If you're feeling fine and your mom or partner genuinely thinks you look cute, that's fine to say it. I'm not against appearance-based compliments. But the goal is for the majority of what people praise about you to come from non-appearance-based sources.
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You know better than me if your family has good intentions with their comments or not. I like to assume people have good intent, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be set straight when what they're saying is hurtful.