It can be extremely painful when someone insults your body, intentionally or unintentionally, and it happens to many of us during the holidays. In this short post, I will describe some things to remember if you find yourself in this situation and a few ideas for setting boundaries.
What to remember when someone insults your body
Whatever you are feeling about the comment that this person just made, those feelings are valid. Trust your gut–if something feels inappropriate and out of line, it was (even if the person didn’t intend to cause harm). If something bothered you, your anger, hurt, frustration, sadness and confusion are all valid. Bias, phobia, prejudice and inappropriate behavior are sadly all very common. The threads of ignorance run deep and long, so remember that any insult is not about you.
When people insult us, it is due to their ignorance or pain. No happy person goes around making mean comments about others–when someone insults you, it is related to their own self judgment, or it is coming from a place of genuine ignorance about what is appropriate or inherent and unexamined prejudice (or both). Either way, you likely aren’t the only person who this person is making inappropriate comments to. Remember that we have all felt the negative effects of someone commenting on our bodies–whatever their sizes or shapes. You are not alone in feeling the pain of judgment from others, and the fact that this person made an insulting comment doesn’t signal any ‘truth’ about you.
How to respond when someone insults your body
Secondly, consider bringing up how the comment made you uncomfortable, and ask the person who made it not to comment on your body. Take a breath to sit with how you feel and whether you want to speak up. Sometimes, you may find that the more loving option for yourself is to walk away, and other times, it feels like you need to use your voice. For example, it may not be helpful or productive to set a boundary with Grandma who has Alzheimer’s (or it might be), but being true to yourself involves letting Uncle Jerry know that he can’t comment on how you’ve ‘thickened out’ since last Christmas. Trust yourself about this as well.
If you do decide to speak up, remember that is important to set boundaries with people around us so that they know how to treat us, and also to send ourselves a message that we are worthy of respectful and kind treatment. People often appreciate clarity around what we feel, and you setting a boundary may be edifying or inspiring for them (or others in your life who learn about it). You setting a boundary can be great practice for showing yourself that you can have difficult conversations, and remembering that you are there for yourself.
You can start by asking for clarifying questions or explaining how you feel using “I’ statements. You may say something like, “I know that you probably didn’t intend it this way, but that comment hurt my feelings.” In some cases, you may also simply say, “please do not make comments about my body,” or, “when you make comments about my body, it makes me feel uncomfortable.” In some cases, you may say, “that comment is inappropriate,” and walk away. Different situations may merit different responses.
What to do in the aftermath
Finally, practice some self love and self care extra after this experience. Allow yourself to feel the pain of this experience, but then surround yourself with care by listening to body positive podcasts, being with supportive friends, talking to a therapist about how you feel, or simply pamper yourself. Remember that health is possible at every size and shape, and that the negativity around women’s bodies is a result of years of patriarchal and capitalist attempts to control women. Allow yourself to feel held by the community of women and non binary people who have banded together to fight the systemic oppression of the female body. You are not alone, and nearly every woman has experienced ridicule as a result of simply having a body. The fact that a person made an inappropriate comment is a result of a sickness within our culture–not a problem within you.
You have an opportunity to re-write the script. Let it start with showing up for yourself.
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing online in Colorado and Florida. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach focuses on helping creative and perfectionist women practice self compassion. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.