The Fragility of Body Image
In this week’s blog post, I want to explore how to deal with body shaming in a world where everyone feels entitled to say whatever they want, to whomever they want. Ugh.
But first, let’s talk about body image and why this should be the starting point in overcoming the struggle!
In another blog post, I shared that body dissatisfaction is common amongst women of all different ages, shapes, and sizes. And that doesn’t even cover how culture, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or adversity influence body image too.
Simply put, body image is fragile. One day, you put on a nice outfit, you get lots of compliments, and all is right with the world.
Now it’s the next day. You put on a “less flattering” outfit and someone says something about your appearance that rubs you the wrong way. Now, you can’t stand to look in the mirror.
This vacillation with body image, from one end of the spectrum to the other is a normal part of life. I’ve been there with you, friend. And it doesn’t make life in this crazy world any easier!
So what do you do about it? Here at The Joyfully Nourished Life, I invite you to recognize that your body image is much like your emotions: constantly changing, influenced by your environment and circumstances, and therefore, a poor foundation to build your life and important decisions upon.
But you know what you can build your life on? Trust in God through Christ Jesus, His love, and His design for your unique body. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)!
Keeping this at the forefront of your mind can help you cope with any body image woes that spring up.
The Root Cause of Body Shaming
While starting with how you view body image is helpful, it doesn’t change the fact that we live in a cruel and sinful world where people seem to thrive off of putting others down to feel better about themselves. That’s the root cause of body shaming.
Body-shaming is “the act or practice of subjecting someone to criticism or mockery for supposed bodily faults or imperfections”(1).
It comes in many forms, but one of the most common and hurtful types is “fat-shaming.”
It focuses on those who have a higher body fat percentage and might be labeled “overweight” or “obese”(2).
People can be mean and hurtful to others in many ways, but this particular form of shaming is focused on your body and physical appearance, which can make it that much worse since your body is not easily changed.
In a fat-phobic society influenced by diet culture, it is no surprise that this type of bullying is almost considered acceptable in the name of promoting “health.” It may even be encouraged in some circles.
And just for the record, HEALTH ≠ THINNESS.
But let’s not ignore the fact that body shaming can also come from within ourselves. I would argue that the reason external body-shaming stings so much is that it is often reinforcement of our internalized beliefs and feelings about our bodies.
How to Deal with Body Shaming
And now we arrive back to the million-dollar question: how do you deal with body shaming?
First, let’s tackle who to manage it internally, and then I’ll cover 3 ways to manage it externally before it even has a chance to start!
In the Intuitive Eating book, authors Resch and Tribole caution readers about eradicating different forms of “body-bashing” from our internal dialogue about our bodies. They mention avoiding degrading oneself with phrases like “I hate my thighs” or “My arms are too flabby.”
When you can replace these thoughts with positive body affirmations like “I’m so grateful for my strong legs that can hike my favorite trails” or “I love how my arms can carry my children throughout the day,” it can make a world of difference in how we see ourselves.
All bodies should be treated with dignity, and yours is no exception!
For more affirmations like these, check out my Respect Your Body blog post here!
Okay, now for the tougher issue: the body shaming that comes from outside ourselves.
Unfortunately, we cannot control what people say and do. However, we can have a positive influence on how we (and we know) are treated. That’s what I will be considering here.
What if I told you that there are ways you can limit body shaming from happening in the first place? In my Defund the Food Police blog post, I touch on this briefly, but I’m excited to give you even more strategies to use to establish boundaries for how you should be treated.
3 Ways to Stop Body Shaming Before It Starts
Here’s your list of 3 ways to stop body shaming before it even has a chance to start.
1. Limit Conversations about Weight Loss/Weight Gain
Have you ever found yourself opening up a can of worms after commenting on someone’s weight? You may have said to them, “Hey, have you lost weight? You look great!”
It is simply best NOT to talk about another’s body in this way.
Even with the best intentions and compliments, there are reasons why bringing up weight can elicit body-shaming:
- Someone who has lost or gained weight may be ill (i.e. cancer, eating disorder, diabetes, depression, drug abuse, etc.) and it may reinforce an unhealthy habit or condition this person may have.
- Conversations about weight can trigger restrictive dieting behavior and cause weight cycling, which can significantly increase health risks over time (3).
If you are concerned about someone who you know and love, express it in a way that takes the attention away from their bodies.
Saying things like “I’m a little concerned about you. Can we talk in private?” or “I noticed your behaviors have changed a lot lately. How can I support you right now?” can show empathy without shaming.
And that brings us to how to deal with body shaming that is aimed at you and your weight. If someone comments on your weight, here are a few ways to handle it cordially:
- Tell them you appreciate their concern/interest, but that your body weight is not something you wish to discuss with them. Then (if you do wish to continue to talk to them), change the subject to something much different to re-establish connection.
- Let them know that you are learning to accept and take care of your body as it is, no matter what your weight is and that you would love to chat about what you’ve learned! Ask if they’ve ever heard of Intuitive eating or Health At Every Size.
- If you’re in a medical/clinic setting and want to limit conversations with your provider about your weight, you can either let staff know you do not want to weigh in (unless absolutely necessary), or you can get a “Don’t Weigh Me” card like this one to present at appointments.
2. Set Expectations for Conversations About Pregnancy
Even though I thought it was common sense not to ask if a woman is pregnant/expecting, people still do it!
This recently happened to someone I know who is a few months postpartum and she was NOT happy when another woman she didn’t know asked when she was due.
Pregnancy is a touchy subject to begin with, so it’s always more kind not to assume someone wants to talk to you about it unless they give permission. Just a simple “How are you feeling today?” will suffice; she can decide from there what to share with you.
As for setting expectations for boundaries surrounding your pregnancy (or lack thereof), here’s a few tips:
- If you’re concerned others assume you are pregnant because of your body shape/size (when you actually are not), find subtle ways to indicate this in conversation. Saying “if I were pregnant, then I _______” or “When I was pregnant, then I _______” gets the point across so no questions are asked.
- When you are pregnant but not yet ready to talk to others about when you are due or how many weeks along you are, make it clear that you and your baby are fine at the moment and you will share more details when/if you want later.
3. Give (and Receive) Respect for Others’ Food Choices and Eating Habits
This is one that I’ve witnessed get violated A LOT. For some reason, we all feel like it is our business to comment on what/how much others are eating. Sorry, but it’s not.
Being respectful of others’ food choices and eating preferences starts with simply leaving people to eat what/how they want to eat WITHOUT commenting on it. Again, intentions are often good, but sometimes it’s best to keep your thoughts and questions to yourself.
Refer back to number 1 if you need guidance for how to approach someone you love with concerns about their eating behaviors without shaming them.
The more you honor and respect others’ choices surrounding food, you will begin to invite the same honor and respect for yourself. Here are some things you can say to help others honor and respect your boundaries:
- “That’s a very personal question/comment about my food preferences! May I ask why you are interested in knowing this about me?”
- “I am always open to talking about what I like to eat, but I prefer not to discuss specific details about my eating patterns/dietary habits. I’m fine, I just would like to limit triggering conversations surrounding food.
- “Can we change the subject? I would love to talk about ________ instead!”
Main Takeaways: How to Deal with Body Shaming
Learning to how to deal with body shaming can be a challenge, especially when you are in vulnerable situations that can trigger it both from others or yourself.
Hopefully, now that you recognize how normal it is for your body image to shift like your emotions and that body shaming is moreso a symptom of diet culture and NOT a reflection of your worth, you can begin to use these strategies to stop body shaming in its tracks.
Which of these strategies resonates with you the most? What are some other ways that you are combating body shaming, both for yourself and others? Feel free to share in the comments below!
Much love, friends! <3
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Much love, friends!