Please Stop Talking About My Body: 4 Steps to Boundary Setting for Body Confidence
As much as I like to this our society is shifting, we definitely still live in a body obsessed diet culture where thinness is praised and equated with health. With these assumptions comes misguided comments and concern from others about our bodies, the foods we’re eating and the exercises we’re doing. Unfortunately the more you live outside the “norm” of what our society deems an acceptable body, the more comments you will likely yield, but sadly no one is exempt.
Maybe you’ve been exploring body acceptance, experimenting with letting go of dieting, or taking a step back from obsessive exercise and really trying to do the inner work, then BAM, you head home for Mother’s Day and a family member makes a comment about your weight or what you’re eating. Suddenly everything starts to crumble, you can feel your temperature rising as your eyes start to well with hot tears. Maybe you make a joke to deflect attention and walk away, thinking this whole intuitive eating thing is crap and you need to go on a diet ASAP. You get home feeling defeated and find yourself swearing off carbs for the next week. The cycle continues.
Take a breath, you’re not alone.
So what do we do about our moms commenting on our recent weight gain? Our coworker asking us what diet we’re on now? Or maybe our boyfriend jokingly (but maybe not so jokingly) asking us when we’re going to get back to the gym? We set boundaries.
Setting boundaries is an essential but not-so-fun part of self-care. Yes, a bubble bath is easier, but advocating for yourself and your needs will do more for you in the long run. Every time you set a boundary, you declare to yourself and others that you matter, that your needs matter, and that you are worthy of respect. This, my friend, is an important part of healing your body image struggles and your fucked up relationship with food.
So how exactly do we do this?
1. Remember where they’re coming from
It’s likely that not so long ago you, too, thought that thinness equaled health and that weight loss was a noble goal. If you didn’t ever hold that view, you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now. Know that your family/friends, no matter how misguided it may be, are coming from a place of love and concern. This does NOT justify their behavior or give them permission to say whatever they want to you, but it can help you frame your response to them.
Also know that if they are making comments about your body, they are making even louder ones about their own bodies to themselves. Understand that most of what they are saying to you doesn’t actually have to do with you, and is their own inner demon piping up. Once this clicks, it’s easier to respond with compassion instead of anger.
2. Draw that line in the sand very clearly
Easier said than done, I know, but it’s important to clearly establish a no body/diet talk rule that everyone understands. If you’re non-confrontational, you might want to write an email, text, or even a handwritten note to the person in your life who needs to hear it. Remember, you don’t owe anyone the emotional labor of explaining why comments about your body are harmful. Feel free to keep it simple. Use my sample note below or craft your own.
Dear mom/sister/friend/coworker/cousin/dog walker,
First off, I want you to know how much I value our relationship, which is why I’m writing to you now. I have always appreciated your unconditional love and acceptance of me for who I am. Right now, I’m focusing on my mental health and healing my relationship with my body and food. In order to do this, I ask that you refrain from making comments about my body, diets, and weight loss so that I have space to heal. There are so many other important things going on in both of our lives that I’d rather focus on. Thank you for understanding.
3. Submerse yourself in grounding rituals that support your true self
You know what makes you feel good. Do more of that. Maybe that’s journaling, listening to body positive podcasts, calling a supportive friend, creating art or music, meditating, taking your dog for a walk, etc.
Find supportive communities where you can connect with other people who get it. I have a free Facebook group where we talk about these things. There are many others out there.
4. Avoid the temptation to impose your views on them
I know, I know, it’s hard to see people you love go through diet after diet when you know they are causing themselves stress and doing damage in the long run. However, just like you don’t want them telling you how to live your life, you have to let them go through their journey on their own time. Hopefully they will someday see you as the confident badass that you are, fully embodied and free from the traps of diet culture and start to ask you what your secret is.
What to do if boundaries are ignored
I’m not the type to tell you to cut people out of your life on a whim, because I think that robs us of the opportunity to practice conflict resolution and inner growth. However, if you’ve set clear boundaries and someone keeps stepping all over them, it might be time to either 1) bring in body positive/HAES informed therapist to facilitate a conversation, or 2) limit your exposure to them. Repeat after me: my feelings are valid, my needs are important, and I deserve respect. You got this.
Podcast: Summer Innanen - How to Set Boundaries + Exist in Diet Culture
Blog: Psych Central - Body Image Booster: Setting Solid Boundaries