If a friend or loved one is being body shamed by others, your compassion and understanding can be invaluable.
Let them know you are concerned and how much you care about them. You can say, “I feel worried that you are always talking about your weight,” or “I feel sad when you speak negatively about your appearance.”
Be patient and listen to their concerns. Don’t assume that you know what your loved one needs, but rather ask how you can best support them. They may just want a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen to their worries without judgment.
Try to shift the focus away from your loved one’s body to something else you admire about them. For example, you can remind them about their wonderful sense of humor, how smart they are, and their adventurous spirit, or highlight a particular talent they have.
How to Be More Inclusive
Body shaming may be rampant, but that doesn’t mean you should take part in it. Making a point of not being a body shamer is the kinder option for all people, yourself included. Being intentional about not engaging in various types of shaming may lead to better mental wellness.
In addition to not body shaming, it can be helpful to be more body-inclusive. This means encouraging the acceptance and celebration of shape and diversity in appearance, focusing on health instead of size or weight, and appreciating the human body for all that it is and does.
Below are some ways you can stop contributing to body shaming culture.
Stop Talking About Other People’s Bodies
It may be socially acceptable for people to mock and body-shame others, but you do not have to accept, participate in, or tolerate such words or actions. You wouldn’t want that to be done to you, and now you know that it can cause real problems for those it happens to.
So, when you are tempted to point out a person’s body hair or their hair texture, their size, stop yourself. Instead, why not think of something nice to say to the person?
Clearly, they caught your eye, so you could use this as an opportunity to find a positive attribute. “I like your smile” is one idea of a way to compliment another person without speaking negatively about their body.
Try the following steps:
- Notice your thoughts and acknowledge your own conditioning, bias, and/or judgments.
- Make an intentional effort to notice what you like, appreciate, or admire about this person (this may be physical or non-physical traits).
- Practice this with others and yourself to develop and deepen respect, care, and compassion for yourself and others.
Learn About Body Neutrality
Body neutrality is defined as and is a practice that has many proven mental health benefits. It’s the notion of accepting bodies as they are, without casting judgment on them. This can apply to your own body, and to the bodies of others.
Body neutrality encourages a focus on the positive functions that bodies can perform. Learning about it can make you feel better in your own body, improve your relationship with food, and boost your self-esteem.
Change How You Talk About Your Own Body
In a culture where so much emphasis is placed on what is wrong with us and needs improvement, it can feel like a huge challenge to speak positively about our own bodies. Doing so, however, is a healthy thing to do, and it also saves other people from harm.
By practicing speaking positively about ourselves and our bodies, and noticing qualities about ourselves and others that we like and appreciate, we can deepen our care, compassion, and connection with others and with ourselves.
When you make a comment like “I feel so fat today,” you’re making a judgment about fat people and implying their bodies are less valuable than the bodies of thin people. This can be hurtful for anyone around you, especially those who are larger.
It isn’t realistic to only think positive thoughts about yourself, but you can express your feelings in ways that are less harmful to others. For the above example, you could instead confide in a friend and say, “My pants aren’t fitting as they usually do, and it’s making me feel self-conscious.”
Rather than body-shaming, you’ll have opened up to a loved one, creating more closeness and trust between the both of you.
If you’ve gone through the steps to stop body-shaming yourself and other people, that’s wonderful! However, there is still more work to do.
As with all instances when you see other people causing harm, it’s important to speak up—provided it is emotionally and physically safe for you to do so.
If you see someone making a comment to another person about their body, whether about their clothing or age or size, you can gently let them know that it’s unkind to talk about other people’s bodies. And if it happens regularly with friends or loved ones, you can bring it up in a more significant way, letting them know that their ways of communicating about bodies don’t always feel good for you and others.
Body shaming may be prevalent, but you can do the work to stop perpetuating it and to help heal its harmful effects by practicing body positivity with yourself and others.