5 Ways You Body Shame Others Without Knowing It

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It is quite easy to body shame others around you without knowing it. Even with all the body positive (bopo) information that is now becoming more readily available, a lot of people are still learning about what it means to be bopo.  

For years body hate has been socially acceptable and even promoted by society.  We have been inundated with messages about how to change our bodies and why our bodies are unacceptable.  Everything from the diet industry to the beauty industry is constantly telling us that we are not enough and our bodies are anything but good. There is a lot of unlearning to be done and the more we release beliefs that are based on body hate and body judgment, the more we can embrace a body positive approach to life for ourselves and others.

When it comes to embracing a body positive lifestyle, knowledge is power. On your journey to becoming more body positive, you may realize that there are ways in which you body shame or judge others without even realizing it.  There will be some things that you have done for years that you didn’t know were toxic to your own body relationship and to others. I observe people body shaming others all the time.  Sometimes it is very intentional and motivated by hatred and violence.  However, there are times when people think they are being helpful but they are inadvertently shaming others about their bodies.  As The Body Relationship CoachTM, I have written several posts about how to help you build a more loving relationship with your body.  However, I also want to help you be more body positive with those around you as well. I believe that if we can learn to love ourselves and then pass that same love and compassion to others, we can begin to shift towards a more body positive society.

When interacting with friends, loved ones, or anyone in your social circle here are 5 ways that you may be shaming them about their bodies unintentionally:

You comment on a change in their body weight.

Most of us know that it is rude and insensitive to tell another person that they look like they’ve gained weight.  However, it isn’t common knowledge that making a comment about someone losing weight can be just as insensitive.  As a matter of fact, any unsolicited comments about a person’s body weight is inappropriate. There are so many reasons that a person may gain or lose weight.  There may be a health challenge, disordered eating or body image issue that causes a person  to fluctuate in their body size.  Society has conditioned us to believe that all weight gain is bad and all weight loss is good. When in fact it is not that clear cut.  Each person’s body is unique and their body is their business.  It is never appropriate to assume that a change in their body size is a bad thing or a good thing because we don’t know for sure. As an alternative, I suggest that you give people weight neutral compliments.  That means to compliment them without addressing their weight at all. If you want to compliment someone here are some weight neutral alternatives:

“You are glowing lately!”

“You have such a beautiful spirit!”

“I enjoy being around you.”

“You are an inspiration.”

“You are a really great (friend, sister, partner, etc) to me.”

“You have so many great qualities.”

Those are just a few weight neutral suggestions that also have nothing to do with physical appearance.  They can uplift a person no matter what their body type or size is.  Can you think of any more? Feel free to share them in the comments section or reply to me on social media.  I’d love to hear them!

You comment on their food or nutrition choices

We all have friends and loved ones that we care about and we want them to be healthy and thrive in life, right? I totally get it.  As a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach, I know a lot of information about food, nutrition and wellness that I often want to share with others because I love them.  However, it is also important to remember that each person’s body is their business.  I know it can be challenging to embrace this concept. With all of the health and wellness information that we are inundated with in our society, many of us are anxious.  We worry about chronic and terminal illnesses.  We may have even experienced illness ourselves or watched a loved one suffer.  But we must remember that it is not our place to give unsolicited advice to others about their food or nutrition choices.   It is never encouraging or uplifting to bombard a person with the latest diet and nutrition information that we heard.  That can feel like shaming or judging to the other person and it actually does more harm than good.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

No two bodies are the same.  Your food choices may not affect another person in the same way.

Not all people have the same goals when it comes to food and nutrition.  We cannot assume that they do.

Each person has a right to choose the foods that they want to feed their body.  We don’t have to agree with those choices.

One way to support someone is to create a safe space for them to share with you and listen without shame or judgment.  If a person chooses to talk with you about their food or nutrition choices and they ask for your opinion, that opens the door for you to share your perspective.  However, it is important to give your feedback as an opinion and not a rule.  It is more affirming and comforting to have a conversation that consists of mutual sharing rather than telling another person what they “should” be doing.  You can help by allowing others to explore and learn what works for them.  It can quite empowering!

You comment about their fitness or exercise routine

This is a common form of body shaming that is similar to commenting about food choices.   You may have found a fitness or exercise routine that “works” for you and you may be eager to suggest it to others.  However, every person has the right to practice autonomy when it comes to their body.  They are free to choose how they will move their bodies or if they will even move at all.  I know that our society has taught us to think more highly of people who go “beast mode” at the gym.  We assume that those people care more about themselves and love their bodies more than those who don’t regularly exercise.  You know what? That is making assumptions and judging others about how they govern their own bodies.  Here are a few things to keep in mind about body movement:

No two bodies are the same.  Your fitness choices may not affect another person in the same way.

Not all people have the same goals when it comes to fitness and exercise.  We cannot assume that they do.

Each person has a right to choose how they want to move their body.  We don’t have to agree with those choices.

There are so many options for people to choose in regards to body movement, but the most important thing is that it contributes to their holistic health.  That means that it is important for people to make choices that benefit them mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.   When a person makes a choice based on how it nurtures them holistically rather than what other people pressure them to do, it is more likely to bring them joy.  That joy is better for their health than any shaming, judgment or social pressure could ever be.  Support others in finding their OWN joy.

You comment on their clothing choices

Have you ever seen someone wearing something that you felt was totally inappropriate and decided to help them out by commenting on it?  Let’s keep it real, we all have judged someone based on their clothing.  It’s sort of ingrained in our psyche right? We’ve been taught that what you wear says a lot about you.  So, we feel that we have to “dress to impress” and that other people around us should too.  That social belief makes it easy for us to feel that it’s okay to comment on the clothing of others, when in fact it’s not.  It is never our right to tell another person what looks good or bad on their body.  Even when it comes to our friends and loved ones, policing their body by commenting on their clothing can be a form of body shaming.  So what should you do if a friend asks your opinion? One body positive way to affirm your loved one is to ask them “how does it make you feel?”  This will help them tune into their own inner voice and make their clothing choice based on their own relationship with their body.  Fashion and clothing can be forms of self-expression and by exploring different styles people can affirm their self-confidence. If you see a person wearing something that seems unusual to you, why not just appreciate them for their unique style and honor their freedom of self-expression? Honoring their uniqueness will help you honor yours too.

You comment on their sexuality or sexual health choices

Yes, I saved the most controversial one for last.  I feel that women are shamed the most when it comes to sexuality and sexual health choices.  Second to weight and appearance, a woman’s sexuality is constantly under critique in our society.  Women are judged for not having children or having too many.  Women are shamed for being too sexual or not being sexy enough.  Women are even blamed for sexual assault and violence that happens to them.  In learning how to be body positive, it is important to remember that sexuality and sexual health choices are a part of the body relationship and therefore sacred too.  Each human being has a right to choose how they will share their body, with whom they will share their body, and how often they will do so.  So how do you talk about sexual health with your partner, in a body positive way?  Remember that your holistic health and well-being is important, so if you are choosing to share your body with someone, it is imperative that protect yourself and be informed.  Of course, there are certain questions that you will need to ask your partner that will help determine whether or not you want to share your body with them.  Most importantly, remember that you can stand in your decisions and honor your body and self without shaming another person because their sexuality does not align with yours.  Each of us have different needs, desires, and belief systems when it comes to sexuality.   It is quite possible to honor our own without dishonoring another.

Did any of the things I mentioned remind you of ways in which you have body shamed others?

If so, there’s no need to feel any guilt around it.  Think of this as a moment of enlightenment and an opportunity for positive change.  Learning to be body positive is a journey.  You won’t unlearn everything at once.  Patience and commitment are key.  Continue to be open to new ways of thinking about your own body as well as others.  As you begin to embrace compassion and love for yourself, you will find that you will be more body positive towards others as well.  If you need help, I’m here to assist!

Ivy Felicia

Contributor

Ivy, The Body Relationship Coach™ is a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach and Body Image Expert with a gift for helping people embrace their bodies and practice self-love at any stage and any size. Her Body Relationship Coaching work is centered on her personal life experiences with barriers to body love, and more than a decade of social and professional involvement in the emotional wellness and health education movements. You can earn more at about her at MeMyBodyandLove.com.

2 Comments
  1. This was so helpful. I really appreciate being able to view this from outside the perspective of my own mind. I’m guilty of pushing my fitness norms on other people as “solutions” and this helped me to really see that. I’ve also been on the receiving end of comments about my weight loss or how I better not lose anymore weight or else… . Awareness and compassion are vital, and I think this post was filled with both. Much appreciated.

  2. Thank you for reading and commenting Akilah. I am glad that you are open to viewing this from a different perspective and allowing it to shine a light on some of your own thoughts and approaches to body shaming. I am also glad that you feel the understanding and compassion from the post in regards to shaming of your own body at the hands of others. I am so happy that you found multifaceted support in this post. Much love!

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