Most of us know that maintaining a body positive outlook in life takes work. But it's arguably even more difficult for older generations. Many folks who came before us had similarly unhealthy body images, and no positive influences teaching them how to combat fat shaming like we have in 2015. Unfortunately, the way our parents were often taught to perceive themselves sometimes rubs off on how they interact with us, which can lead to unwanted fat shaming jokes and general body negative remarks. Even if/when we correct them, certain relatives simply cannot fathom the idea that fat bodies, thin bodies, and all bodies in between are beautiful.
Full disclosure: I am not plus size, but my family has been prone to perpetuating fat shaming rhetoric toward my sister (who is also straight size) and me for as long as I can remember. The body negative ideas that they had internalized about themselves caused me to be very critical of my 135 pound, size 8 body. The classic discussions of what was "flattering," combined with an encouragement to "lose the belly" and get fit, also didn't do wonders for my self esteem. However, as I've been moving closer towards self-actualized adulthood and have multiple communities of people behind me perpetuating my new body positive attitude, these "lessons" have mostly begun to feel like irrelevant bits of my past.
When I visit family and hear some of the familiar shaming comments, though, it takes me back to a less confident version of myself — the one who rationalized those concepts and applied them to their own body image. If you're still living with your parents or have similarly body negative relatives, I know it can be more than a little tricky to feel good about yourself. Here are some ways to respond to these fat shaming attitudes around the home and at family functions.
1. Take Care Of Yourself
Maintaining a self care routine while at home is of utmost importance in order to combat the effects others' body negativity can have on your own thought patterns. Bowing out of the room when you feel particularly overwhelmed is healthy, and throwing yourself into body pos activities can make a substantial difference in how you're feeling. Reaching out to your support system, reading through your favorite size acceptance blogs, or giving yourself some compliments in the mirror can help support and strengthen your body pos foundation, preparing you for the rest of your visit or interaction.
2. Explain Your Point Of View & How Certain Comments Hurt
In some cases, rude comments made toward you have more to do with the person's internalized fat-phobia than any hurtful intent. We've all been taught to varying degrees and at different stages in our lives to talk and think negatively about our bodies and view fatness as something that is undesirable.
When family members say things like, "You're not skinny but you're getting there," or, "That crop top isn't the most flattering thing on you," oftentimes they're not trying to cause your pain.
You should feel free to point out how these comments are offensive to you, though. Explain that you do in fact feel beautiful in your body exactly how it is, and that you feel disrespected when someone makes you feel otherwise. Odds are that your mom or dad don't want to get in the way of your journey to self love, and will benefit from the breath of fresh air that your body positivity provides them.
3. Don't Be Afraid To Educate Them
This one can be way trickier, and not every situation or individual is cut out for it. However, if you feel safe enough, you should explain what the body positivity movement is all about, as well as what it means to you on a personal level. Discussing how we are taught to perceive fat bodies as ugly (and the way society frames beauty standards overall) can be a perfect intro to anyone who doesn't understand body positivity.
There's a good chance that whoever you discuss this with — especially after a fat shaming comment is made — can greatly benefit from a little body positivity in their lives. Even if they seem opposed to the ideas you're putting forth, whatever does resonate with them might incite a shift in how they feel about themselves and talk to others.
4. Try To Sympathize
When my mom says anything that has a body shaming flavor to it, I try to stop and remember where it's coming from. I know that a lot of what she says comes from her own deeply rooted body negativity. My sympathy for my mom's own struggle with self love often outweighs some of the things she says to me, since I am in a point of my life where I'm relatively at peace with my body.
However, sometimes it's hard to know how to deal with watching your family members be actively body negative towards themselves. Certainly don't partake in the body shaming talk, but also don't shut them down or argue with them about these internalized beliefs. Rather, be as supportive as you can, and if it feels too triggering to hear the negative self talk, you are not obligated to react at all. If my mom says something like, "I look so fat in this," I try not to say, "No you don't," but rather something like, "Your body is beautiful," or, if I'm feeling particularly bold, "What's so wrong with fat anyway?"
5. Be Patient
Sometimes telling your family that you love your body exactly how it is can feel like a lot like coming out. Self love and body positivity are relatively radical concepts (especially for older generations), so telling your grandma that you're not interested in losing any weight could come as quite the shock.
You're completely entitled to be intolerant of body shaming comments being directed at you, but removing these ideas from your family's speech and psyches can take time (and may never even happen). Being around those who aren't body positive can be tough, and it can be especially frustrating when the people you love can't seem to apply the same body pos attitude to their own lives. But try your best to be patient in the meantime.
6. Disengage Entirely
Some comments (and members of your family) are simply not worth your time. If you have a senile grandparent or uncle who you never have to see any other day of the year but Christmas Eve and who loves asking you, "Do you really think you should be eating that cupcake?" or, "It looks like you've packed on the pounds since I last saw you," it's easier to just disengage and try to ignore the statements entirely.
I know from experience that trying to correct certain people in my family is more traumatizing than the fat shaming itself. Not everybody is open to understanding body positivity or making the effort to respect your own journey and beliefs. It's massively frustrating, but sometimes there's simply nothing to be said.
7. Know It's OK To Get Upset
If you are trying to disengage or take the high road but still find yourself deeply offended or emotional over a body negative comment, don't beat yourself up. Know that whatever anyone says will not change the fact that you are committed to loving your body. It's perfectly natural to feel upset over these things, and sometimes even lose composure over them.
Your feelings are valid, so remember to take care of them. Be kind and gentle with yourself, and excuse yourself from a room if you need to cry or vent to an understanding listener. Self care is crucial in these moments, so don't be afraid to prioritize your emotional needs over socializing at a family party. Reward yourself with a cupcake or a drink for putting up with the drama and remind yourself of what a body pos warrior you are.
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