I know first hand how difficult it can be to stay confident around critical family members, especially around the holidays. Case in point: I love my grandma. More than life itself. I credit her with passing down many of my best qualities. But what I don't look forward to at each visit are the inevitable questions or comments about my weight. She totally means well, and she's not the type of woman who would ever hurt anyone's feelings on purpose. But you can set your watch by the fact that within 20 minutes of stepping in the door, we'll be chatting about the size of my ass (often in comparison to the size of her ass).
She's my grandma, so she gets a pass. But as for the rest of my family, and my friends for that matter, I draw a line in the sand. And on this side of that line is body positive statements and compliments about more than just my (banging) appearance. This is the case because I've set boundaries through years of carefully-placed body pos statements and responses to questions about this wagon I'm draggin'.
There's a way to shut down those conversations in a kind way and to steel yourself from the blows to your self-esteem that sometimes accompany them. It takes work, and not everyone will be happy about it, but the people who truly love you will get it and get on board. Everyone else doesn't matter.
1. Set Boundaries
Leaning ways to set boundaries doesn't make you a jerk. It's an essential part of having happy relationships and a happy life, according to Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. in an article for Psych Central. When the topic comes up, just change the subject and if your family doesn't get the hint, be blunt. You could say "I don't want to talk about my weight, please," and leave it at that. Or you could add, "I'm happy with my body and I'm working on my confidence." It's simple, it's kind, and it's direct.
2. Respond Properly To Shut Things Down
If you try and try to set those boundaries and people just don't listen or listen but don't care, then you have to shut things down. Find ways to be direct and don't feel like doing so makes you a bad family member, says Tartakovsky. Start with the firm but kind, "I said I didn't want to talk about this and I meant it." If the offenders still don't respond, go talk to different people in the other room or simply don't participate in the conversation. You get to decide how you're treated and who gets the gift of your presence.
3. Reframe The Conversation
One of my favorite ways of reframing conversations about my weight is this old gem: "I was actually reading online the other day about how women tend to only compliment and comment on other women's appearances and not their brains, skills or other fine qualities." This created the perfect segway to ask something like "tell me about your promotion" or "I heard you won an award" or "I saw on Facebook that you were going back to school." Works like a charm.
4. Lead By Example
If you don't want to conversation to steer toward your body, then make sure you're not the one kicking things off by commenting other women about only their appearances. Also, it's important to show people that you are proud and confident by using body positive language and speaking about yourself in a kind, loving way.
5. Talk About What Makes You Feel Good About Yourself
After you've put up the wall around non-body posi talk, there might be some tension from people who aren't used to you setting up boundaries with them. Talk about awesome things you're doing to boost your confidence and to remind your family members why you're the greatest person on the planet.
6. Spend Time With People Who Get It
A surprising aspect of setting clear boundaries (which totally makes sense, though) is self care. Taking time to de-stress, honoring our feelings, and reflecting on the fact that setting boundaries makes us happier actually makes the boundaries we set stronger, according to Tartakovsky. So kicking back with your awesome, body positive cousins and laughing isn't an avoidance tactic. It's fuel for your tank.
Once you get back home, immerse yourself hard-core in your body pos world to make sure you shake off any residual body shaming. Because it's so easy to fall down the rabbit hole, and you should know that you're perfect and amazing, just the way you are.
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