8 Ways To Cope With A Body Negative Roommate To Avoid Awkwardness & Misery
Living with other people can be tricky. Roommates often pull all sorts of shenanigans — something that feels particularly true when you didn't know them well prior to move-in. But one of the worst scenarios for me isn't living with someone who's chronically messy or loud. It's having a body negative roommate. As someone who takes their body positivity very seriously, cohabitation with someone who attempts to dismantle that on the daily (whether intentionally or otherwise) can be exhausting.
Being body positive isn't easy, so I certainly empathize with those who struggle to love themselves. However, out of respect for those around me, I take care not to use language that could be triggering for roommates with an ED or body image issues related to weight and gender. Even if I don't know the personal details of the people who I live with, I still curb my language so as to help everyone feel comfortable without making assumptions about their experiences.
Unfortunately, I have a roommate who does not care to tailor her language in order to be accepting of all people in the space, despite her knowledge of our daily struggles. Sometimes she even actively engages me in trying to disprove my opinions regarding body positivity and things like BMI. Living with someone such as this can be rough, but there are a number of ways to cope with it. Here are some of the ways I've learned to deal with my body negative roommate.
1. Establish Your Space As Being Body Positive
With the exception of the problem roommate, my friends and I take care to cultivate our homes to be spaces where we can all feel a little more at peace with our bodies. We refrain from speech that's food-based or gender-specific, have discussions about body positivity with one another, and correct ourselves and each other when our speech or ideas are sliding into problematic territories. Surrounding myself with people and ideas that promote my own mental wellbeing helps me establish my living space as body positive, even if certain factors or roommates may sometimes disrupt that peace.
2. Set Ground Rules
If your roommate's body negative behavior is particularly triggering, it might not hurt to set a few ground rules for conduct in the house. So it doesn't feel so targeted, consider calling a meeting with the whole apartment (if there are three or more of you) and try to get the entire group on board with a plan of action that'll help create a more comfortable environment for everyone. If it's just the two of you, try approaching things calmly, and express that you just want to talk about improving the living situation for both of you.
I have brought up respecting pronouns and gender presentations (preferably without laughter or questioning), avoiding bringing attention to the eating habits of others, and refraining from conversation that is ableist, fatphobic, or racist in nature — even if it's meant as a joke.
Setting some time aside during this meeting to discuss your specific triggers openly, if you feel comfortable doing so, can also help drive the point home for your roommate. Even though they might never agree with your worldview, there are small ways they can hopefully adjust their behavior that should make everyone in the house feel safer and more at ease.
3. Don't Be Afraid To Call Them Out
In the months that I've lived with her, my roommate has made many a problematic comment. From dismissing my "gender thing" (as she refers to my gender identity) after I asked her not to keep telling me how much she wishes she was genderqueer, to openly shaming me for my dietary choices, she's done a lot to frustrate and hurt me. But because I'm committed to staying in a place of balance and loving myself, I call her out when she says something that's particularly upsetting. I'm not willing to let her get in the way of years of my progress.
Of course, confronting the issue certainly has the potential to backfire. Your roommate could try to start an argument, ignore you, or react in some other negative manner. It's up to you whether to respond with anger right back, ask that you talk again when you have both calmed down, or try to talk them out of the argument. Since the particular roommate I'm referring to has a tendency to appear not to fully digest the critique and feelings of others, I take the simple act of vocalizing my feelings as a small victory. Even if she doesn't acknowledge or understand my feelings, standing up for myself helps me reaffirm my worth, quieting any nagging voices that threaten to beckon me into a more negative state of mind.
4. Try To Understand Where They Are Coming From
Sometimes what serves me best in dealing with my body negative roommate is reflecting on where she might be coming from. When I consider the fact that she's also struggled with body image issues, as have most humans in contemporary social structures, it gives me enough perspective to quiet my own anger over the situation as well as any insecurities that might be flared up due in part to her speech.
Last semester, my roommate fought with me pretty aggressively over the topic of BMI and "healthy weight," piggybacking off of a different conversation I was having with my other roommate over my frustration at the supposedly body positive memes on Instagram that contained mostly weight loss content.
As she ranted about America's "obesity epidemic," I took a moment of pause from my hotheaded responses and considered her own struggles with body image indicative by her fatphobic argument. In that moment of pause, I felt grateful to know so many body pos activists who teach me to abandon beauty standards and help bolster my own self-worth every day.
5. But Know That It's OK To Get Mad, Too
Perhaps just as valuable a lesson for me was learning to let anger in. Trying to stifle my anger never goes well for me, especially when my mental wellbeing is at stake. I no longer feel guilty when I speak harshly to her after she's spewed negativity, and I'm sure to always tell the truth when she asks, "You aren't mad at me, are you?" Being sympathetic to people's personal experiences is crucial, but sticking to your guns (especially when your self love is called into question) is just as important.
6. Say Body Pos Things Around Them
When my problematic roommate is moving through the common space, I used to stop whatever body pos rant I was going on in its tracks out of fear that my beliefs would be mocked and questioned. However, since employing some of the practices mentioned above, I no longer edit the content of my conversations to tailor to her.
Sometimes I even make a point to bring up body pos topics or loudly proclaim my love for myself when she's around. Not only does this help me combat her negative messages by taking up the space I'm entitled to in the apartment, but it also satisfies the small part of me that secretly hopes my body positivity will rub off on her.
Wishing self love on somebody else might be unrealistic, but I know from experience that simply being around body positive people and ideas helps me remember and practice my self love on any given day.
7. Use Them As A Learning Experience
If nothing else, your body negative roommate can serve as an important learning experience. My roommate reminds me that there's not necessarily a "right" or "wrong" way of existing, that it's best not to judge others' journeys, and that not everyone has the access to or desire for body positivity. I believe that learning these things helps me be a more informed and compassionate individual, despite the frustration it might cause me along the way.
8. Take A Break
Sometimes, especially on days when I'm feeling particularly low regarding self esteem, the best thing I can do for myself is take a break from my roommate. When her body negative rhetoric is just too much for me, I leave my apartment to stay at my parents' house or my partner's apartment. I take that time to unwind from any frustration caused and restore my self love before I return home refreshed and feeling stronger than before.
For those who don't have the privilege of other people's homes to escape to, creating a safer space of seclusion (in your bedroom, the library, under your favorite tree) to do some breathing exercises, color, or do whatever makes you feel more in touch with your loving center is definitely worthwhile.
Roommates, especially those with differing beliefs about bodies and beauty standards to your own, can often feel like obstacles in our journey towards self acceptance. You're totally entitled to feel that way. But ultimately, you are the only person responsible for your mental wellbeing and body positivity. Don't let your body negative roommate get in the way of loving yourself more deeply. Odds are that they feel like an obstacle because they are reflecting the very insecurities that plague your own mind. You don't have to let them have the control, though.
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