How to Deal with Unsolicited Comments About Your Body
Pause for a second and think about this… How many of the compliments you receive (and even give) are appearance-related? How often do you hear comments about your body, your eating habits, your clothing, your hair, your skin? When you stop to reflect, it’s pretty crazy how much of our dialogue, both compliments and criticisms, revolve around appearance.
Another thing to note is that appearance-related compliments can be just as damaging as criticism. Consider this: if someone tells you how “healthy” you’re looking, a person in recovery will often interpret this by assuming those around them have noticed their weight gain. If someone asks, “How can you eat so much food and still look how you do?” intending it as a compliment, often you’ll interpret that as “Oh no, I eat too much.”
Essentially, all unsolicited appearance-related, body-related and food-related comments can be incredibly damaging, and trigger negative thought patterns you’d rather keep at bay.
But since these comments are far too common, how do you go about shutting them down without being too confrontational or seeming overly sensitive?
First and foremost, let’s mention that there is no such thing as “too sensitive” in this scenario. You are always within your rights to set boundaries around what you will and won’t tolerate, and what makes you feel good versus what doesn’t. However, some people will find this easier than others – for some people, the idea of confrontation and outwardly saying, “Please do not comment on this again,” is horrifying…
So let’s dive into some other strategies for handling these comments.
Set a boundary
There are ways to establish firm boundaries without being confrontational.
Using phrases such as, “I feel,” and “This topic or comment is a trigger for me,” can dial down the discomfort caused by drawing boundaries. Instead, you’re simply asking for your own needs to be met. Your request has absolutely nothing to do with the other person.
Reinforce that they’re not doing anything wrong. Simply explain how you respond and interpret some topics differently to other people. Tell them how, as part of your recovery journey, you’d rather these topics not be discussed at all for the time being – even if their comments are intended to be positive or complimentary.
Remember, when setting boundaries, do not apologise or back down. You’re always within your rights to ask for your needs to be met. If the person on the receiving end cares about you, they’ll understand. There may be some initial resistance or hurt from them when you start to draw a line, but if you can calmly and rationally explain to them how it’s about you and not them, it can be a constructive and effective conversation.
Use your tone of voice
Tone of voice is everything when these situations arise. If someone comments on your body, food intake or appearance, respond with a very matter-of-fact, “end of conversation” tone, and watch the conversation stutter to a halt.
You don’t need to be aggressive or angry, but if you’re firm and assured in your tone when responding to these unwelcome comments, you stop the discussion dead in its tracks.
Try saying a simple “Thank you.” Use a flat, definitive tone. And do not follow it up with anything.
Alternatively, change the subject firmly. You don’t even need to acknowledge the comment the other person has made, you can just direct your chat straight onto the next area of conversation, without pausing or feeling a need to justify the change of thought.
Ask the other person how their day has been, what they’re looking forward to later on, how their family is… Whatever the subject, just be confident and unwavering, and don’t give them the opportunity to linger on topics or comments that make you uncomfortable.
Just don’t engage
The final way of dealing with these unsolicited comments is refusing to engage in them or respond in any way.
Whether this looks like a wan smile/grimace whenever a comment comes your way, or you gazing off into the distance, refusing to get dragged into the conversation is an empowering way to shut down future comments and make it quite clear you’re not interested in discussing such areas whatsoever.
It may not work with someone who is overly pushy or insistent, but hey – it’s a good solution if you want to avoid confrontation and can’t think of a way to nicely exit the conversation.
Whatever method you choose, just remember you’re not doing anything wrong! You’re prioritising your recovery journey, and simply asking those around you to support you in doing so. Stick to your guns, you’ve got this! It only gets easier with practise.
Ready To Improve Your Relationship with Food and Get Your Period Back?
Sarah King is an Exercise Physiologist and Health Coach specialising in helping women reconnect with their bodies and improve their relationship with food and exercise.
Through her 1:1 Health Coaching Sessions clients learn to nourish their bodies without guilt, move for joy, improve body image and self worth, plus recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and get their period pack if it’s gone missing.
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Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and health coach.
Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.