How To Navigate Being Body Shamed By A Loved One

Body shaming can be incredibly hurtful –- even more so when it comes from someone we love. If you have had a loved one make unsolicited comments about your body, then you know that their words, whether intended to be hurtful or not, can still hurt just the same.

"Often, mothers criticize their daughters' weight in an attempt to 'help' them date more, feel happier, or be more successful," says family therapist Joy Jacobs, Ph.D. to Refinery29. "Other times, people feel like it's their job to tell their family the 'truth' about their appearance."

Things become even trickier in certain communities where body shaming seems to be inherently woven into the culture, particularly among women. Dalina Soto, RD, founder and owner of Your Latina Nutrition adds that Latinas often face an increased level of body shaming from members of their own family. "In our community, comments about bodies are often presented as, 'We're just worried about your health,' or even as terms of endearment," she says (via SELF).

When a loved one feels like they are doing and saying what they feel is best for you, it can be difficult for them to recognize their actions as body shaming. Knowing how to address comments from loved ones about your body can help you stand up for yourself and establish boundaries of healthy communication and respect in order to preserve the relationship -– or help you decide if you really even want to.

Assess your relationship

While comments about your body in any capacity can chisel away at our self-confidence and be particularly triggering to those who suffer from body image issues and eating disorders, know that what might seem like a sneaky, underhanded comment from your loved one is usually just the result of a lack of awareness on their part. And while they likely meant no harm by their comments, also know that doesn't excuse them. "Comments related to food and body, even the most well-intentioned ones, can influence a person's self-worth and self-respect, as well as their sense of safety and control," says therapist Melissa Carmona, LCMHC (via SELF).

The first step in navigating being body shamed by a loved one is to really think about and assess the kind of relationship you have with them and the kind you would like to have. That can help you better understand how you want to go about addressing the issue. "Really think about what are the different contexts in which this happens, how do I really feel about this relationship, and what am I willing to do to invest in this being different?" says psychologist Emily Sandoz (via INSIDER). "A lot of times people haven't even thought about what they want their relationship with their grandma to be like or what they would really expect from a coworker. You get to choose your relationships."

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Establish and communicate firm boundaries

If you are being body shamed by someone you are particularly close with, body image therapist Sarah Herstich, LCSW, says that the best course of action is usually to address it directly. "If you don't, then resentment builds and ultimately it can ruin the relationship," she says (via INSIDER).

If you want them to remain a part of your life in a healthy and positive way, it's important to establish clear boundaries with them when it comes to comments about your body. Sandoz recommends utilizing a technique called assertive communication. "It has three parts," she says (via INSIDER). "You state exactly what happened, and not in emotional or judgmental terms. Then you offer some vulnerability — actually state what that [comment] makes you think or feel. And then the third component is really saying clearly what you need from that other person. Assertive communication isn't wishy-washy. It very clearly values your needs at that moment and the needs of the person that's being hurtful."

Soto recommends laying it out using "I" statements that are clear to understand using the format, "when you say xyz, I feel xyz" (per SELF). Once your loved one fully understands how they have hurt you and you have clearly communicated what you need from them, you can move forward in the relationship without resentment or hurt feelings. After all, they love you –- and if they know their comments hurt your feelings, they are far less likely to make them again.

Prioritize self love

If you aren't someone who has a lot of practice standing up for yourself when someone hurts you, then looking your loved one in the eye and letting them know when their comments bother you can feel a little uncomfortable -– which is why approaching it as a form of self-care as opposed to confrontation can make it easier.

"It can be difficult to remember that saying no or creating boundaries does not make you a bad person," says therapist Melissa Carmona, LCMHC, adding that sometimes the strongest form of self-love is asserting your feelings, especially when it's difficult (via SELF). If you are worried about making your grandma feel bad by asking her not to comment on your weight every time you see her for the holidays, just remember that you are not only taking care of yourself by speaking up, but also improving your relationship by ensuring you no longer have to be triggered about your body every time you spend time with her.

"For your own self-respect, it can be helpful to speak up and ask for a change going forward," says eating disorders expert Jenny Taitz, Ph.D. (via Refinery29). Standing up for yourself and self-advocating is an important life skill, and while it may feel uncomfortable at first, your future self will thank you. Not only will talking to your loved one about their comments help you feel empowered, but it will also help them to understand you better and strengthen your relationship.

Be honest about your personal struggles

If you regularly struggle with body image issues, have an unhealthy relationship with food, or are actively experiencing or recovering from an eating disorder, any comments about your body, however well-intended they may be, can be the catalyst for serious setbacks in your progress. If you are someone who finds comments about your body to be triggering, then you might want to open up to your loved one as to why.

While you should never feel obligated to go into detail about your personal struggles if you aren't ready to or comfortable doing so, Carmona says via SELF that being open and honest about your struggles with disordered eating or severe body image issues can help your loved one understand the extent of what you're going through –- which is more likely to encourage them to be more mindful about the way they speak when they're around you. Being vulnerable and sharing that you are working on loving your body and letting them know that unsolicited remarks about your appearance set you back allows you to share your truth and appeal to them in a personal way that's hard to ignore while also allowing them to understand you on a deeper level.

It's okay to walk away

While distancing yourself from a friend or family member or cutting them out of your life completely is never ideal, sometimes it's the only choice you have when someone is impacting your life in an unhealthy way. If you have repeatedly and clearly communicated your boundaries regarding conversations about your body with your loved one and they continue to actively disregard those boundaries, there is nothing left to do but assume they really don't care about hurting your feelings –- and in that case, they've gotta go.

"Some people may always be hurtful," says family interventionist Brad Lamm (via Refinery29)."No matter how much you psych yourself up for their verbal assault, they can inflict pain with brilliant speed and terrific efficiency. Making peace can mean making space — as in, several thousand miles, if needed."

If you've given your loved one plenty of opportunities to meet your expectations in the relationship and they still aren't making an effort to do so, Sandoz recommends (via INSIDER) simply telling them you aren't willing to give them another chance. Whether that means you will no longer be taking their phone calls or skipping their dinner invites from now on, clearly communicating that you are no longer willing to tolerate something in your life leaves no room for negotiation. Whatever say you are no longer willing to accept or participate in, Sandoz says you should always follow through with and commit to so it's clear you're serious about your boundaries.

Seek help for own benefit

If you have been subject to long-term body shaming in any of your relationships over the course of your life, it can be difficult to shake -– and depending on the severity, length, and frequency of body shaming comments you have faced, you might not be able to on your own. According to Samantha DeCaro, Psy.D. (via Bustle) body shaming very easily classifies as a form of emotional abuse –- and if you have experienced this or any type of abuse in any of your relationships, therapy can help you work through your feelings and rebuild your self-esteem.

"If you have experienced body shame or body hate for a long time over the course of your life, it's just not that easy to shake," Sandoz says (via INSIDER). "It's not like you can just tell yourself, 'Oh, yippee, I'm actually awesome and beautiful!'" And while it's true most of the time your loved one doesn't mean harm by their off-handed comments, if you are someone who has experienced continued body shaming at the hands of someone who has been made aware that they are hurting you, it's important to recognize it as abuse –- and it's equally important to acknowledge that sometimes talking to a therapist or other mental health professional is the best thing you can do for yourself to help heal.