The festive season can be a dreaded time when you struggle with body image.
Even when they mean well, relatives can sometimes feel entitled to comment on your body or your appearance, especially at the dinner table. Most of the time, these remarks are a reflection of their own insecurities or thoughtlessness, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them.
Here are some tips to help you set boundaries with your family and handle intrusive comments about your appearance.
Set ground rules
Is your (not so) hilarious uncle always teasing you about your appearance? A great way to avoid body comments from family members is to set clear boundaries before holiday gatherings.
If you feel comfortable enough doing so, you can call the usual culprit beforehand and have a short “briefing” about the topics you’d like them to avoid mentioning and why. You can also send a group message before family dinner, jokingly sharing a set of conversation rules including “no body comments” among the usual argument triggers: politics, religion, “when are you giving me a grandchild”, and so on.
Prepare positive affirmations
If you expect certain comments from your family about your appearance and you worry about their impact on your mental health, don’t go unprepared. Take a few minutes to think about your usual triggers in these family dinners, and write down affirmations to counter them. If the dreaded remark comes up at the table, remember those. Here are a few ideas to inspire you:
My appearance does not define my worth.
I am listening to my body and giving it what it needs.
I am beautiful and worthy no matter what shape or size I am.
Point out harmful body comments
Most of the time, people don’t even realize they’re being hurtful or intrusive. Making them aware of their patterns will help them identify (and hopefully, consciously avoid) commenting about your appearance.
Point out their body comments when they make it, highlighting how much they talk about it, or questioning it. Why is it a bad thing that you look the way you do? What does it have to do with them? Chances are, they’ll realize the implications of their reflection and how what they thought was an innocuous comment is actually the result of internalized beauty standards.
Talk about your feelings
Honesty is the best policy. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, be clear about how hurtful your relative’s comments on your appearance are. They need to better understand the consequences of their seemingly innocent remarks and fully understand the impact of their words.
Use the “when you/I feel” statement format. For example, “when you comment on my body, I feel really hurt and embarrassed.”
Calmly end the conversation
Don't engage in arguments – end the conversation instead. If someone continues to make body comments, join another conversation or turn to another family member and start a new one.
Get an ally
Is there anyone from your family who can understand and support you? Ask them to be your ally during family dinners. They can take over when other relatives get too intrusive with their comments about the way you look.
If there’s no present relative you feel comfortable asking for help, ask a trusted friend to be “on call” so you can vent to when things get too much. Why not find a family dinner “buddy” on TalkLife to support each other during daunting family dinners?
Take a break
Protect your peace. It's important to take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally, during the holiday season. If you're feeling overwhelmed by body comments from family members, take a break from the conversation.
Do something that helps you relax, like taking a walk outside or listening to music. If the conversation gets really triggering and you don’t feel heard, it’s also ok to avoid family dinner altogether.
Remember that it's not personal
Family members may make comments about your appearance without intending to hurt your feelings. They’re dealing with their own insecurities about body standards, and might genuinely think they’re helping.
Try to respond calmly and politely, without getting defensive or upset. Make it clear that you’re not questioning their intentions, but explain how it can be harmful to you and your mental health.
If you need a supportive community to share how you're feeling and get support about your body image, you can download TalkLife here.