As Ireland’s answer to Socrates, eminent philosopher and boyband superstar Ronan Keating once said, you say it best, when you say nothing at all. This was statement was obviously made in direct reference to individuals who comment on the weight or body shape of others. Unfortunately, not everyone listened to darling Ronan, so we’re in a bit of a mess. How do comments from others affect our body image? And what, if anything, can we do about it?
Why Does It Matter?
You could be forgiven for thinking – what does it matter if people comment on other people’s bodies? It’s not a big deal, or I’m trying to help. And sure, some of it can be well-intentioned with a view to eliciting a positive change in behaviour from your loved one. But, when we get into the literature, commenting on people’s bodies often has the opposite effect.
The Impact of Commenting on Body Image
Commenting on weight or physical appearance has mixed impact on individuals. Negative weight-related comments have been consistently proven to be detrimental to the well-being of individuals. Weight-related teasing, particularly in your formative years is consistently associated with emotional distress, poor self-worth, decreased body image and disordered eating . This holds true for both males and females . The majority of literature centres around adolescence, but negative comments made to adults can be equally harmful .
Disordered eating has horrendous impact on the quality of life of individuals, with links with depression, anxiety and eating disorders . I wasted many years of my life wrapped up in disordered eating, and it can be an incredibly dark place. An awareness of contributing factors can help us create strategies that lessen the likelihood of development. Holidays should be a time to relax and unwind, not a source of shame and guilt for individuals. Let’s talk about how to navigate comments from others.
A big yikes comes from the research in terms of body image outcomes from weight-related comments in adolescence. One study reported that 30% of females were teased about their weight during puberty . Individuals who are overweight or obese were also more likely to receive hurtful comments from family members .
Returning home for the holidays, if you have gained a lot of weight, can be an anxious time for many. Especially when literature has denounced that those who gained weight are more likely to receive hurtful comments about their weight .
And whilst receiving these unsolicited comments can feel hurtful, it can also have some pretty nasty far-reaching comments. Receiving hurtful comments about weight is linked with engagement in unhealthy weight-control behaviours and binge-eating .
This can be particularly hurtful when coming from a parent. Parents play a key role in influencing our eating behaviours and model certain dietary behaviours. This study of 502 women highlights just how impactful this can be . Women with weight-dissatisfaction were more likely to report parents commenting on their weight in growing up – across all BMI categories. Parental weight concern also lead to adult children becoming preoccupied with calories and bodyweight.
So it’s worth considering as an influence on our body satisfaction.
Your Significant Other
Now I am ofc peak single, and in doing so I am
avoidant protecting my body image. Receiving weight-related comments from significant others is far more common than it should be (AKA it’s >0). Eisenberg et al.  reported almost 25% of males and females had received hurtful weight-related comments from their partner. This is even more prevalent amongst the higher BMI categories, with 32.3% of obese females reported receiving hurtful comments from their bae.
Much like receiving hurtful comment from your family, there can be repercussions for tolerating BS comments from your partner. 33% of females who received weight comments from their significant other also used extreme weight control measures in the last year (e.g. vomiting after eating) . Similarly, men who received comments about their weight were significantly likely to have used muscle-enhancing behaviours (excessive exercise, steroid use). The probability of chronic dieting was twice as high in females who had received weight-related comments from a significant other .
Commenting on your significant others’ weight – officially an ick.
Coping with Comments About Your Body
During the holidays, we are surrounded by family and supposed loved ones. They also have opinions, and good intentions. Avoiding everyone during the holidays or telling yourself to just ignore it may not be a feasible strategy for you. So, it can be helpful to have a few strategies to hand:
- Dump him. Let the iconic Britney Spears t-shirt live on as the beacon of hope and emotional stability it should be. If your significant other makes disparaging comments about your weight, your body or your appearance, speak to them about it. If it persists, get rid. There are plenty more people out there who view you as more than a scale-weight babe.
- Set boundaries. Sure, you can’t avoid conversation with your pass-remarkable family member. But, you can control what you are exposed to. If the conversation shifts to your weight (or anyone else’s), you are well within your rights to draw a line under it. And ofc you can appreciate for most people it’s coming from a place of concern, but it may not be helpful for where you’re at. You could say something like – I appreciate your concern for my health, but it’s not okay for you to comment on my body (cc: Emilia Thompson for some excellent boundary-setting examples).
- Accept it will be challenging. Sometimes even just accepting and preparing in advance for these comments can be a useful strategy. Pre-empting the comments may not make them sting less, but you can take the shock out of them by considering how you will manage. And let’s face it – you already know which of your family will mouth off about your weight.
- Speak to a professional. This can be a really challenging time, especially if you’re already suffering with body image. It can be worthwhile getting some assistance, either in the form of a coach, therapist or disordered eating support group like Bodywhys or BEAT.
Happy holidays, and try not to let anyone else’s opinion of your body affect yours. Namaste.
- Day S, Bussey K, Mitchison D et al. (2021) The impact of teasing and bullying victimization on disordered eating and body disturbance among adolescents: a systematic review. Trauma Viol Abuse 23(3).
- Menzel JE, Schaefer LM, Burke NL et al. (2010) Appearance-related teasing, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating: A meta-analysis. Body Image 7, pp. 261-270.
- Eisenberg ME, Berge JM, Fulkerson JA et al. (2011) Weight comments by family and significant others in young adulthood. Body Image 8, pp. 12-19.
- Wade TD, Wilksch SM, Lee C (2012) A longitudinal investigation of the impact of disordered eating on young women’s quality of life. Health Psychol 31(3), pp. 352-359.
- Eisenberg ME, Berge JM, Fulkerson JA et al. (2012) Associations between hurtful weight-related comments by family and significant other and the development of disordered eating behaviors in young adults. J Behav Med 35, pp. 500-508.
- Wansink B, Latimer LA, Pope L (2016) “Don’t eat so much:” how parent comments relate to female weight satisfaction. Eat Weight Disord 22 pp. 475-481.
- Eisenberg ME, Franz R, Berge JM et al. (2017) Significant others’ weight-related comments and associations with weight-control behavior, muscle-enhancing behavior and emotional well-being. Fam Syst Health 35(4), pp. 474-485.