Setting Boundaries in Body Talk
It can be stressful being around people who make comments about bodies or eating habits. Setting boundaries in body talk exists on a spectrum – there are many entry points to starting a conversation or respecting your own needs in an environment where body talk is normalized. In this blog we’ll provide a few examples of how to set boundaries in body talk.
A Culture of Commenting on Bodies
While the entirety of diet culture is heavily ingrained in day-to-day life, commenting on bodies freely is an aspect that is completely normalized in many environments. A tricky part of any self-acceptance journey is navigating people’s comments about themselves or others.
Body talk can take many forms. It can be a family member or friend mentioning their own dissatisfaction with their body, their “need” to lose a couple pounds before x event, or projecting their own insecurities in the form of admiring or judging another person’s appearance.
This can be troubling, especially for someone who may be actively working to neutralize their thoughts about their own body or bodies in general.
What do you think of when you hear the term “setting boundaries”?
Thinking about being vulnerable in asking for a change for your own well-being can be scary for many reasons. Maybe it stirs up an unsettling feeling in your chest or pit of your stomach. Maybe there is a fear they will not adjust their behavior – maybe you envision them responding by brushing your feelings to the side or even becoming angry with you.
Perhaps there’s a part of you that resists or puts up guards when you hear this term.
The beautiful thing about boundary-setting is that there are many ways you can enact your boundaries depending on your comfortability and your relationship with the person you are hoping to communicate a need with. The word “boundary” does not even have to enter the conversation.
"A tricky part of any self-acceptance journey is navigating people’s comments about themselves or others."
How to Set Boundaries in Body Talk
Here are a few tips for navigating this particular boundary depending on your level of comfortability with requesting a change and keeping that person or those people accountable.
1. Be Clear and Concise
If you are ready to verbalize a boundary, ask for uninterrupted space to talk, request your ask, (i.e please don’t talk about weight, diets, etc. around me), and allow that person some time to process and respond. Feel free to state that you are not opening the door for a debate and you are not asking for their opinion– this can be part of the boundary.
Tip: Try writing out what you wish to say first! This can help calm your nerves or help in the delivery of your request.
2. Use “I” Statements
Taking ownership of your own feelings rather than using phrasing can really change the feel of a conversation geared towards change. Instead of “you make me..” Or “It really bothers me when you…” try something along the lines of “I feel” or “I need..”
People may become defensive or have a hard time hearing you if they feel they are in the wrong. By stating your thoughts from your own experience and your own needs, people are more likely to be receptive and understanding of your wishes.
3. Share Where You Are in Your Journey
If it feels safe and accessible to you, let this person know what you are currently feeling or experiencing. By sharing your experience, this is likely to increase feelings of closeness and intimacy, which can help people better understand and respect your needs.
4. Try to be Compassionate
It can be hard to share compassion with someone who might have a particular behavior that frustrates you. Knowing that comments about their own or others’ bodies or behaviors are likely projections of their own feelings can help you feel more empathy for that person.
This can also help to give more context for the seemingly needless comments. Those comments might be the only ways of coping they have at this point in their life. Knowing this can also help to create distance in your mind from how these comments affect you. This isn’t to say these comments should persist, but this can help your mindset if you are in the proximity of someone who just isn’t ready to change their behavior.
Redirect the conversation if need be. This can be a clear rule that you implement or just a tool to use in a moment of need. If you want to let people know ahead of time that you will redirect the conversation if talk about food or body judgements arises, that’s great! If not, it can be helpful to have a couple topics up your sleeve that feel more appropriate.
If this is with someone you have already talked to about your boundary, holding them accountable here might be warranted. A simple comment like “I don’t appreciate you overlooking the boundary I communicated with you” or “I won’t be commenting on that” then changing the subject can help to reinforce the boundary.
6. Lead by Example
This one speaks for itself. It can be hard to change a behavior that you might be acclimated to or even expected to do in certain environments. By being averse to topics having to do with bodies or food judgements, others might just feel this shift and follow suit.
While it is usually most effective for a request to be explicitly stated, this can be a safer option for those who feel they are not ready to expressly communicate the need. Leading by example can also be a good way to reinforce your request.
7. Distance Yourself if Needed
If your needs are not being met or you aren’t quite ready to set any of the boundaries listed above, take some time away. Even if you are in the same house or in proximity, the time you spend with someone can be limited if they do not respect your request.
People make mistakes of course, but if a person is intentionally avoiding understanding your request and is not responding to redirection or attempts at accountability, then space might just be the best option for a little while.
Whether you are going home for the upcoming holidays or simply experience body talk on a daily basis, it can be hard to initiate change. Boundaries are best reinforced when they are explicitly stated, but there are other ways to slowly introduce change that can accommodate every unique situation.
Gordon, A. (2020). It’s time for a culture of consent around body talk
Innanen, S. (2022). Eat the Rules podcast episode 247: How to Respond to Diet and Body Talk
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