How to Deal with Negative Comments about Your Body
We want others to find us attractive; we want to be desirable. We may even, perhaps, want them to be envious of our hard-earned, properly-placed curves we’ve achieved … or that we’re currently striving to achieve.
Why do we place value on other people’s opinions of our bodies? Why do we fear their disapproval and flinch at negative comments?
Perhaps it’s simply a primal trait encoded in our DNA; our distant ancestors knew that being found desirable from the opposite sex increased the odds of reproducing. Those that wanted to be found desirable to secure a mate were likely willing to change their behavior, maybe even appearance, to achieve that goal.
Perhaps this ancient instinct is exacerbated by modernity and the incessant flow of advertising and marketing efforts trying to sell us beauty and happiness. And, to a greater extent no doubt, the advent of social media amplified this pressure to be desired and, literally and figuratively, “liked” by our peers and total strangers on the other side of the world.
Then again, maybe we’ve become a narcissistic species with ample time to be preoccupied with our appearance because we’re privileged to live in a period where most of us aren’t facing challenges like a world war, disease epidemic, or famine.
I don’t know. But, here we are. Regardless of the why or how we got here, there’s no denying the cumulative pressure that’s smothering us from all directions. To conform to the standards created by social media (even if they’re staged), to chase the high of receiving “likes” and comments of admiration on how great we look or how awesome our life appears to be.
Combine this pressure with the fact that people can make their opinions known instantly with the click of a button or posting a comment about our photo or video. No longer must someone verbalize their comment; it can be delivered under the comfort of anonymity or security felt from doing so behind a phone or keyboard.
Before we get to the how to deal with negative comments about your body information, there’s something we must first consider.
Why Do We Like Compliments?
When someone compliments our body, when we started working out and making better food choices, for example, it makes us feel good. We’re more confident and have reassurance that what we’re doing is working. All those squats we performed and dumbbells we pushed and pulled and cookies we left uneaten and protein we chowed down in the name of building a better-looking body — it was all worth it just to get complimented!
Wanting people to like how you look is harmless, right? If anything, compliments are good because they’re making us feel better about ourselves.
Maybe, at best. The individuals I know who work out and eat well primarily to gain the admiration of others (or to rack up the social media “likes” from strangers) set themselves up for a turbulent crash from that temporary feel-good high.
If you rely on the admiration and positive opinions of others to make you feel good about yourself, you automatically give them the power to obliterate your self-confidence too.
This is a mistake I’ve made. I once gave merit to what other people said about my body. When someone complimented my muscle definition, it was like a puff of air inflating my ballooning ego. When someone else, however, commented on how “gross” or “manly” I looked or said, “Women should never have visible veins — it’s disgusting!” the previously pumped-up ego abruptly exploded.
I no longer knew how to feel about my body. Am I gross? Should I lose some muscle? Should I get skinnier? Should I gain weight? That confusion and sadness is the result of hinging your self-worth on the opinions of others. You get frantically ping-ponged between the conflicting opinions.
This is why we shouldn’t rely on, or desire, other people’s opinions about our bodies to feel great about ourselves. If you need their approval, you will fear their disapproval. And it’s the disapproval, in the form of negative comments, that we want to know how to handle.
How to Deal with Negative Comments People Make about Your Body
Learn to not care about what someone says about your body. Practice frequently.
Not the answer you wanted? If so, what the heck did you expect?
Preventing people from making negative comments about your body (or your eating habits, or your career choice, or your hairstyle and clothing, or your disdain at the attempt to “healthify” a food by using cauliflower) is not an option. The only thing you can do is change how you respond to the comments.
Unless you want to live in solitary confinement for the rest of your days, thus successfully avoiding any commentary, that’s the only option you have for dealing with negative comments.
Unfortunately, you can’t press a button and instantly be unaffected by disparaging remarks. Like any other skill — be it playing a sport or musical instrument, learning a language, strength training for the first time, cooking — you must practice consistently for a long time to become proficient.
Thanks to the internet, I’ve had loads of practice over the years. Here’s an assortment of comments posted to some of my YouTube videos:
There are more, and they have this same vapid commentary, no different than what I heard in high school. If they’re not saying I “look like a man” they comment that I’m ugly, my breasts are too small, my nose is too big, my accent is annoying.
The fact that someone was compelled to post a comment with the intention to inflict harm was jarring at first, but early in my online career I knew this trend wasn’t going to end; if anything, it would escalate. There are ass-bags in this world, and I shouldn’t be surprised when I encounter them; neither should you.
The solution was to practice not caring about those opinions. When a new comment was posted to a video, I’d read it slowly and see it for what it was: a combination of words. The only way those words could hurt me is if I allowed them to.
And that is how you can deal with negative comments too: practice seeing them for what they are. Deflect them. Each time a comment comes your way, use it as an opportunity to further immunize yourself against remarks intended to inflict harm. They’re just words, and you decide what to do with them.
This will take practice and likely a hefty dose of patience to get to the point negative comments have no, or at least minimal, effect on you. When you realize it’s either become immune to them or give them power to affect you, the choice, I think, is quite clear.
But Negative Comments Helped So-and-So!
Yes, I’ve heard the stories about people who were humiliated and used the incident as a catalyst to make changes to their lifestyle and they lost excess weight and improved their health. But I think those instances are the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, what will happen when the same people who humiliated the previously overweight individual are now criticizing her for being “too muscular” or athletic or conscious of her eating habits? If their comments had the power to affect her before, they’ll like do so again. And she’ll be confused and frustrated because she, seemingly, can’t win no matter what she does.
If you don’t choose to define the healthy lifestyle you want to build, the body you feel best occupying, the way to live your life, you will, by default, allow the opinions of others to do it for you.
Does This Mean I Must Shun Compliments?
Some would make the argument that if you’re to deflect negative comments, that you, by rule, can’t accept compliments. I don’t think that’s the case as long as you know the difference between being appreciative of a compliment versus craving them or using them to validate your self-worth.
For example, if you’ve been strength training and improving your nutrition habits for a couple months and a friend says you look strong and athletic, you don’t need to respond in a flat, “your comment means nothing to me” manner. You can appreciate her genuine compliment. But your actions in the gym and kitchen shouldn’t be done with the goal of attaining compliments. See that critical distinction? Good.
What If It Feels Like You’re Always Fighting Against Your Body?
All this talk on how to not care about someone’s negative comment regarding your body and choosing for yourself the body you feel best occupying and looking the way you want to look may be confusing, and frustrating.
Maybe you don’t know what body you would feel best occupying.
If you’ve spent years, or decades, fighting your body and never being satisfied with its shape, appearance, and performance, perhaps taking a break from focusing on how you look could be a welcoming palate cleanse.
For a period, forget about transforming your body. (Refer to the article Screw Fat Loss for more.)
Focus instead on how you feel; get stronger or simply improve your performance in some manner with your workouts; move more often in any and every way you enjoy; build health-supportive habits; finally try that hobby you keep putting off until “someday.”
Come up with reasons to move your body and improve your nutrition habits that have nothing to do with changing your physical appearance. Pay attention to what you enjoy most, what makes you feel best. What you discover may surprise you.
One final thought on this subject: if we don’t want other people to be condescending jerks and make cruel or unnecessary comments about our bodies, let’s extend that courtesy to others ourselves.