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How To Cope With Your Family’s Comments About Your Weight

Content warning: This story mentions eating disorders and weight.

Body image is often considered a sensitive topic for Gen-Z folks who try to prioritize boundaries and avoid making inappropriate comments about a person. But, for older generations (specifically our parents and grandparents), mentioning someone’s weight, size, or appearance within the first few moments of seeing them is commonplace. I’m sure we’ve all had the awkward Thanksgiving dinner where our weight is shamed right before we are supposed to dig into a meal that took hours to prepare. 

So how do we navigate these situations where our parents or extended family care about our weight a little too much? Where do we draw the line between checking in and crossing a boundary? To try and understand the role parents and family play in our body image, I spoke with Paakhi Srivastava, Assistant Research Professor at Drexel University. There, she serves as the Director of the WELL Center Clinic, which specializes in treating eating disorders and body image issues. 


Parents play a direct role in developing their child’s body image from a young age, though not solely based on comments made about the child’s body. Body image actually begins with the way these parents speak about themselves and the bodies of others around them. “One of the key methods through which [kids] learn is by listening and watching. If the parents are negative about their own bodies, children learn how the bodies are to be disliked,” Srivastava says. “Or, that bodies are a way to compare yourself with other people. Sometimes, kids copy their parents and become really dissatisfied with their own body concern about getting fat; they become preoccupied with being thin and engage in unhealthy eating behavior.” 

Once Srivastava said this, I was able to identify the ways in which my parent’s focus on their own weight in unhealthy and hurtful ways: calling themselves “fat” in a derogatory way, and feeling compelled to voice their opinions on the weight of others in both life and media. 

So, supposing everyone consciously or unconsciously engages in this negative formulation of body image. What distinguishes a parent that may be genuinely concerned for their child’s health from one who makes consistent or uncomfortable comments about their child’s body? “A non-caring parent or parent who’s less deliberate about showing acts of acceptance to their kid’s body will actually focus and will give praise exclusively in the area of appearance, weight, and shape,” she says. When the other facets of our existence are not given value by those who raise us, we begin to internalize this lack of value and exhibit it on our own. 

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.

Once we determine that the dialogue happening with our families and us about our bodies are not productive or even hurtful, we can begin to explore how to articulate this discomfort. Srivastava recommends a technique used in her clinic called the DEAR MAN skill. This is an acronym to assist in effective communication with others about our feelings. These skills include clearly describing the facts of the situation, expressing how they affect you, asserting what you need from the relationship, presenting a negotiation of terms, and being mindful of the topic at hand.  “I would say DEAR MAN skills are assertiveness skills to make you more effectively communicate your needs to the person,” says Srivastava. While it may be difficult to calmly and rationally present your points this way, emotions are bound to come out, it’s a useful model to consult beforehand so you know what you want to say and is able to identify what you need. 

Healing your body image comes from within.

It’s important to remember our own relationships with our bodies deserve attention, especially if we engage in our own unhealthy habits. “Build those areas that help you gain confidence in areas outside of body and weight — do things that you enjoy doing will reduce the value that you give to shape and weight,” Srivastava says. “Decrease the importance of shape and weight by identifying areas that you value outside of your body, and building those valued life areas.”

Additionally, Srivastava also recommends extending some love to your body’s abilities in times when it feels scrutinized.“Respect [your] body for what it does and what it can do, rather than what it looks like,” Srivastava adds.

Finally, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and others. When derogatory comments are made about weight, and if you feel comfortable speaking up, don’t be afraid to correct some of the outdated critiques about weight and bodies. “Take a stance against cultural ideas that are related to appearance: if you don’t believe in [what someone is saying about weight], taking a stance against those ideals can be really, really helpful,” Srivastava says. “Whenever you hear conversations happening about unrealistic body shapes and things, correct your friends and be an agent of change.” 

Reassuring and supporting your friends who may say or engage in body negativity or calling out others around you who engage in it is a great place to start.

Start practicing self-love today.

For young people dealing with body issues, it’s essential to begin working on your self-esteem and self-love as early as you can. “You are someone who’s at the center of your life, and you have the ability to change things,” Srivastava says. “And in the role that you play as a sister, daughter, friend, you can implement changes in how female body shapes are perceived and how they are judged.”

Battles are not won easily, but they are won passionately, and holding onto the ideals that make you feel strong, powerful, and beautiful should be cherished. However, if these battles are particularly difficult for you, if you feel you may be engaging in more problematic eating behaviors like “extreme dieting, binging, purging, excessive exercise, and you’re unhappy with the way you know, your life is going, help is available,” says Srivastava.

Our bodies are not perfect, but they belong to us and nobody else, and we should get the final say on what we are supposed to feel toward our bodies.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.

Ariana Martinez (they/them) is a Florida-based freelance writer and filmmaker currently pursuing a degree in cinema studies. Their work gravitates toward explorations of gender and sexuality in film and T.V., and they have a Youtube channel and website, Awake in the A.M., dedicated to film analysis. In their free time, they enjoy traveling and yelling at the television with their friends.