Not everyone is lucky to have a family that’s self-affirming in all the ways. Here’s why you should ignore their body image comments, so it doesn’t affect how you feel about yourself.
The insecurity is real. A UK study showed that 91% of women are unhappy with an aspect of their bodies. Things like Instagram, fashion ads, and the overall pervasive idea that the best thing a woman can be is beautiful, doesn’t help. We get enough crap from society about our body image, but what about when the comments come from the people we love most?
I have a mother who loves me and who has my best interest at heart, and I know this. My mom is also African, traditional, and has very clear-cut ideas about what is classically beautiful and what isn’t — and some of the ways I have fallen short of that.
Her intentions are never malicious, just honest. Maybe you too have too-honest folks, or extended family who won’t stop making snide remarks around the Thanksgiving table every year. If you find yourself getting overly frustrated with their tactlessness, here are some things to realize:
Their comments reflect more on their insecurities than yours.
You could be totally fine with your cellulite, or spindly legs, or toneless arms. But when you have relatives that have similar features, they might not be so lucky. While grappling with their own missing body image, they shoot you down in the process.
I’ll never forget the conversation I had when I first buzzed my head in high school, a beauty decision my mom did not approve of. She said, verbatim, “Only really beautiful women can be beautiful without hair. But for average women like us, our hair is our beauty.”
This wasn’t an insult per se,. but we’d all hope our mothers, if no one else, to find us beautiful. Or at least I did. I was bummed to hear that my mom didn’t see herself as beautiful either, when she had always been beautiful to me.
Sometimes family is a reflection of our biggest worries. If you know you have that one aunt who hates her complexion while you love yours, don’t let her insecurities plant seeds in your head.
The era and place in which they grew up is different from yours
The ultimate proof of female beauty’s subjectivity is how it changes with every generation. Over the past 100 years in the United States, Americans have gone from praising a thin, boyish figure (1920s), a plump, intensely hourglass figure (1950s) to big boobs, big butts and a thigh gap (now). And that’s only within the the Western world.
If you have family who grew up with a different culture, their views of what’s beautiful may be even more skewed.
In West Africa they like their women with curves. They like their women with ample hips and thighs. Solidly built. Well, that’s not my body at all. I am thin with a narrow figure, and I have almost always been.
A trip to the motherland isn’t complete without the obligatory comments about how I need to gain weight, and that maybe it’ll help mbe get a boyfriend if I eat more.
I’m not saying this to elicit sympathy; in the Western world being thin is a beauty privilege. I don’t have job offers rescinded, or have to worry about finding places that carry my size, or being berated by randoms on the street about my body. But I also believe that if you can’t say something nice about someone’s body image, no matter their size, then you shouldn’t say anything.
Understanding that your family’s beauty standards can differ due generational and cultural gaps is something that can take the sting from comments that make you self- conscious.
Their comments may reflect their own upbringing
People model their behavior after what they learned early on. The family you were raised with is your introduction to socialization. And unfortunately, not everyone grows up hearing sentiments that are bathed in sweetness.
While my parents are not cruel, they are honest in the only way they know how to be. I don’t fault them for it. But I know that I also have the ability to say, “You can feel however you want about my ____, but I like it just fine.” That shuts unyielding commenters up pretty quickly.
You are the number one person in charge of how you feel about yourself. Just because people love you, doesn’t always mean they know how to show it in soft ways.
For some, honesty is love. If you’re around family members who put you down so much that your mental health plummets, stay as far away from those folks as possible. Family can be toxic, too.
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