I am a writer, speaker, and activist with an online following. Among the topics I write about are wellness and body image. I make no apologies nor do I feel obligated to give any explanations about the appearance of my body. Judgments about my body, and even who I am as a person, are hurled at me from every direction. I could say that it’s because of what I choose to advocate for or speak out against. It’s not.
Your situation may be different than mine, but in my experience, whether you’re a public figure or live in relative anonymity, as a woman you’re constantly receiving judgment, criticism, and commentary about your body from others.
Top Left: This was originally about how much I had always hated my “deep” belly button and finally arriving at being totally okay with even that part of me. | Top Right: This was mother’s day. My daughter was on the other side of me. | Bottom Left: From a post about being body confident in the summer. “Taking my stretch marks and all of me to the beach!” | Bottom Right: This was for a photo shoot. I posted it talking about how I was excited to look at this and immediately think “look at those big ol LEGS” But in a GREAT way instead of what would have been horrifying to me in the past.
It’s easy to suggest that we should just ignore these comments. “Haters gonna hate. Just don’t listen to them.” In reality, the experience can be very unsettling. Over time I have learned how to navigate hurtful commentary and not to take it personally.
Left: This was originally in a series of photos I did talking about how we compare ourselves at our “worst” to others at their “best.” This one I’m slouching and sticking my stomach out. | Right: This is from the photo shoot that my book cover came from.
I rise above it by practicing a process that I want to share with you, and hope that it can help you stand strong in your sense of self when faced with a hurtful comment:
- Check to see if the words are for you.
Each time I receive a negative comment I consider it. I hold on to it to see if it’s mine. Is it productive? Is it true? Is it something I’m insecure about? Is it something I need to work on?
This isn’t a long process. I’m simply considering if this is something that I can or should explore for my own growth and values. If it is, I proceed to look at the hard stuff that is “growing pains” and deal with me. If it isn’t I proceed to #2.
- Acknowledge that people only have to give out what they have within them.
I remember reading The Four Agreements in college. One line in particular really stood out for me: “We can’t expect people not to lie to us as they also lie to themselves.” It made so much sense. The same applies here. If someone is the type of person who goes around saying hurtful things to strangers on the Internet, I can’t imagine what they must say when they speak to themselves. Happy, confident people don’t do this.
So, rather than take on their baggage or find words to cut back at a hurting person, I try to offer some compassion, even if only silently to myself. I can’t be responsible for everything that leads a person to make harmful remarks about others. I don’t deserve to take all that on.
- Deal with your own stuff instead of hurling judgements at others.
One of my favorite sayings is “How you feel about me is between you and your self-esteem.” It’s a great mantra to pull when someone upsets you. I also use this sentiment as a guide when looking at my own stuff. Whenever I find myself thinking or wanting to voice negative opinions about others, I check in with myself. Instead of going around in circles about my own righteousness, I look directly at what I believe is the real issue. What is happening with me right now that is causing this reaction? Am I feeling insecure? Do I relate to this issue somehow?
It’s always our own stuff that riles us up. Being curious and compassionate with myself gets me much further in dealing with the actual issue than hurling insults or spreading gossip. It creates a mindfulness around what is causing my own behavior, which makes taking others’ flack less personally all the easier. You begin to relate to the root instead of attach to the symptom.
- I don’t take the positive stuff personally either.
This has been the hardest idea for me to grasp, but it has really made all the difference. I first read of this concept in The Four Agreements. I remember loving the part where I wasn’t supposed to take other’s harsh words personally. I could get on board with that! But the kind ones? Did I not deserve those?
The problem is, we either agree that other’s words define us or we don’t. I also get lots of positive, uplifting comments on a daily basis. If I attached myself and my identity to them it would be an agreement that these comments define me. That would be wonderful if I was riding a wave of “You are so inspiring,” but detrimental when the next, “You are hideous and shouldn’t speak” wave comes crashing in.
I don’t attach to either. I define myself, I deal with my own stuff, and I don’t determine my worth or confidence based on others’ words.
But don’t you feel anything? Don’t you care at all?
I care about how I affect people. I aim to apologize when I’m wrong. I want to learn from my mistakes and be a better person. Living solely by the opinions of others is too fickle, too damaging, and not how I want to ground my self definition.
I deal with my own stuff. I practice imperfectly what I preach. When someone has something hurtful to say, I honestly hope that they work through whatever it is inside them that I am experiencing coming at me. And when someone says something beautiful, I am thankful that they are in a place to show love. Neither of those belongs to me. It’s much more peaceful that way.
It isn’t foolproof, and I still have my moments and bad days. But I promise you that not caring what others think gets gets easier by putting these four ideas into practice.