How To Deal With Body Shaming: From Online Trolls To Well-Meaning Mates

You’ve just been slapped in the face. Well, not literally. But an out-of-left-field comment about your body – whether it’s from a family member, friend or random on Instagram – can leave you stunned and lost for words in the same way. After the initial shock, what are you to do?

Jess King knows this all too well. The London-based Australian model, 25, who has shown off her curves for Cosmopolitan magazine and Tutti Rouge lingerie, says strangers will sometimes critique her physique when she uploads a shot of herself online. “Despite the reaction on social media being overwhelmingly supportive, people can be negative,” she admits. “Recently someone said that I needed a ‘box gap.’”

Helping Jess to laugh off such unsolicited ‘advice’ is the confidence she’s developed from being photographed countless times for magazines and advertising campaigns. She has a good sense of humour which she uses to deal with negative comments, as well as in her Instagram posts where she advocates for body positivity and an inspiring ‘you do you’ attitude.

Not so well equipped to handle body shaming was Paul Gerard Moore, a 26-year-old who became the butt of a viral online joke after an image of him shirtless and on his friend’s shoulders at Future Music Festival in Melbourne was published in a magazine, alongside a caption that mocked his weight.

When the photo found its way onto the internet, it attracted thousands of shares and just as many cruel remarks, which the Australia-based Irishman recently told a UK radio station, sent him into a spiral of depression, binge-drinking and self-harm. “When I was drunk I’d read them again and get upset. I couldn’t believe these people I’d never met were saying these things about me.”

Thankfully, the story took a positive turn. Paul managed to pull himself out that dark place, and has since lost almost 45 kilograms and helped hundreds of people who’ve contacted him asking for advice on how to handle online bullying. He’s also doing a charity skydive to raise funds and awareness for youth suicide.

His advice for dealing with online body bullies is to not do what he did – that is, read (and re-read, and re-read) the comment/s. Delete. Block. Ignore. Don’t respond to them. And, seek support from family and friends. It’s OK to let people know you’re struggling and need some help.


Image: Mercury Press

But what about when your body bully is a friend or family member, and it’s not said online but right to your face? And what about when it’s not as blatant as a deliberate insult, but something offensive said in passing, or as a joke, and seemingly unintentional?

Whether it’s your mum saying you don’t have the figure for a crop top, or a friend pinching your waist and insisting you’re “disappearing” – here’s what to do.

#1 Speak up

It’s important to address the comment immediately. If you bring it up later, the other person might deny what they said or remember what happened differently. Also, the longer you bottle up your feelings about the situation, the worse it will make you feel.

Pulling up the other person on their comment doesn’t have to be a dramatic confrontation. Just calmly and clearly communicate how it made you feel, and explain that so long as they don’t have concerns that your health is in danger, you’d rather they didn’t make comments about your body.

“Explain that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to weight, shape, size and appearance,” says The Butterfly Foundation CEO Christine Morgan. “Remind them that we cannot change some aspects of our appearance. Height, muscle composition, and bone structure are determined by our genes.” Once the discussion is over, reduce any tension or awkwardness by changing the subject.

#2 Shake it off

Letting go of a hurtful comment is way easier said than done, but it can be achieved. “A couple of years ago, I would let things affect me, but I’ve now learned not to give them a second thought,” Jess says. “Once you learn to accept that what people think about you doesn’t matter, life can be a lot more freeing.”

If you’re feeling heart-racingly anxious or angry after the situation, get a moment to yourself as soon as possible and take a few deep breaths to get any remaining bad vibes out. Do something to change up your mental space – exercise, meditate or watch Inside Amy Schumer clips online. You do you.

#3 Build a body bully barrier

Working on improving your confidence levels means one thing: if you have unshakeable foundations, the next time someone gets all Judgy McJudgerson on you, it won’t affect you as much. You can’t control what other people will say, but what you can control is how you react to it.

“Learning how to love your body and understand what it can do when it is functioning at its healthiest level is something we should all learn about from a young age,” Christine says. She suggests trying to shift the way you value yourself away from physical attributes and instead to your qualities, skills and talents, and to avoid negative or berating self-talk.

Two ways to build self-confidence:

Quit the negative self-talk

Negative self-talk is a tough one. You’ll notice that you have an inner voice in your head that is always on; criticising you or telling you that you can’t do something. Every time you catch yourself thinking negative things about yourself or saying them out loud – stop. Reprogram your thinking. Say something positive instead.

Language has immense power. So even if saying a positive statement feels strange and phony at first, when you say something enough, you’ll eventually come to believe it (or at least be comfortable with it). It’s how you wound up believing negative things about yourself in the first place. So swap every negative thought out for the good stuff, and one day, that mean inner-voice will lack any authority or volume and you’ll wonder why you ever gave it so much air time.

Gratitude is your new attitude

And if that is a little too difficult, gratitude is a fast-track to changing how you perceive yourself – it changes the angle of your thinking. Rather than resenting your body for perceived imperfections, focus on being grateful for all the things it can do, like how your stomach always, always leaves room for dessert.

Erin is a freelance writer currently living in NYC. Right now, she’s drinking too many free refills of Dr Pepper. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.