Comments about your body

I want to tell you that everything you have heard about comments about your body or ethnicity are probably false. And I’m going to share with you a boundary I’ve established with regards to comments about my body and it may in fact guide you in your decision on what to do when someone makes a comment about your body.

When a person makes a comment to you about your body it most likely has something to do with your ethnicity. The two are linked because one of the building blocks of ethnicity is bloodline which then makes up your body substance (physical features)1.

Comments about your body – excluding verbal violence (i.e. threats, bullying) – are usually subtle and disguised as being conversational. Whether that’s the intention or not, often comments like these don’t feel good to us.

“I don’t get as dark as you in the sun.”

“You’d be prettier if you had a different nose.”

“I thought you were vegetarian.”

Comments about food are about the body and in turn, are also about your ethnicity as one of the building blocks of ethnicity has to do with who we eat with1. Regardless, food is essentially is about the body because it goes into the body. Comments about what you eat are the same as comments about your physical features.

Let’s check your current boundary around comments about your body:

  • Is it okay for some people to make a comment about your body (i.e. family members) and not okay for others (i.e. acquaintances) to make a comment?
  • Do you make comments about other people’s body?
  • Do you only make comments if the other person comments about their own body first? (then giving you permission to make a comment)
  • Do you think it’s okay to make positive comments (how you perceive them as positive) and not ok to make negative comments about their body?
  • Is it okay to make comments about celebrities? about their hair? If they’ve gotten Botox, the diet that they’re currently on?

I used to make comments about celebrities, thinking it’s okay because they won’t hear them. I had a lot rules like these and what’s interesting in setting up a boundary like this is that is actually doesn’t help you feel better or even better about your body.

It seems the biggest falsehood was that having rules like the ones mentioned above were the biggest source of my misery. I decided I needed to have only one boundary – I don’t make comments on other people’s physical features. Period. No celebrities, not my best friend.

Now, it doesn’t mean I don’t tell someone they look fabulous or amazing. I do. But I don’t make a comment about their body or a physical feature like:

“You look fantastic, that dress suits your skin tone.”

It clears up my head. Knowing that there is no need to focus on anyone’s physical feature to complement them will free up a lot of the mind drama in your head.

So what does that mean when someone makes a comment about one of my physical features, like the three real life comments from above?

What does it mean to you is the exact question you need to ask yourself. What does a comment about your body mean to you? When these comments were said to me I made it mean a lot of things in my head. My mind would circle and circle with negativity chipping at my self-worth. How?

Well, someone saying that my skin is dark is only a negative thing until I decide it is. Which I had done so. I interpreted my physical features due to my ethnicity as negative – my dark skin, nose and the fact that I ate meat.

And then I needed to have a boundary around what I said to myself about my physical features regardless of what others said. I refused to think and believe that my physical features meant something negative. No matter what someone’s intention was I stopped attaching meaning to their words.

I took their words at face value, as they said them. So indeed my friend thought I was vegetarian. And it stops there. And indeed, my family member thought I would be prettier with a different nose. It stops there. I wasn’t going to add that that meant I was ugly. Because it didn’t.

And by allowing other’s to have their comments I could then see how I had my own negative comments about my physical features running inside my head. And that was where the real boundary needed to be. Not with what others said.

Today, can you make a comment about the food I’m eating. Absolutely. Can you make a comment about my thick, wavy hair? Absolutely. Can you make a comment about my skin tone? Absolutely.

There are now only two boundaries about comments: what I say to people (or rather what I don’t say) and how I interpret those comments to mean something about me.

I speak more about this in the podcast episode 13 Boundary: Ethnicity.

1Nash, Manning. The Cauldron of Ethnicity in the Modern World. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Boundary: Body and Mind

Have you ever wondered how your personal boundaries were established? Even the ones you aren’t conscious of? This is your chance to see how they were!

So much of what we learn about boundaries happens during childhood – a time when the brain is under development. And that makes setting or changing boundaries difficult in adulthood and then, in relationships.

I define personal boundaries as your body (touch, sex and possessions) and mind (mental and spiritual) and this excludes anything outside the law like physical and sexual assault.

I’m going to highlight the process of child development and you can reflect on how your immediate family, culture and society has influenced your current boundaries. Please note this does not take into account trauma during childhood and the age ranges are only guidelines.

0-1 year

When a baby is born, its first 3 months are quite unique. It doesn’t know that it has exited the womb. And after 3 months, it has the realisation that it has its own body. This separation is important in the infant establishing its own body and therefore, the ability to move it.

The infant spends, apart of eating and sleeping, its time getting to know its body by playing on the floor. Perhaps what is crucial in this stage is how much freedom an infant is given to explore its body and get to know it. This freedom or the lack of it begins to shape how we experience our body and its boundary with the world.

This eventually leads the baby from being horizontal with the ground to vertical as it learns to walk.

A newborn doesn’t know it has its own body for the first 3 months.

1,5 – 7 years

Exploration is the most significant thing about this phase. A toddler has taken shape, walking, talking and getting into things it probably shouldn’t but all in the name of getting to know its world.

They continue to learn about their body through movement. They can test their strength by throwing and kicking, they can refine their hands to pour water and draw. They are constantly testing their bodies in effort to know its capabilities.

How we get to know our body is profoundly developed here through movement. And how we establish how we feel about our bodies is growing with each movement we learn. Often, the freedom to explore their world and their bodies is quickly abated by caregivers in the name of protection and even, conforming to societal expectations – compromising the toddler’s sense of their own body (making them kiss or hug other family members).

If too little exploration is allowed children miss an opportunity to get to know their body, feel confident in it and set limits and boundaries around their body and possessions. Even to the point where we force children to share when really the need to establish boundaries around possessions is the more important lesson.

Hygiene (potty training) is taught and the notion of self care begins to take shape as well. Speaking develops throughout the years and their thoughts and stories become more refined. Again, how much space a child is given to participate in their own self care and learn how to communicate is related to the rules caregivers impose upon them and the lack of freedom given to develop these skills.

8-10 years

Usually before 7 years, a brain shift happens where contrasting thoughts can be held at one time – like I want to hit my younger sibling but won’t actually do it. Children have less tantrums and are more skilled in movements making activities like dance and sports easier.

Cognitive thinking is enhanced further allowing for learning of higher level subjects. Concepts that were so abstract, like time and money, begin to take shape, again, influencing how they view boundaries around their possessions.

Their world opens up through reading and more defined peer relationships. Their able to coordinate relationships in multiple friendships and begin to understand more that not everyone has the same boundaries and handling difficult situations where they feel theirs are crossed influence how we begin to navigate boundaries in relationships.

11-13 years

After just becoming more confident in their bodies, children then undergo a massive body change in puberty.

If grounded confidence in their body has not been established prior, puberty can offer more challenges.

Intimacy comes into play where children begin to view intimacy as obtainable outside of the family. More intimate connection with another person is sought and touch then begins to take shape into a body boundary – what is comfortable and what is not.

This period is confusing and can be more so with how trusted adults in pre-adolescents’ lives approach it. How is sex and intimacy educated (not through the school system) but on a more personal level and how is this connected to each person’s boundaries – theirs and others. Conversations like these are absent in many cultures as often the uncomfortably of the caregiver takes precedence over lovingly educating a young adolescent so they can make more informed decisions.

14-25 years

Body boundaries with sexual intimacy as well as peer intimacy continue to take shape. Peers begin to influence how one sees the world and beliefs and values of their caregivers begin to be challenged.

Physical and mental separation from primary caregivers during this stage influence how we establish mental boundaries – thinking for ourselves, determining our own values.

This stage is more about separating from their family in more ways than one. Physical separation happens maybe for school reasons and then also mental separation in terms of establishing what they think and believe. They are no longer dependent on parents for small, everyday things and such a separation can feel jarring on both sides.

Even though it may seem that they are well on their way to adulthood, adolescents still need the underlying guidance of trusted adults to feel safe to explore new relationships and new ways of thinking – even if its contradictory to their caregivers.

The balance between freedom but not too much helps establish a base for the young adult and a testing ground to push and test more complex boundaries – what is absolutely not acceptable in terms of behaviours.

By 25 years of age our boundaries have been well established and most of them unconsciously – primarily because we learn them while our brain was being developed. Running through your own experiences / memories at each of these key developmental stages can help make the unconscious conscious so that you can start to set the boundaries you want to have today.

I also discuss this adding in personal experiences in the podcast episode 11: Boundary: Body and Mind. Listen here!