Society and culture

Other people's bodies are not conversation starters.

In this episode, Claire talks about what to do when other people comment on your body and what to do instead of commenting on other people's bodies.


Show Notes
Program note: Hey, glad you’re enjoying the podcast! In this episode, you might hear Claire talking about Nutritional Freedom and Foundations. Since we launched the podcast in 2020, we've undergone a makeover to improve the membership experience. For more, listen to our "And we're back! All the updates!" episode.

Claire Siegel: You're listening to the Flourish podcast. I'm your host, Claire Siegel, founder of Flourish. We're on a mission to help women get healthy for good. Join me each week for a new episode that'll help you sustain healthy habits and nourish your body so you can Flourish in life.
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We are in the process of adding transcripts to our entire back catalogue. New episode transcripts are typically available within 24 hours of the episode release.

‍Claire Siegel: Hello, hello. Welcome back to the Flourish podcast. It feels really good to be back, and I feel like I've said that far too many times in the year 2021. When I tell you that this year has been transformational... I mean it. [Chuckles:] I wasn't sure how I was going to end that sentence.

Um, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes of Flourish, and I don't think I'm quite ready to talk about it exactly yet. And I hate to be that person and I'm sorry for being so annoying, but I've just been elsewhere.

Not—well, actually I haven't been elsewhere. I have been sitting exactly where I'm sitting right now which is in my office, in a sweatshirt, not wearing makeup. But my priorities have been elsewhere as it relates to Flourish and the business.

And I will say that we have—if I'm not mistaken—like doubled the size of our team. And if you have ever been part of a team you know that when you bring on new team members, you know, sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. So, we've been doing a bit of that over the last few months.

But I am really excited to share that, you know, a couple of team members have been brought in to help support the podcast and help ensure that we are continuing to provide and produce high-value, high-impact content here because I really do love the podcast despite the fact that it has just not been a priority over the last few months. And I apologize to you for that.

But welcome back! You didn't come here to hear me blab about where we've been—or maybe you have, I don't know. Send me a DM if you want to know [Chuckles]. If you are interested in kind of the business side of things at Flourish, I could really talk about it all day. But I try to keep the content that we talk about here health and wellness focused. All about flourishing, all right.

So, I hope you read the episode title. It is: Other people's bodies are not conversation starters.

This is a topic that I have felt very fired up about. I have found myself in many, many, many... conversations, workshops, webinars, coaching sessions—all the things—talking about body image. Especially this year. Especially 2021.

And, you know, it's not necessarily where I thought I would be. I founded Flourish with the intention of helping women sustain healthy habits, especially when it comes to food and nutrition.

And back when I started the business—formerly known as Nutritional Freedom—back in 2018, first of all, I had no idea that women would resonate with my personal story, including, you know, the decade I spent dieting. Which, if you don't know, I covered this in-depth in the second episode called, "My decade of diets and how I quit for good."

So yeah, I had no idea that my story was one that so many other people would share. And, you know, with that I very naively thought that, you know, the coaching work that we did would really center around, you know, nutrition education, providing ideas for healthy swaps, things like that.

And, you know, very quickly into... you know, probably the first—within the first six months, certainly, of the business I realized that the work that we were doing went far deeper than that.

And, that's not to say that the nutrition education and, you know, healthy ideas or, you know, healthy inspiration—what have you—it's not to say that that isn't helpful, because, you know, it really is.

You know, it tend to call those #HotTips or healthy hacks, right. And I'm not saying that that stuff doesn't have a place, but it is nearly useless without actually addressing whatever it is that is the root cause of your struggles with food and health habits.

And, you know, if we're being honest, for many women—myself included—we wouldn't struggle with food if body image wasn't an issue.

I'm gonna say that again.

For many women—and probably people, but I do work exclusively with women so—for many women (including myself) we wouldn't struggle with food if body image wasn't an issue.

Ask yourself here: How would I eat if I was okay with how my body looked?

Hmm. I wish we were on the phone right now. I'd love to hear your actually response. Send me a DM on Instagram, and answer that question because I would love to know.

So, kind of upon realizing this, I've spent the last few years really studying the intricacies and nuances and psychology of body image.

And I've coached hundreds of women as they work to improve theirs, because I know that addressing the root cause really helps to make creating that consistent approach to nutrition and health, it makes it so much easier. Right?

And so, I wanted to bring this topic of body image to the podcast because... one, we talk about it a lot in Flourish and it's so important in the work that we're doing—and if you are here listening probably in your journey—but also I wanted to do it right because there's a lot of chatter happening right now around bodies, and it's like very specific to the time that we're in right now.

You know, so many people are struggling with body changes that have occurred during the pandemic.

I've been doing a lot of corporate wellness events speaking to different women's groups within big companies, and it's amazing to me, you know, again, that it is the norm. And I hate to say that. I wish it weren't true, and yet it is. All right, these body image challenges are almost... the norm.

All right, so that's happening. People are struggling with how their bodies may have changed—or how they percieve their bodies may have changed due to, you know, change in lifestyle and stressors and things like that through the pandemic.

Then you've got—on the news, you've got like the Facebook whistle blower trials providing this very explicit evidence that social media damages body image and leads to increased incidence of eating disorders, depression, things like that. And then, you know, very notably, in the last like week or two even, we've got celebrities like Adele and Jonah Hill literally pleading with people to stop talking about their bodies.

And that last part is what I want to discuss with you today.

With that, my response, my commentary is quite simple. It is that: Other people's bodies are not conversation starters.

Now, in the specific case of Adele and Jonah Hill, the, kind of, body conversation that we're talking about has to do with weight—and specifically weight loss—but, you know, this same idea can really be applied to many matters of body talk, whether you're talking about disability or race–including microaggressions around hair. Or, even just general attractiveness or unattractiveness.

The idea remains that other people's bodies are not conversation starters.

And why is this the case, right? You may be thinking, "Isn't it nice to compliment someone's physical appearance?"

And, I get it. This is not necessarily a black-and-white issue. Right? Maybe it's nice. And maybe not, you know?

For example, Jonah Hill. He's received a ton of praise for his weight loss, and still in his latest Instagram post, he wrote:

"I know you mean well, but I kindly ask that you do not comment on my body. Good or bad, I want to politely let you know it's not helpful and doesn't feel good. Much respect."

Similarly, Adele's physical changes have been widely described as a, quote, "glow up," and still in the latest issue of Vogue, she said:

“The most brutal conversations were being had by other women about my body. I was very disappointed with that. That hurt my feelings.”

I've had countless conversations with women whose physical appearance–and especially weight loss—have been the subject of praise. And it still leaves them with this like anxious, uncomfortable feeling. It often leaves them thinking, "Well, if I'm so much better now, what did you think about me before?" Or, you know, worrying, "What if I can't maintain this appearance? Then what will you think of me?"

And that's the case when, you know, in this case, weight loss was intentional. Even welcomed. But you don't know why someone may have lost weight—or you don't always know why someone may have lost weight, right?

They may be struggling with depression and low appetite secondary to that. They may be struggling with even a chronic illness. Right? There are so many reasons why someone may lose weight, and it's not always positive. And, again, even when the weight loss is welcome and intented by the person who's lost the weight, those comments can still leave them feeling uncomfortable.

But again, it's not black and white. For some, a compliment on physical appearances is warmly welcomed and it's appreciated. And for others, it could be a massive trigger. It may be something that is interpreted as a compliment in the moment and then, if that physical apperance is not maintained, it becomes a trigger. Right?

I remember, we had a client who, you know, years back had documented her weight loss very publicly on social media. She had like a social media account kind of dedicated to her journey. I know, you know, tons of people do that for accountability and, you know, praise and attention and compliments, right?

And, by her own account it felt really good at the time... until it didn't. Until she couldn't maintain the weight loss and then the compliments disappeared and then she was left with this paranoid feeling of, "Oh my gosh. All the people that were singing my praises before.. what do they think of me now?"

And those feelings were directed at, you know, strangers who would comment on her account, and even her closest friends and family members. So with all that, you know, even when the intention is good, even when the intention is positive, even when the intention is to compliment someone, it's an area in which impact matters so much more than intention.

Meaning well ultimately doesn't matter that much when there's a significant negative impact—now or in the future.

So with that... what should you do when you feel the urge to comment on someone's appearance? Whether that's directly to them or indirectly, right? Making a comment about someone and their appearance to someone else.

Well, you know, ever since I came up with this little quip—the quip that is the title of this podcast, "Other people's bodies are not conversation starters." It has stuck in my brain, right? So I hope that just the title of this podcast helps to provide a reminder, a time to pause. Right? And just like really question what you are about to say.

And I want to be very clear—I'm not perfect here... at all. And I acknowledge that you know we live in a very image-centric society during a specifically and particularly image-centric time, right?

We are constantly being bombarded by visuals of other people. Even just this weekend—just this past weekend—I went to a wedding and, you know, because of all this chatter that we've been having internally about other people's bodies and conversation around other people's bodies, I was hyper aware of the body talk happening around me.

And I was really primed to not comment on anyone's bodies. Right? Even, again, if my intention was a compliment or even if I thought I was just making a neutral observation.

And, you know, I almost got myself into a bit of a pickle—or at least an internal pickle, right? I just about bit my tongue off when I nearly commented on my friend's growing pregnant belly. I like did an internal face palm. I like almost said it, and then I was like, "Ehhh, no. Other people's bodies are not conversation starters. That's not helpful to a pregnant woman. She probably knows. What am I trying to do here? What am I trying to get out of that conversation?" And I realized I was really just trying to fill space and say something, right?

Listen, I can have some compassion for myself. It's been a long eighteen months. Social interactions can be a little bit challenging. And still other people's bodies are not conversation starters. We don't have to break the ice with a comment on someone's appearance, right?

I'm not perfect, like I said. I'm actively coaching myself through this. So, maybe you feel that urge to comment on someone's body and right away you hear my voice in your head. I've been told that that happens—especially because [giggles], you know, we do this podcast.

So, you hear my voice in your head right now listening to the podcast. And you may hear it again later as you're going about life and thinking, "Oh, let me make a comment. Let me say this, or let me say that." You're going to catch yourself in the moment and hear me saying, "Other people's bodies are not conversation starters."

And that's like a really good time to ask yourself why it feels necessary to comment on someone's body. Again, whether that's to them or to another person about someone else's body. Right?

Maybe you're like me in that moment—just trying to like fill space and say something obvious. Maybe you actually do just want to be friendly and kind. And it is an honorable intention. And, again, the impact matters more.

In this case, offering a non-appearance based compliment is so much lower risk and it is such a great alternative. You can tell someone that they're a really great friend or that they inspire you or that their energy is contagious.

And, you know, especially because we live in this image-centric world where appearance-based compliments are, you know, often passed out like a dime a dozen, non-appeance based compliments can have such a far greater impact, right? We just don't get them as much.

And it's, frankly, a lot more creative. Okay?

Again, it's not black and white. And I know you may be thinking about instances in which appearance-based compliments are are welcomed and, you know, maybe you have been on the receiving end of an appearance-based compliment that felt good. And that's okay and that's valid.

If nothing else, I hope that the message of this podcast simply is to just slow down, right? And ask yourself: Is this comment necessary? Is this comment helpful? Might the impact not match up with my intention?

In which case, you can just pivot to something else. Right?

Now, kind of, the other side of the coin—and we could do an entire episode all about this—but you may struggle with body talk being directed at you, right?

Maybe you're not the one who's, uh, teeing up the body talk, but maybe you're the recipient of it. Maybe your mom makes comments to you. Maybe your best friends talk about other people's bodies to you, right? Maybe you're on both sides. Right? This is something I've certainly been part of on both sides of the equation.

Just the other day, actually, someone messaged me on Instagram and she has recently lost weight and she asked me, "How can I feel less awkward when someone comments on my weight loss? How can I take it as a compliment?"

And I thought this was a really interesting question. After messaging back and forth for a little bit, it became clear that she didn't actually want to take it as a compliment, because it didn't actually feel like one—even though it was very clearly the speaker's intention.

The, kind of, people pleasing nature that we all have—or I would say most of us have. The desire that most of us have to make other people feel comfortable is what told her, "Hey, when people comment about this, you should take it as a compliment. You should be glad. You should feel proud. You should feel happy." And so she was trying to get there.

But, in reality, it didn't feel like a compliment. Right? It made her feel uncomfortable. It highlighted this underlying fear that she has about the sustainability of her body changes. Right? It got her thinking, "Well, what are you going to think of me if I don't maintain this weight loss?" And, again, "What did you think of me before?"

So, when it comes to unwelcomed body comments—even if they're intended, okay? It is well within your right to set a boundary. Just like our man Jonah hill. Okay.

All right? And I think that, you know, when you hear the term "boundary" it always sounds very like serious, and I think it often—and maybe this is just my interpretation—but it often sounds kind of like shaming, right? It sounds like, you know, setting a hard line. And it's going to be something really uncomfortable and really hard. And listen, sometimes you do have to set a boundary in this way. And there's ways of very compassionately setting a boundary—especially when you know someone's impact—or intention rather—is positive.

You can let them know: "Hey, listen. I know you mean well when you're complimenting my weight loss, but it doesn't always feel good. You know? And this is something I'm actually working on. I'm really working on accepting myself. I'm really working on not being so focused on how I look. So, I would really just appreciate it if moving forward you didn't comment on it. And, again, I know you mean well, so it's no big deal."

Right? Like that is a very lighthearted way of setting a boundary that I think can provide such a sense of relief for all parties and start a really interesting conversation. And then after you set a boundary, you just pivot the conversation to something else and you move on. Okay?

Because remember: Other people's bodies are not conversation starters. And your body is not a conversation starter.

Body talk can hurt the person that you're talking to, and it can hurt the person that you're talking about.

It can hurt bystanders that may be dealing with their own body stuff that you know nothing about. And if you're on the, you know, talking end of body talk—or on the receiving end—it can hurt you! It can hurt you by affirming these faulty societal norms, and it can feed into your own internalized biases.

Okay, that's what I've got for you. I feel like this podcast... I could have easily made it twice as long and gone into like every nuance that exists within this very idea. But I'm going to leave it here for now, and I'd love to know your thoughts on today's topic.

I'd love to know if you have questions about it—what is cool to say, what's not cool to say, how to pivot the conversation. You know, if you need some inspiration around non appearance-related compliments.

If this is something you're struggling with, send me a DM on Instagram. I'm going to leave my handle in the show notes. I'd love to talk through it all with you.

Again, there's a lot of nuance here. I want to present it in as simplified of a way as possible, again, if for nothing else just to invite some inquisitive thinking. Right? And just to invite a bit of a pause before you follow that very natural urge to make a comment on someone's body. Okay?

I hope you enjoyed today's episode. I'm so happy to be back, and I'll see you in the next one. Bye!


Claire Siegel:

Thank you so much for joining me for today's episode of the Flourish podcast. If you enjoyed it, please take a second to leave us a five-star review or better yet, share it with a friend. And if you're ready to start your own journey to get healthy for good with accountability from expert coaches and the support of an incredible community, head to the show notes to get started on your Flourish journey.

I'll see you in the next episode.

Headshot of Claire Siegel
Claire Siegel
Co-founder, CEO
Claire Siegel is the founder and CEO of Flourish. Claire has made it her life’s mission to help women create a sustainable approach to their physical and mental well-being.

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