Early on as fat folks, through others’ bullying and body policing, we are discouraged from learning effective boundary-setting behaviors. We’re further conditioned against having boundaries by living with systemic anti-fat discrimination and culturally-ingrained fatphobia.
Boundaries are not the solution to oppression, of course, but they can potentially limit some of our exposure to harmful behaviors by those we come in contact with, whether in person or online/in the context of social media.
Setting a boundary can be as simple as a single sentence, especially when you’re stuck in a conversation you’d like to change. Here are some examples that work in a variety of situations.
- “I don’t want to talk about this any more.”
- “I’m not comfortable talking about this.”
- “I’d like to change the subject.”
- Change the subject by bringing up something else.
More specific to negative body talk and/or body policing, whether it’s about you or someone else:
- “I’m not okay with negative body talk or body policing.”
- “My body (or eating habits or fashion choices, etc.) is not up for discussion.”
- “I won’t listen to or participate in body bashing.”
- “It’s important to me that we talk neutrally or positively about our bodies.”
Some examples specific to diet talk:
- “I’m not up for any kind of diet talk.”
- “Dieting isn’t something I’m willing to discuss.”
- “I don’t condone diets or talk about weight loss anymore.”
- Follow up with something like, “There are so many other more interesting things we can discuss.”
Perhaps the other party/parties don’t respect the first time you’ve stated your boundary. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to enforce your boundary either by restating it, escalating it, or ending the conversation. Some options:
- “This conversation/subject is crossing a boundary for me. Either we change the subject or I’m happy to end the conversation.”
- “If there’s nothing else we can discuss, perhaps it’s best that we end the conversation here.”
- “Negative body talk or body policing is not okay with me. Let’s talk about something else.”
- “As I said, I won’t discuss dieting. Can we talk about something else?”
Let’s say you want to set boundaries on your social media. One way to approach it is via pinned post or static info in your bio. For example:
I have decided to set some boundaries. When commenting or sharing things on social media, any fatphobia, diet talk, negative body talk, or body policing of any kind that gets posted to my page in comments or shares will be promptly deleted. You can support me by respecting my boundaries and avoiding these behaviors when interacting with me.
Should someone trespass that boundary, delete their comment. Also, consider unfollowing or muting people who don’t respect your boundaries. You get to curate your social media experience, and having boundaries is a great way to start.
If you feel like stating your boundaries outright is not doable right now, don’t be afraid to explicitly mention that you’re working on setting and enforcing boundaries for your well-being. Leading into a conversation with, “Hey, I’m working on setting boundaries. Can we talk about it?” is a viable option. You might even find that setting your own boundaries encourages other people to begin setting their own boundaries.
Perhaps the most difficult relationship to set and enforce boundaries is from adult child to adult parent. I’ve heard people say they feel like they can’t set boundaries with their parents, that they just have to endure whatever awful things their parents say. I get that. Boundaries may not be effective in every relationship all the time. You can’t control what someone else says, even by setting boundaries. People will cross your boundaries. You can control how you react and whether you want to keep trying to enforce your boundaries.
Boundaries are rarely successful in one-shot attempts, so know going into this that you’re very likely going to need to repeat your boundaries over and over again.
You deserve to have boundaries. You deserve to have people in your life who respect your boundaries.
Also, consider reinforcing your boundaries visually with one of these posters from Be Nourished or Nalgona Positivity Pride. (As usual, no affiliate links here, just sharing to spread the word.)
- Body Positive Poster (11×17) Nalgona Positivity Pride
- Body Positive Poster Nalgona Positivity Pride
- Weight Neutral Poster (also available as a door hanger)
Feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts or questions on boundary setting.