Skip to Content

When Your Family Objectifies You

Written By Leandra Lehmann

  • family,
  • healthy boundaries,
  • mental health,
  • objectification,
  • personal growth
Back of woman's head facing a pink wall

Almost every one of us has had a family member comment about the way we look.

The holidays can be a time of joy and family connection, but sometimes, I can’t help but feeling my body is on display.

This year I received several comments like “you’re so skinny,” and “you’ve lost weight,” while a few years ago and a few pounds heavier, I received “you look good now, you were too skinny before.” This year was the first year I became aware of my discomfort. By evaluating my exterior, my own family was objectifying me! And making me feel like my body was not mine and mine alone.

Objectification means to see or treat a person as an object, by focusing on sight, touch, and physical senses. Solely focusing on and privileging women’s bodies denies women of unique subjective experiences and self determination. 

In each interaction above, I was pulled out of the joyous family moment into my own head, to wonder “do I really look different?” “is that a compliment or an insult?” “did I really gain or lose weight?” 

My family’s comments, though well intentioned, contradicted and negated my own felt experience, and feelings of strength, courage and confidence. After having harnessed the courage to leave a stressful job, I had found time to be mindful, cook at home, and go to yoga for the first time in a year. I felt good. 

"My family’s comments, though well intentioned, contradicted and negated my own felt experience, and feelings of strength, courage and confidence."

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of opening with judgment-laden comments about appearance as if this is the most important quality to assess women’s wellness and success, families, friends and others asked us questions and offered compliments that got to the heart of how we are feeling inside- of what makes us human, whole, and complex?

Instead, they could ask  “how have you been feeling?” “How have you been spending your time since we last saw each other?” “what exercises have you been enjoying?” “How have you handled this transition?” or even, “You look happy (or whatever emotion you are obviously displaying).”

Unless physical appearance is indicating a serious health concern, families and friends should be striving to understand and prioritize how you are feeling, not how you are appearing. 

What are times that you have experienced objectification by family or friends? How did it make you feel and how do you deal with it? Do you ever catch yourself falling into the objectification trap and objectifying other women in your life? 

Next time you experience this from your family you can take action by:

  1. Acknowledging their good intentions.

    Women’s objectification is internalized and often unconscious. They may not realize their comments land poorly, and may even think they are offering you a compliment!

  2. Changing the subject.

    Gently let them know you’d prefer to focus the discussion on different matters that reflect your ambition, vitality, or human ness- like your promotion, relationship challenges or successes, positive habits adopted, help needed.

  3. Telling them the truth.

    Share how you’re feeling using I statements “I can feel minimized when important aspects of my life (like my job, goals, relationships) are overlooked when people focus on my body. I know this is not your intention, but would you mind if we shift topics? I’d love to tell you about…”

  4. Helping them reflect.

    You could say “it’s really interesting how women’s bodies are always such a topic for conversation in our society.”

  5. Staying positive.

    Avoid “you statements” as much as possible that can make family members feel defensive or ashamed.

Also, it’s helpful to be aware of how you might objectify other women, including your friends, and contemplate what you can do to break this cycle. Our bodies enable us to do amazing things (boxing, running, yoga, walking, climbing, giving birth!)!

However, ultimately it is our courage, determination, motivation, and fierce drive that gets things done, whether we are skinny, lean, curvy, athletic, big, or small. 

Leandra Lehmann

Leandra Lehmann is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist and Art Therapist who believes creativity, mindfulness, physical health, community connection and self compassion are critical to promoting holistic healing. Her extensive community-based work with families and caregivers, and time as Head of People Ops in a start-up, informs her diverse interests which include trauma, social justice, women’s rights, stress management, self-care, and relationship building. She also draws from her experiences as a Third-Culture Kid from the Philippines and her passion for travel.