“Mel Mel, you losing weight?” 

“I am? I didn’t notice.” (Tries to end the conversation)

“Yes girl, you look good. What are you doing? What are you doing to lose weight?” 

“Auntie, I’m not thinking about my weight.” 


At the time, I was terrified that I had disrespected an elder, but the truth is, I was tired of family members making comments about my body at functions, or in general. This wasn’t my aunt’s first rodeo, but it was time for it to be her last. I’d experienced a few women in my family or close family friends making comments on my curves, and this time in 2019, I was fed up. Whether you’re losing weight, maintaining or gaining, it’s not up to someone to comment on it unwarranted. 

I didn’t “clap back” at my aunt, but I did shut down the notion that she could ever speak on my body again. I could tell from her facial expression she felt embarrassed and disrespected, especially since I corrected her in front of the family. But if you can confidently make public comments about someone’s appearance, you should be fine with any public retorts that come with that as well.

The process of unlearning my insecurities around not only my body, has allowed me to truly show up confidently in any setting, but especially around family members during holidays and birthday gatherings. Here, I feel, is where so many of us experience anxiety because the passive commentary is usually brushed off as normal banter amongst cousins, aunts or friends. It’s been normalized to say things about the little girl going through puberty, the college student home with an extra “freshman 15 pounds”  or the postpartum body of the newest mom in the family. 

The truth is, none of us are alone in this experience. I actually know people who rarely go home because they don’t feel like dealing with negative comments about how they look or how their looks may have changed in between seeing distant family and friends. 

The good thing is that social media has created a space for us to understand that we have not only a right to vent about said treatment but it has also inspired us to shut down these experiences in real life. It’s honestly where I think I developed the guts to say enough was enough at dinner that night in 2019, and I haven’t heard a peep from that auntie since.

Normally, it's a hidden conversation many of us have with ourselves about boundaries; lately, though, more women are feeling the urge to let people know not to open their mouths about their looks. The expectation that Black women are to tolerate crass energy directed towards their appearance—whether on their body's shape size or functionality—have, for some time, been wearing thin.

Esthetician Drew Jones is a plus-size woman who no has no problem demanding respect. “I have had to tell employers, men, family members and random people [to stop their] comments [about my body]. Sometimes people feel guilty and try to alter their perception of fatness and others are stuck in the realm of superficiality,” says Jones. “The irony”, she adds, “is that Black women’s bodies were a source of nutrients for white babies during slavery.  Now, our bodies are sources of inspiration for voluptuous body alterations. Our bodies are a source of inspiration for body positivity—just look at Lizzo. So much criticism has been thrown at our bodies, yet we are the inspiration. 

Wellness content creator Lenora Houseworth, a Chicagoan transplant living in New York City, has been adamant about speaking up when people try to critique her appearance. “I have dealt with a chronic condition so I've definitely had people make comments about my body throughout my life. My weight was also an issue growing up, and to boot, I developed young. When I was younger, I would mostly internalize comments and not say anything, but as I get older, I'll immediately correct people because I am not weak (which is what people tend to think when you have health issues).”

Black women are still continuously disrespected, mimicked, and many times forced under the uber-sexual gaze of society because it’s how society feels most comfortable addressing our bodies. I’ve spoken about this before, and stand on the agency that Black women should and do have over our bodies, and the right for us to exercise that agency.

But now, it seems like the goalpost keeps being moved as we develop the confidence to speak up for ourselves.

If we ask you not to talk about how we’ve gained weight, you’ll say we’re sensitive or insecure. If we say don’t comment about how we’ve lost weight, we should be grateful for the “compliment” that others believe is an acknowledgment of your slimmer shape. It’s exhausting. Former teacher Jaleesa Matthews sums it up best as we text about this very issue . “I think Black women are expected to just shut up and take whatever is thrown at us. Like, if someone catcalls [us], we’re supposed to shut up and feel flattered. If we ignore [the cat calls] then we are considered bitches. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” 

I’d rather us be damned that we did—in the safest way possible, of course—and shut down anyone making comments about our appearances. This kind of encounter doesn’t have to be negative or rowdy.

But for some Black women, the comments made about their bodies can stick with them forever, and not go so well. Laurice Rawls, a beauty influencer manager, recalls a stinging moment like this from her childhood. “The boy I had a crush on at the time called me a ‘fat ass.’ To this day, I can still feel exactly how that little girl felt at that moment: embarrassed, hurt, and how she wanted to disappear forever.” 

Moments like Rawl's experience and my own with my aunt are the perfect examples of where people need to be made aware of their own projections. Hands trembling and all, I was relieved to have finally called my aunt out and to have done so in front of the family. It set the tone for everyone to feel less comfortable making comments about how I look, which I realized had been happening since I was in high school.

Listen, the point is this: Don’t make comments about Black women’s bodies, and speak up when someone does so. Not a fan of conflict? That’s fine. The next time someone says something ridiculous about your body, just hit them with the What do you mean by that? question, and enjoy as they squirm as you pierce into their eyes and await their nonsensical response. You want to make them feel uncomfortable explaining by calling them out on their criticisms. Let them simmer in the embarrassment their words caused us. Do not silently internalize their comments (unless you don’t feel safe speaking up in a particular space).

Houseworth said it best. "Learn how to fall in love with your body—its story, where it has been, what it has survived, what it needs now. Commit to loving every inch of yourself no matter what stage of life you are in. Our bodies change so many times throughout life as women. When you do that, you gain information about yourself that empowers you," she shared. "You learn how to better advocate for yourself and your body and ultimately make healthier choices for yourself across the board” 

She’s right, and the journey will not be easy, but it will be worth it. That same journey she’s speaking of—the one where we truly fall in love with our bodies—is the one that helped me finally stand up to my auntie that day. It’s the same journey I’m still on and I’m happy to know that I’ll never give my body the chance to be disrespected in that way again.