Responses to age / spinster / ugly shaming
March 4, 2018 11:32 PM   Subscribe

I hear backhanded comments against people (including myself, and maybe I'm biased but it does seem skewed towards women) about people them being old / unattractive / fat / unmarried - and I want to take a stand but don't always have the words and am often too D: to think during those moments.

I end up stiffily saying "I think she looks great actually", looking dismayed or changing the subject but would like to invite you all to help me with compiling a list of scripts / responses. This under-the-belt stereotypical pidgenholing stuff makes me lose faith in humanity and I feel like I need to stick it to the man LOL. Please help me come up with some backpocket sentences for emergencies! Thank you! :)

Also any tips on idealistic fatigue? Life does not live up to my ideals. It upsets me sometimes. How can I refresh my sad soul on those days? Would really like to hear your tips and tricks.
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Human Relations (35 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I would take the emphasis away from her looks and towards her achievements/accomplishments.

"Did you know she just published her third book?"

"Did you know she just got promoted?"

"Did you know she just won [award]"

"Did you know she's an outstanding mentor?"

Message: what someone looks like is not the important thing about that person.
posted by Murderbot at 11:37 PM on March 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

"I'm not sure why what you think of her looks is relevant."
posted by praemunire at 11:40 PM on March 4, 2018 [46 favorites]

Granted, not appropriate for all situations, but I've found that an incredulous "what the fuck?!" response to bone-headed, judgmental, hateful remarks will usually end that line of conversation. I think of it as a profane version of "I'm not sure why you think her looks are relevant."

I probably use it too often, but I'm all tapped on patience for dealing with this nonsense. I don't expect to change the minds of adults who think like this, I just want to shame them into silence.
posted by she's not there at 12:05 AM on March 5, 2018 [19 favorites]

The Miss Manners version of "what the fuck" is raised eyebrows, an incredulous "wow", and a pregnant pause before changing the subject, which might be more appropriate in some situations.
posted by brainmouse at 12:25 AM on March 5, 2018 [32 favorites]

Another non-sweary version of wtf: a raised eyebrow accompanied by an ‘And?’ like you‘re struggling to understand how the shit this person just spewed has any relevance whatsoever. Works a treat.
posted by Tamanna at 12:29 AM on March 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

[pause, stare, tilt head in confusion] "What's your motivation for saying something like that?" "Why would you talk about her that way?"
This can sometimes be extra effective with a friendly, genuinely curious tone and a facial expression that shows you fully expect an answer. You probably won't get one, but it can be disarming to the kind of people who do this sort of idle gossip/cruelty thing out of habit.
posted by gennessee at 12:29 AM on March 5, 2018 [22 favorites]

"You knock people down a lot."
posted by trig at 12:31 AM on March 5, 2018 [14 favorites]

‚Oh come on‘ or ‚really?‘ usually works for me. If not, I escalate to ‚that‘s rude.‘
posted by The Toad at 12:34 AM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

If it's a person you see regularly, you could try asking them not to talk like that around you. It worked for me with my mother, whose #1 topic of conversation in public used to be pointing out other women's supposed imperfections. I finally said one day, "You know, I've noticed I feel a lot better about my own body since I made an effort to try to see the beauty in other people's and not focus on their weight, their age, and so on." After that, I reminded her about that a couple more times, and I think at least once I explicitly asked, "So can you please not talk like that around me? It makes me feel worse about myself too." And it has totally worked. She almost never says that stuff anymore, and sometimes starts to, catches herself, and stops.

If it's someone you will never see again, then yeah, a clever retort might be better. But for people you have to live with/work with, I think it's worth explaining what you (and they) might get out of stopping talking that way.
posted by lollusc at 12:50 AM on March 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

I'm fond of a sarcastic 'I hear she speaks very highly of you, too' rejoinder.
posted by h00py at 1:10 AM on March 5, 2018 [35 favorites]

Also, I’m not a fan of Murderbot’s response - nobody should have to justify their existence via their accomplishments. Mediocre white dudes certainly don’t.
posted by Tamanna at 1:57 AM on March 5, 2018 [45 favorites]

I often find questioning works really well for things like this. In your least annoyed/offended/confrontational voice just ask quite simply - "What do you mean when you say that?" And keep that kind of question up after each answer. For example "Why is that bad then?" and then "What is wrong with XYZ?"

People tend to like to get away with saying the shitty Thing without having to have it examined. And so they will be discomforted when forced to answer until it is really obvious how problematic their comment was. Their initial comment is broken down with each answer until there is no where left to go but backtrack or be really quite explicit in their nastiness (and suffer judgement for it).

They key is not to attack them, because then you are simply asking a reasonable question and the exchange can only end with their increasing sense of embarrassment. Add to this - you not being annoyed or angry will leave them with no ability to claim their comments were the result of some kind of provocation. I personally think this is actually more successful than a put down of some sort because generally the power of being disapproved of is quite intense for most people.

TLDR - Let them dig their own grave.
posted by TheGarden at 2:02 AM on March 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

I can't remember where I heard this - probably here - but it seems to fit; gasp a little like you're shocked, and then say, "Wow, you must be so embarrassed you just said that!"
posted by Jubey at 2:30 AM on March 5, 2018 [13 favorites]

old / unattractive / fat / unmarried

For the old/unattractive/fat stuff, if the speaker is younger, I might remind them that time comes for us all eventually, and they will get old one day, and they may very well get fat and wrinkly too. And then there will be younger people mocking them, and they won't enjoy it one bit.

If the speaker is a relatively caring person who's just mindlessly repeating a common but nasty belief about old/unattractive/fat women, I might remind them how much of this is related to income level. I know the older I get (I'm 41) the more I notice how my richer friends tend look glowing and well-rested, while the rest of us tend to show the signs of age a lot more. Because regular facials and treatments and luxury vacations and the best skincare and doctors will do a LOT for your looks, while being broke will leave you looking like 41 difficult years of life whacked you upside the head. I also notice how much of this is genetic - some people just stay thinner and show fewer outward signs of aging, and it's pretty random. Either way, income and genetics are very cruel things to mock people over, and even someone who thinks it's funny to say "heh she let herself go" or whatever, might not want to go that far when they realize what they're really saying.

For the single/spinster thing, this is hard. I wish I knew the answer. I find it difficult to do this without sounding like I'm shaming people for being divorced or in bad relationships. Which of course is not what you want to do. But if you can get the tone right, it's interesting to simply point out how isn't it weird that in our culture, not being married is considered a worse life outcome than being in an unhappy relationship or marrying and divorcing the wrong guy (even twice or thrice.)

Actually, where I've seen the single-shaming the most recently is regarding men, specifically men who are Nazis or lean that way. Like, "That Nazi is clearly a violent white supremacist asshole because he's single/sexually inexperienced/undesirable to women." Which really worries me as a single person, because we don't need yet another negative thing associated with us, and even more so as a prime target of Nazis, because this is not an effective method of fighting fascism.

Also, I’m not a fan of Murderbot’s response - nobody should have to justify their existence via their accomplishments. Mediocre white dudes certainly don’t.

I agree with this 100%. The only thing worse than the "women must be hot, ageless, and coupled to be valid human beings" thing is the "single/ugly/fat women must be ridiculously accomplished to make up for their deficits" thing.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:21 AM on March 5, 2018 [16 favorites]

If you hear this repeatedly from a particular person, I like "I notice that you criticize others [women] a lot - is that something you've noticed yourself doing?" or something similar. Put it right back on them, because it's a choice to go through life criticizing other people over things that don't affect them at all in any way and are not important.
posted by Frowner at 4:49 AM on March 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

When someone does that I don’t want to help them unpack their feelings or talk more about it. My response is, “wow, mean much?” And then “no, really...not cool.”

My go-to for when my soul hurts is watching videos of the Chilean miners being rescued. I watch the first one and the last one.
posted by kimberussell at 5:06 AM on March 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

To some degree it depends on the person and our relationship and whether this happens in one-on-one conversations or in groups. If my sibling said something like "GOD, Mrs Till is so OLD." I might sarcastically say something like "Yeah, what an asshole, living into her 90s like that. Someone should turn her in."

Assuming that people who say these things are people you don't know well enough for that, here are some other ideas:

1) Completely ignore the statement. People did this to me when I was younger, and particularly with people I respected I got the message - what I said did not deserve a response and I was not being as clever as I thought.

1a) Give them a look, like "really? seriously?" and then talk about something else. "Fred, I need the numbers for last week's widget production."

2) Say something nice.
"What a loser, still not married at 35."
"What? Janet is a wonderful person. I think you'd really like her if you got to know her." Or:
"Oh, I love Janet. She's one of the kindest people I know"

3) "Please don't talk about my friends that way." or "I wish you wouldn't talk about people like that in front of me." (I'd use this only with someone I was on pretty good terms with, an enemy/troll might decide it's fun to make you uncomfortable).

4) "Why would you say that?"

5) Walk away

6) "That's not very nice."

7) "Huh." or "Wow."

Look for friends who are mature, decent, kind people. Sorry you're dealing with this - good luck!
posted by bunderful at 5:20 AM on March 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

"I sincerely doubt she's interested in your opinion."

Sometimes I go with, "That's really shallow," or "I find in general that only very insecure people feel the need to judge others' bodies/lives/whatever." That's a bit of a nuclear option but when I'm very upset/angry with the line of discussion, sometimes I'm just flat-out honest about how unattractive their judginess is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:26 AM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Look them straight in the eye and say- "I am surprised you would say that." And then say nothing else, let the uncomfortable silence sink in, do not try and ease what you say, or give in to societal norms to make them feel better- let it be known by your look and your silence that the what they said is totally unacceptable.
posted by momochan at 6:42 AM on March 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

"Looked in the mirror lately?/Grow up." Women will be shamed no matter what choices we make or what we look like, it's an impossible tightrope, you can't win. When you find yourself being judged by people that say this kind of shit to you, try to remember that they will judge you anyway if they want to. Their opinion literally doesn't matter. It's hard to, but try to let it go and value the positive people in your life and the good things about yourself. No one's perfect, certainly not these assholes. In my case, medication for anxiety also helped.
posted by faustian slip at 6:55 AM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I hear this body shaming stuff and usually say 'good job you're perfect, hay' / 'good job you're not shallow and care about those things, right?' or 'wot, are the mirrors all broke at your place mate?'

Or just 'Really??' / 'Now you're making me cross!' / 'knock it off'
posted by honey-barbara at 7:20 AM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I personally like the "why do you think your opinion of her looks is relevant?" line of response, but fair warning - you can get some nasty responses to that. Some people (usually older white men) respond quite poorly to having someone question whether or not their opinion is needed in a given moment.
posted by lunasol at 7:36 AM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

The best technique for dealing with unwanted criticism is to agree with the criticism. The people offering the criticism are usually doing so to upset you. When you show them that it does not upset you, they will stop.

This doesn't work when other people are the object of criticism, of course. When that happens, you can say one or two nice things about the person to extoll their virtues. Most people are physically uncompelling, the majority of Americans are overweight, and even people who are thin and good-looking can have a shitty (or no!) personality. "Sticking it to the man" is an understandable impulse, but consider whether or not it is a winning strategy. You don't control what other people do and say, but you do control what you put out there. If the world has more, and not less, hatred after you speak, then reflect on how your thoughts and actions shape that world.

Ideological fatigue? Hobbes wrote that life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Now it's like that, only longer. If you don't already meditate, I highly recommend trying it, particularly the technique of mindfulness. If it takes, you can read out from your practice to learn more about Bhuddism, which can help you acknowledge your thoughts without reacting. This is the closest you can come to being a deity in this mortal realm. And dieties are rarely bothered by snark; they have too much shit to do.
posted by Mr. Fig at 7:41 AM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have the same problem as you, but I find I can usually get out, "Wow, that's really unkind."

As far as idealistic fatigue, my go-to is to sit on the couch with the cats and watch cooking shows and/or old Eurovision song contests. Add wine as appropriate.
posted by JanetLand at 8:07 AM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you're feeling bitter/sweary etc as I often do (*may be best left in your head. YMMV):

Fat? Ugly? "Hmph. Good thing y'all aren't fucking, then."

Old? "Yeah, being that ancient must be miserable. I hope you never get that old!"

And if the target of these comments needs a reply for themselves: I still occasionally hear the coughing/snorting/tuneless whistling (wtf is that?) thing men must do as though I asked for their assessment. I just say like it's to myself "YUP Yup yupyupyup. Here for you." It tends to stop abruptly.

- and they will get old one day ... if they're lucky.
posted by JulesER at 8:33 AM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

People talk shit, use racism/ sexism/ fat-shaming/ ageism/ plain old meanness to the extent that they are allowed to. No small amount of it is testing to see how bigoted you are, how much they can get away with. Some of it is aggression if they know it bothers you and others. Develop your own sliding scale. Learn side-eye, eye-roll, sharp gaze, intent stare. All are useful before and in addition to a verbal response. If they use coded language, ask right out Was that a euphemism for some bigoted nonsense? Make fun of bigotry Srsly? You're making fun of that person because she had the nerve to get old? Isn't that kind of ignorant? For real? You care about blindly following the fashion industry? or a nice sarcastic Yeah, isn't it *unbearable* when someone's eyebrows aren't totes perfect. Jeez. Keep a mental list of safe topics and change the subject. Did you guys read that article about legal pot in Sunday's paper? and carry on. This makes it a little hard for the jerk to escalate. Thank you for calling out bigotry and assholery; it matters.
posted by theora55 at 8:50 AM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Completely ignore the statement.

I don't know your location, but as a caveat to the above statement: I've noticed that ignoring as a means of communicating displeasure or disagreement with a statement works pretty much as intended in European culture, generally, but less so in American culture. Speaking from experience, in the States ignoring an unpleasant statement comes off as either one literally did not hear (and the statement gets repeated, more loudly) or as snobbery. Neither perception will help to correct the person's offensive view, or even just shame them if that's all you want to do - not if this is a person who doesn't automatically equate a non-response with tacit disagreement/displeasure. Silence is a useful means to avoid escalating an argument, but if your goal is to make it clear that you find their statement offensive, it's more effective to actually use words, however overtly or less so.

Depending on where you are I wpul
posted by Crystal Fox at 9:30 AM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you hear this repeatedly from a particular person, I like "I notice that you criticize others [women] a lot - is that something you've noticed yourself doing?" or something similar. Put it right back on them, because it's a choice to go through life criticizing other people over things that don't affect them at all in any way and are not important.

Can attest that this approach worked wonders on my partner, who had a similar bad habit of criticizing strangers (though blessedly not in the gendered ways you describe).

As for people who would say such a thing to YOU, to your FACE, they deserve absolutely no consideration whatsoever and you have my blessing to give them the alarmed Miss Manners expression followed by the cut direct.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:23 AM on March 5, 2018

I've become a fan of the very direct but calm "Hmm..that offends me, and now I'm going to tell you why: [little sincere lecture]." I care very little if I am found grating or humorless during this little sincere lecture (I am hilarious enough on other topics to make up for it).Mostly dudes get very apologetic once I lecture, but YMMV--the dudes I encounter tend to be coming from a place of ineptitude and ignorance rather than outright hostility.
posted by millipede at 11:21 AM on March 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Sorry. Hit "post" too soon. Depending on where you are, I would adjust your response accordingly.
posted by Crystal Fox at 12:45 PM on March 5, 2018

1) Completely ignore the statement. People did this to me when I was younger, and particularly with people I respected I got the message - what I said did not deserve a response and I was not being as clever as I thought.

To clarify my earlier comment - this worked on me for a few reasons. I'm hypersensitive (despite my tendency to blurt foolish things) and eager to please, I respected the people I was talking to, and the context was a one-on-one back and forth - so the lack of response stood out. I grew up in the US in rural flyover country ... I haven't heard of this as a cultural thing before, but perhaps it is. Anyway, this working depends a lot on the relationship and the individual.

Oh - one more thing that's worked for me at times is "I really don't know how to respond to that."
posted by bunderful at 3:33 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

This comment tells me much more about you than it does about them...
posted by Jubey at 4:16 PM on March 5, 2018

Asshole; "Wow, look how old and decrepit that woman is!"
You; (deadpan) "Well, we better hope you die young, then."
posted by Jubey at 4:20 PM on March 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

Maybe something along the lines of : "They look fine to me, and happy. I think it says something sad about you that that isn't how you see it." Or if the person doesn't look happy enough that it would be worth mentioning: "It doesn't say anything good about you that you felt it necessary to make that remark."
posted by kelper at 4:30 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I usually go with "I'm sure she'd be devastated to know you're not attracted to her" and then let it sink in with a very judgy silence.
posted by Tarumba at 8:29 AM on March 9, 2018

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