Microaggression - Exploring How Appearance-based Affirmations Land

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDCES

Affirmations are an important micro-skill needed when practicing Motivational Interviewing (MI). However, understanding the true power of affirmations can be lost when learning how to use MI with clients. The following story can help you comprehend the value of affirmations.

Imagine you are on a beach, where there are rocks and gold coins. All around you are loads of rocks. Some big, some small, so you pick up some rocks. At the end of the walk, your pockets are overflowing with heavy rocks. The next day you take the same walk and instead of picking up rocks, you decide to pick up the gold coins which are less common and hidden among the rocks.

In one walk, you picked up what was obvious - rocks. In this story, rocks are a metaphor for problems or the areas where you are struggling to do better. The brain is hard-wired to focus on the struggle, however, pause and consider, does having more rocks improve your life or just weigh you down? On the other walk, you looked for and trained your eyes to see the less common coins hidden among the rocks. The coins represent all you are doing well - what is working for you - and everyone is doing some things that are working well.

Affirmations are a lot like gold coins. When we offer them to our clients, at the end of the session their pockets are filled with a clear sense of what is working best for them!


How Are Weight-Inclusive Affirmations Different?

If you are in the habit of commenting on a person’s appearance, outfit, or weight, you might be unintentionally feeding diet culture, gender-based stereotypes, and weight stigma.

Really? How?

Diet culture is huge, and it impacts us in many overt and subtle ways, including how we compliment a person. For example, if someone says, “Oh you look great!” Is it code for saying they look ‘thin’ or they have ‘lost weight’?

When you look in the mirror and think you look ‘good’ is it because you look ‘thin’ or ‘slender’ in a particular outfit?

If someone says, “You look so pretty in that outfit.” Could this comment reinforce the internalized pressure you feel to look attractive? Does it assume or reinforce the stereotype that part of a woman’s ‘job’ is to be attractive?


Affirmations

I get it, unpacking diet culture is complex because it intersects with gender, feminism, and internalized weight stigma. Adding to the complexity is understanding there is external pressure - voices, comments, and norms coming from outside forces like social media, medical professionals, and family. There are also internalized pressures – the inner voice repeating stigmatizing comments, opinions, or thoughts that have been unintentionally consumed.

Appearance-based compliments land as micro-aggressions and are often triggering - no matter the intention.

Here is the great news! When you shift your affirmations to be weight inclusive you are helping your clients start to see all the “coins” in plain sight. Affirmations work because they highlight or call attention to a specific helpful effort/behavior, not outcomes! Affirmations have been shown to support change and increase motivation because they help your client identify, focus on, and remember what is working or effective for them.

Give it a spin at your next appointment, try sprinkling in non-appearance-based affirmations such as:

  • “You value learning about diabetes.”
  • “You are making time to learn about diabetes.”
  • “Thank you for helping me understand what is working for you.”
  • “Thanks for bringing [blood sugar, logs, questions, books, apps, etc.] to this appointment.”

Learn more about weight-inclusive care by enrolling in one of the courses offered by the WN4DC Symposium. The WN4DC Symposium is a professional continuing education provider offering weight-inclusive education for HAES-inspired professionals like you!