It’s never nice to critique somebody’s body in their social media post, nor to tell them they’re doing an exercise wrong (even if you really think you’re right). For men, negative comments like these are an occasional annoyance. For many women, they’re constant. So let’s talk about what you can do about them.
How to recognize an asshole comment
Before we get into the actionable tips, I’d like to take a minute to describe the problem space. An asshole comment is one that is designed to make you feel awful, or that may be of unclear intention but definitely makes you feel awful. These could be comments saying that you’re ugly, or shouldn’t be doing the thing you’re doing. They can be subtle negging or outright insults or hate speech. Basically, you’ll know it when you see it.
I’m sure a bunch of dudes are racing to the comments right now to say that I’m getting worked up over nothing, and that a few asshole replies are no big deal and anyone who is bothered needs to get a thicker skin. Yeah, it would be nice if this were a small problem, easily solved. But it’s not.
Negative comments and sleazy backhanded compliments abound online. If you haven’t seen them, it may be because you keep your stuff only visible to a few trusted friends—a valid choice. Or it may be because what you post doesn’t make people mad. If you’re a woman lifting heavy weights, for example, or a fat person exercising, the very fact that you exist is going to make people mad. They may reply with outright insults, or they may disguise their scorn as concern that you’re going to get hurt or that you’ll never find a partner.
And it’s not just sexist comments: Plenty of shit out there is racist, fatphobic, transphobic, and more. I’m going to focus on the sexist ones in this piece, but let’s be clear: Everybody deserves to use their body in whatever way they want, including to play sports or to exercise. Everybody deserves to share as much or as little as they want with their chosen audience. And nobody deserves toxic garbage in their replies. Don’t like what you see? Keep scrolling.
Don’t assume they know what they’re talking about
Outright insults are easy to spot, but often negativity comes in the form of comments on what you’re actually doing. That bench press is cheating, they’ll say. Or you’re squatting wrong.
If somebody gives you unwanted advice, you do not have to listen to them. You don’t even have to argue—but more about that in a minute. First, try to differentiate good-faith, actually helpful advice from the bullshit that masquerades as such. (As a general rule: good-faith, actually helpful advice is most likely to come from somebody you actually asked.)
Especially when you’re new to lifting, and if you’ve accepted the premise that good form is important, you may be tempted to see a critical comment as possibly hitting on a truth. If somebody tells you you’re doing a lift wrong, you might automatically think, “Oh shit, I better figure out how to fix that!”
Look, it even happens to me. I’ll post a deadlift, and some concern troll will say something about my back rounding, and I’ll rewatch my video trying to figure out what they see. I know I kept my back tight, I’ll say to myself, but did they see something I didn’t?
That’s a natural response, but try to catch yourself when you react that way. If a comment hits a nerve, ask yourself two questions:
Is this a person I would seek out for their expertise? If you wouldn’t ask Random No Public Pictures Bro for his advice, why would you take that advice when it’s given unsolicited?
Do I actually want a form check? Most of us already know what we’re working on. My coach has been helping me improve my snatches for over a year by giving me one cue to work on, then another, then another. It’s a process, and it’s working. Even if you want a form check from people online, that’s a request to make thoughtfully.
Even if you don’t have a coach, you still have the right to take charge of your own training, and to decide what you’re working on and who you want to take advice from. If you’re truly spooked by a troll comment, don’t forget you can send the video to your coach or trusted friend to ask “Hey, am I rounding my back here?”
But please remember that not all advice is good advice. In fact, some of the loudest reply guys have the worst advice. I will never get over the ease with which random gym bros will tell an elite female powerlifter that she’s not doing a “real” bench press if her back is arched, or that sumo deadlifts are “cheating.” Sorry, dudes, both of those things are allowed by the rules, and when a competitor is lifting in the way that’s most advantageous for their body, they would be stupid not to. You get points based on how much weight you put up, not on whether some dude with a blurry profile picture thinks your lift looked good.
Honestly, a lot of these comments come from a place of jealousy. Angry dudes (and they’re not always dudes, but honestly: usually dudes) will see a respectable feat of strength from somebody who doesn’t look like a “real” lifter to them, and instead of questioning their own biases, they’ll start looking for ways to make themselves feel superior. Telling you you’re doing it wrong is just their way to take you down a peg and make themselves feel good. You don’t have to play along.
You don’t have to argue
Alright, so you got a bullshit comment and you know it’s bullshit. While it might be tempting to tell that troll just why they’re wrong, that’s not your only option.
Will you enjoy arguing with them? Will it be worth your time? What is the payoff? Sometimes, if the nasty comment is on a post that’s not yours, replying to it will send a message to bystanders that unacceptable comments will be met with pushback. It’s a tiny thing, but it helps. (Beware, depending on the context, people might pile on to you. The world is not fair.)
So let’s talk about some of the other options.
Delete, report, block
If the insulting or unhelpful comment is on your turf, like a comment on an Instagram post you made, consider just straight up deleting it.
The troll wants attention, either from others or from you, by making you mad. Deleting the comment denies them that satisfaction. It also maintains your page as an asshole-free zone, which is, perhaps, the way you like it.
On a forum like twitter, you can’t delete other people’s tweets, but you may be able to hide their replies. You can also block them, which makes it harder for your followers to see what they said, and for theirs to see you.
I don’t like to mute or hide people when they’re jerks. Muting and hiding are for when you’re content to let something exist, you just don’t personally want to see it. But if somebody is being an asshole on my turf, I want them to be gone, or at the very least disconnected from me. Delete. Block.
If there is hate speech involved, or anything where you think the platform’s reporting system will be on your side, report them.
And if there’s a comment thread where the replies keep rolling in, but you’ve decided to leave your contribution up, look for a setting (like “unfollow replies” on Facebook) that at least stops notifying you about them.
Sometimes I get mad at a troll, and then I get mad at myself for getting mad. Why should this person live rent-free in my head? In this case, catharsis can be helpful.
You don’t need to involve the awful person in this whatsoever. Just take a screenshot, and then bring that screenshot to your most supportive group text so you and your friends can roast the person privately. Social support is huge as a coping strategy. You feel less alone, and it can help you get your confidence back.
On Instagram, you can always tag @you.look.like.a.man for sexist comments. Strongwoman Jessica Fithen, who runs the account, reshares them and sometimes adds commentary. I avoided following the account when I first found out about it, because it can be full of toxic stuff. But the more I interact with it, the more I appreciate that there’s a community of strong women out there calling people out on their bullshit. Fithen estimates that about 90% of the “hateful, unnecessary comments” she highlights come from men; she wrote a blog post here about what’s she’s learned from a year and a half running the page.
What if I know the person?
Every now and then, people leave comments that they truly don’t realize are harmful. Sometimes, unwanted form check comments will fall into this category. Sometimes overly sexualized compliments also come from a place of ignorance.
If you know the person and want to salvage the friendship—this is absolutely an optional step—consider pointing out what they’re doing and why it’s harmful.
I once had somebody comment that my squat depth was “erotic.” Gross, but I could tell from context that it was supposed to be an actual compliment. That absolutely does not make it okay, but he seemed like a basically nice person otherwise and we had some mutual friends. I didn’t block him. But when he did it a second time, I DM’d him to ask if he realized he was coming off as super creepy. He immediately apologized, saying he hadn’t thought about it that way, and never did it again.
To be totally, absolutely clear: You do not owe anyone this sort of second chance. It is a gift that you may choose to bestow if you are feeling generous. Otherwise, there’s a good enough toolkit in deleting, blocking, reporting, ignoring, and roasting.