I’ve done it a million times.
I see a friend for the first time in a while, and I immediately say, “You look great!”
I tell an acquaintance, “Wow! You have great muscle definition in your arms!”
I smile at a friend and say, “You look like you’ve lost weight!”
While your words may have had good intentions as a compliment, commenting on someone’s body is a social norm that needs to end.
Praising someone’s weight loss might feel like you are congratulating them on their hard work, but let’s dive deeper into this socially accepted practice. Commenting on a smaller body size perpetuates the idea that smaller is inherently better, despite the fact that healthy people are built in all shapes and sizes. Value is immediately placed on the person’s looks, their body size, and their aesthetics. Basically, a person’s body is objectified.
Another person’s body is none of our business, and we don’t know their story. My mother had cancer when I was 20 and the doctors told her that if she started losing weight, the cancer was winning. Weight loss wasn’t considered something to celebrate, it was feared.
For a person with an eating disorder (ED), commenting on their looks or appearance can trigger extreme feelings of success or failure. A person with an ED might feel compelled to engage in unhealthy behaviors to keep receiving compliments. Positive comments on a smaller body size might result in severely restricted eating or overexercising to maintain that size. Negative comments about a person’s body can cause immense pain and feelings of shame, causing the ED to grow.
Commenting on weight loss isn’t the only problem. “You look so thin! You look hungry” can imply that a thin body is sickly or that the person may be starving themselves. The person may have a naturally smaller body size or may be sick and doesn’t want people to know. “I just found the best diet! I’d love to email you the details!” doesn’t comment directly on a person’s body but implies that the person is overweight and healthy. Just don’t.
Every single body on this planet is different. Two people having the exact same diet and exercise routine won’t look the same. We are different shapes. We are different sizes. We need to lose society’s image of the “perfect body” because that image can be destructive.
What can replace these out-dated phrases when we see someone?
You look so happy today!
I’m so happy to see you!
I haven’t seen you in so long! How have you been?
Compliments can still be given. Comment on a person’s willingness to help someone else, their brilliant mind, the amazing presentation, or their latest accomplishments. The possibilities are endless. Making this change may not be easy for many of us, but it is worth the effort.