The Problem with Unsolicited Body Comments

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I’m sure you’ve all seen this happen; some of you may even have experienced it first hand.

You could have been on either side of this conversation. Many of us have.

I’m talking about unsolicited weight comments.

Our society values thinness so highly that we automatically go to compliment people when they have lost weight. ‘Have you lost weight? You look great!’, ‘Oh I bet you feel so much better for it.’, ‘You look amazing, what’s your secret?’

There are so many things wrong with comments like this. You might think you’re being kind, but it’s a loaded conversation.

Firstly, that ‘secret’ might very well be disordered eating. That may or may not be a diagnosable eating disorder, but there are thousands and thousands of people out there who don’t meet the threshold for an eating disorder that still have unhealthy eating patterns fuelled by poor body image and low self esteem.

Secondly, you have no idea what that person’s relationship is with their body, and sometimes throwaway comments like this reinforce their feelings that they need to lose weight, and that they look better when they are thinner. Alternatively, maybe they didn’t actually want to lose weight. Some people don’t, and that’s something we forget.

Thirdly, people are so many things outside of their body that we are much less likely to comment on. How often can you recall saying to somebody how funny they are, or how intelligent you thought a point they made was, or how you noticed a kind gesture that they made and value them as a person? By remarking on people’s bodies, we are reducing each other to the space we inhabit rather than all our other amazing qualities. Maybe that person doesn’t actually care about their weight, size or shape. Maybe that isn’t a compliment at all because they don’t place the same value on it that you do.

Lastly, maybe there is a reason someone’s weight has changed. Maybe they are stressed. Maybe they are sick. Maybe they are pregnant. Maybe these are things they don’t want to talk about, and highlighting it has the potential to make them incredibly uncomfortable.

Even worse than commenting on a person’s weight loss is remarking that they need to lose weight. I can’t first hand express how it feels to have comments like this made to me directly, but as somebody who through no fault of my own places so much worth onto my weight and body, I can only imagine how painful a statement like this would be. Although I’ve never been told I should lose weight, I’ve had many comments about how I’ve gained weight over the course of my recovery, which despite being a necessary part of the journey, is still incredibly painful to hear.

This post isn’t a way for me attack people who have done this. I have complimented people ontheir weight loss too in the past and still catch myself doing it from time to time. It’s not our fault, we are completely conditioned to value appearance, particularly thinness, over almost all other qualities we hold as human beings.

All I am asking is that before the next time you think about commenting on someone’s body without invitation to do so, please think about what that could mean. Maybe they would just take it as a compliment and move on. Or maybe they would just pretend to.

When this situation does arise in the future, and it inevitably will, don’t stop yourself complimenting that person. Just replace it. Think of another quality you value about them that makes them who they are and tell them.

It’s time we started paying more attention to who we are, not how we look.

 

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18 comments

  1. This is so important! I used to limit my comments to positive things only, like if I know a colleague has been going to fitness classes and told me theyre trying to get trim and I notice results or something. But lately and especially after this post I’m just going to refuse to say anything. You’re right, we have no idea what those comments are perceived as to them. I have a rant of my own about this I’m intending to post soon too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so very true. One can never know how harmful commenting one someone else’s body can be. I have more than one friend who have fought to gain weight their entire lives and they don’t want people pointing out how skinny they are. They’re very aware of it. The assumption that skinny=good/happy is SO toxic. I’m really trying to shift my perception of body sizes as “good” or “bad”, but it’s really difficult when you grow up with this concept being drilled into your brain. I wish I didn’t care about my body size, I’d be finally free… I don’t even need to address how wrong it is to tell people to lose weight!
    Another thing that goes hand in hand with this is commenting on people’s eating habits. I struggle with lunch at work so I usually just sit at my desk. A worker asked me today if I was gonna have lunch and another worker said “Fay never eats” and that crushed me. People don’t know how harmful their comments can be…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Totally agree with all of this! I’m certainly not perfect and have to try very hard not to make such comments due to my perception of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ which as you say, is conditioned within us from childhood, but makes me feel guilty nonetheless.
      You’re completely right about the food thing too. It’s a bit of a running joke in my office that I eat the same thing for lunch every day. Sorry you’ve had that experience too, it’s not fun 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There have been times in the past where I cringe looking back now where I’ve passed comment on people’s weight or I’ve said a remark flippantly and then being told 5 years on that person had/has an ED. I spent so much time thinking oh my goodness did I contribute to that? It still makes me annoyed at myself. But posts like this, these types of conversations, these insights are what changes people’s thought patterns from one they’ve always known to one of enlightenment. This message needs to be spread far and wide. We’re more than just how we look. Amazing post lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a really important point to make. Feeling uncomfortable with your body is so common, so I think you’re right in that a lot of the time body comments cause more harm than good. Perhaps a better thing to comment on is someone’s outfit or hairstyle, as these are things that people make an active choice in having and so positive comments can be a lot more feel good!

    Megan // https://pixieskiesblog.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great post, Cara! A couple of years ago, I lost a few stone, and got so many comments about it. I always had mixed feelings because it DID make me smile – I can’t deny that – but as you say, it fed into the idea that people only paid attention to me when I was thinner. Thankfully, I knew everyone enough to know they had the best intentions at heart, and could work it out logically through that, but it is often a lot more complicated than people realise. 💛

    Like

  6. Thank you for this post, I feel this subject is very important. I used to be quite a bit bigger than I am now but have lost weight in the past few years. People have complimened me on the weight loss, and while they mean it from a good place and it’s nice to be complimented, it does make me feel self concsious. I worry about putting weight back on and feel that I’ve “failed” if I’m slightly bigger. (I don’t have an eating disorder but have other mental health issues including depression and anxiey). I’m glad there are places to discuss this. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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