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 on their 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.