In a society where body and weight discussions are normalized, it can be difficult to break free from the grips of diet culture. Here are a few considerations before you carry on a conversation.
How often do you hear people compliment others on weight loss, or commenting on body size in general?
More often than not, we compliment people on their appearance because we are afraid to be vulnerable and really connect with one another.
People, in general, are afraid to feel their feelings; they are even more afraid of telling others how they feel.
And usually, the first thing we notice about someone is their appearance. So while commenting on appearance or body size may be the easiest option, it’s not always the best option.
Let’s play it out. You know when someone loses weight and people say, “Wow, you look so skinny, what did you do?!”
Now, pause for a second. How do you feel if that happens to you? How do you feel when it happens to others and you overhear it? What do you feel when you say it to someone else?
Maybe you feel great, and accomplished by your new habits, but also wonder what will happen if you gain some of the weight back. Maybe you enjoy the compliment, but inside you feel like another day of counting calories or macros may be the end of you.
Maybe you don’t feel great about yourself because your best friend has lost weight, people are complimenting her, and you are still the same. Maybe you feel jealous or insecure when you say it to someone else. Take a minute to think about this, and think hard.
Do your behaviors change? Do you suddenly want to go on a diet or change your body size? Do you find that you are equating your worth to your body size?
The fact is, when someone is complimented on their new body size, one of these five situations are likely happening:
- That person is actually severely restrictive in their diet. They are avoiding social events, obsessively exercising, micromanaging every bite they put into their mouths, and are generally miserable about how they are controlling their body size. This compliment only reinforces their harmful behaviors.
- It causes inner panic, and may lead them to become fearful of any changes to their body size. Events such as pregnancy, and simply getting older, may cause someone to hyper-focus on food or exercise.
- It reinforces the idea that thinner is better. Thin is not better, and body weight does not equal health. Health cannot be defined by your weight.
- You are saying that the most important things about that person is how they look, even if you don’t really mean it.
- They might be sick and have lost the weight because of the flu, cancer treatment, from depression, or other types of disorders or illnesses. The fact is, you can’t presume to know.
So please, stop and think before you compliment someone on their weight loss or body shape, period.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ever compliment on someone’s appearance. If it’s someone’s wedding, of course, tell them they are beautiful. If someone has a cool outfit, compliment that. The act of complimenting one’s body size, in particular, can cause a lot of inner pain.
Rather, ask how that person is doing, and really mean it. Feel those feelings, and be vulnerable. Compliment them on something else, such as in work, life, adventures, how hilarious they are, how artistic, helpful, and smart they are. It’s a sad fact of life that our society feels a need to comment on body sizes.
But with awareness and recognition, you can change these conversations.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: PRISCILLA DU PREEZ
Rose Mattson, MS, RD is a private practice dietitian who runs a Salt Lake City-based nutrition practice, through which she sees clients both locally and virtually. Specializing in Intuitive Eating, sports nutrition, and digestive disorders, Rose’s mission is to help people find satisfaction and joy in eating all foods, without unnecessary restriction or deprivation. When she’s not working, you can find her outside in the mountains, at the local farmer’s market, or scoping out the most delicious meals in the area.