I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for as long as I can remember. And as a living, breathing, warm-blooded woman in our world today, I am sadly not alone in this sentiment.
Awhile back though, fed up with obsessing over my weight fluctuating (mainly not in the direction I wanted it to go) I vowed to never weigh myself again. My weight shouldn’t matter – how I physically and mentally feel is what’s important. So, buh bye scales.
But as of recently I lost some weight. Or well, my clothes started fitting more loosely and I had to alter my jeans to keep them from falling down.
And with this change in my body came the “compliments”.
“You look so skinny!”
“You’re so fit.”
“Wow, you look great!”
Almost all of these comments came from people I love dearly and whose words, I know, were laced with the best intentions. And honestly, in the moment, they made me feel amazing. For the first time in my existence on earth, someone had called me (me?!) skinny.
But at the same time I felt torn. Because these comments illustrated a much bigger issue. Our nonchalant nature of commenting on someone else’s body shape or size when we view it as a compliment.
Here’s why that’s a problem.
You don’t know why their body changed
One of the most dangerous aspects of this so commonly-accepted behavior is that you don’t actually know why someone’s weight dropped or body composition changed.
It could be from healthy eating habits and exercise, or it could be from stress, sickness, an eating disorder, depression. Weight is a personal thing, and just because our bodies can be seen in the public, it doesn’t mean they’re public commodities to be commented on.
I can’t pinpoint one reason why my weight dropped – I do try to eat healthy and workout, but the real truth of it is I also dealt with some major stress this past year which affected my appetite, sometimes making it disappear completely.
I highly doubt any of my friends would wish or compliment me on having appetite-diminishing stress. “Wow, you look like you’ve been stressed out of your mind the past few months, but your bod has never looked better!” – said no true friend ever.
Remember, you never really know the full story.
It assumes their body wasn’t “great” before
Our minds are ingrained with before and after makeover images. From Revenge Body (so many things wrong with that show) to People Magazine covers of people becoming “half their size”, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the “befores” of ourselves are lesser beings.
But just as bodies lose weight, they gain it. Weight fluctuates, yet we’re stuck in the same bodies our whole lives. It’s hard enough to make peace with your own body in all its life stages, but even harder when the outside world is telling you at what stage or size your body looks the “best”.
Our bodies should be celebrated and loved for what they do for us – keeping us nourished, taking us places, allowing us to experience sights, tastes, smells and sounds. Your body can do all those things whether you’re 20 lbs heavier or lighter.
It perpetuates the idea that we value appearance over everything else
It’s time we get more creative with our compliments. We oftentimes default to positively commenting on someone’s appearance because it’s the easiest, most accessible thing to compliment on. But when I really think about it, I could give a rat’s ass what my friends’ hair looks like or how toned their abs are.
I don’t think there’s anything innately harmful in commenting on someone’s fabulous dress or lipstick color, but what’s stopping us from digging deeper?
A friend of mine said that the best compliment she’d received recently was when someone told her, “I love being around you because you make me feel like a kid again.” You would feel fantastic if someone gave you a compliment that personal. About who you are as a person rather than what your appearance says.
So the next time you go to compliment your girlfriend on how “tiny” she looks in her high-waisted shorts, take a step back and remember you don’t know the whole story, and that what really makes her beautiful or fabulous has absolutley nothing to do with that.
If you believe a friend of yours is struggling with an eating disorder or might be yourself, here is a great resource.