I admit to getting frustrated on an almost daily basis when I hear the things that come out of the mouths of well meaning people regarding other people’s bodies. Sometimes referred to as “body talk”, it has become socially acceptable. Sometimes I feel we all have been brainwashed. It seems to me that everyone assumes we all have the same goal and that is to be thin. And so when someone loses weight, everyone gushes their praise. At other times, we have no problem pointing out someone’s weight gain. How does this affect the person receiving this praise or criticism?
Take it from me, you will never know. From my experience as a dietitian who has worked with individuals with eating disorders and weight issues for many years, it is rarely good. Some people who have lost weight are suffering on a daily basis from rigid eating rules and guilt around eating. They may be exercising compulsively and unable to stop (I remember a patient of mine getting very upset when she was on the treadmill at the gym and unable to stop,and a woman came up to her and said she wished she could be like her. She was suffering and yet this stranger thought she was paying her a compliment). Others have told me when they get compliments for losing weight (“you look so good!) they have wondered if they looked bad before. The hardest thing for me is when a parent points to their child’s belly and says “look at his belly! Show her!” And I can tell by the look of horror on the child’s face he wants to crawl into a hole. Even his own mother thinks he is fat.
So am I saying we should never pay a compliment to someone who has made some healthy changes in their life? Not at all! But instead of commenting on someone’s body, why not mention how nice it is to see them happy and energetic? Or admire the physical accomplishments such as running a road race after they quit smoking? Think about focusing on healthy accomplishments verses physical changes. And definitely never criticize someone’s body. Would you want someone critiquing yours?
I still suggest not saying anything to a stranger or someone you don’t know well, because you may be hurting them more than helping. And just for awhile, pay attention to all the “body talk” you hear (or do!) in your life. Awareness is the first step to change.