We live in a society where “You look great, have you lost weight?” is seen as a normal greeting. I choose to surround myself with body-positive and health at every size aligned individuals. Due to this, sometimes I forget just how prevalent diet-culture and fat-phobia is.
Recently, I went to a party where comments about people’s bodies and weight seemed to be the initial topics of conversation. I overheard numerous conversations congratulating others for their weight loss or thinness.
I truly believe that people often do not intend to hurt others by exclaiming, “You look so thin, that’s awesome,” or “Did you lose weight? How great,” or even, “You got bigger.” In light of that, the following are three reasons why you should never comment on someone’s weight.
1. You cannot tell anything about a person’s health, happiness or life circumstances based on their weight.
We live in a society where often weight loss is perceived as “good” and weight gain is seen as “bad.” This fundamental assumption is inherently flawed. Weight loss and gain tells you nothing about a person’s health, happiness, habits, or life circumstances. The person that you are praising for their weight loss could be suffering from a life-threatening eating disorder, cancer, depression, grief, the diet-binge cycle, intense self-hatred, or numerous other issues. The person that you are judging for their weight gain may be happy, healthy, in recovery from an eating disorder, finally letting go of the diet mentality, etc.
Being thin is not “good” and being fat is not “bad.” There shouldn’t be this sense of morality surrounding weight. Additionally, our bodies are meant to change throughout our lives. This is part of being a human being and nothing to be ashamed of. All bodies are good bodies, but more importantly people’s worth is not based upon their weight or shape.
2. Weight-related comments can be highly triggering for people.
There are so many examples of how weight-related comments can trigger people. For instance, we know that for those in recovery from an eating disorder, weight-related comments can be incredibly triggering and can serve to fuel their disorder or cause a relapse. It’s also important to note that you cannot tell who has an eating disorder based on their physical appearance. People with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.
Let’s say that someone has simply lost weight on a diet and you applaud them on their “weight loss.” Since we know that diets have around a 95% “failure” rate when it comes to maintaining weight loss in the long-term, this “praise” will only serve to make them feel worse when they inevitably gain the weight back. This can serve to perpetuate the diet-binge cycle, which has been shown to have highly detrimental effects in regards to people’s health and happiness.
3. It shifts focus away from things that are actually important.
I am sometimes struck by how I can be among a group of ambitious successful women who have amazing careers and are raising children, yet the conversation is primarily focused around dieting and weight-related concerns. These are women who have achieved incredible things and yet they are choosing to focus on something so trivial and meaningless. I do not blame them, as this is largely a cultural and societal issue.
Body image issues and diet-culture impact both men and women. However, I do think that particularly as women it’s important to note that a focus on these issues often keeps us from “playing big” in other areas of our lives. Diet-culture and a fixation on thinness actually rose in prominence around the time that women began to gain more political rights in our society.
Additionally, It’s sad to me that people will approach someone that they haven’t seen in a long time and the first comment that they think to make is about the individual’s weight. What if instead you asked them about their passions, their relationships, and how they are doing in general? There are so many more important and interesting things to focus on than a person’s weight or eating habits.
By focusing on appearance and weight, you are perpetuating a culture where the female candidate for president is critiqued on her outfits instead of her politics. Ultimately, body policing of women is a social justice issue. You can be part of the solution and not the problem.
What to Say if Someone Comments on Your Weight
The following are some simple suggestions for what you can say if someone comments on your weight.
“You look great! Did you lose weight?”
- I choose not to focus on my weight. There are so many more interesting things about me.
- No clue. I don’t weigh myself. So how has your family been?
- I feel great and that’s all that matters.
- Nope. I just look and feel great.
- I don’t really find that question appropriate.
“Have you gained weight since I last saw you?”
- I’m happy and healthy, thanks for noticing.
- Is weight something that you focus on?
- No clue. I don’t tie my self-worth to a number on a scale.
- I’m trying not to focus on my weight, so I’d rather you not comment on it.
- Yep! (with a smile).
- I don’t think that’s an appropriate question. My body is nobody else’s business.
Ultimately, your worth and your value do not come from your appearance, the number on a scale, or your body. Your value lies in the kindness that you extend to others, the spark in your eyes when you laugh, the way that you pursue your passions, and your relationships. You are worthy of love and belonging. You are enough, just as you are.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer has a private practice specializing in working with adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders (including binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and OSFED), body image issues, anxiety, and survivors of trauma. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD. Jennifer offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website at www.jenniferrollin.com