As a person who has seen their friends go through an eating disorder firsthand (and almost had one herself), I cannot express enough how important it is for everyone to read this article, and think before they talk to anyone about their bodies. Generally speaking, we can all agree on the fact that feeling entitled to comment on someone’s body and making fun of them – as a joke or even an insult in the middle of an argument – is an unacceptable form of bullying, which we do not tolerate. But I’m here to talk to those with somewhat good intentions, who meet someone they haven’t seen in a while (cue pandemic), a friend maybe, and notice a massive change in their appearance: they lost weight! Like, a lot!
And I get it, you want them to feel good about themselves, show them their effort is acknowledged, you want to encourage them to keep going and support them. But let me ask you a question: why do you think an automatic loss in weight is a good thing? Why is it “normal” to compliment weight loss in our culture? What does that say about how we think about the opposite – weight gain? How would other people who are insecure about their body feel if you make that exclamation toward a friend in front of them? We have to be very careful of how making this assumption immediately or considering this a normal course of action is problematic. Also, what you don’t realize is that you might be indirectly pushing them into unhealthy eating/exercising habits, supporting disordered eating or even an eating disorder. Let me explain to you why:
When losing weight has always been a goal we needlessly talk about, sometimes people will be willing to do anything just to reach a certain shape so they’ll be more accepted or found “more beautiful” because diet culture sucks and it’s unfortunately entrenched here. So now, “smaller” automatically means “better” to them and the smaller they are (the less the number is on the scale) the better they feel about themselves (sometimes).
In other words, you never know how the person lost the weight, or if they want to, or if they’re happy, and so with the phrase “OMG! you lost weight! I can’t believe this, keep going I’m so proud of you.”, you indirectly validate them only with their looks, their thinness. Therefore encouraging them to proceed in whatever they’re doing, healthy or not. Of course, if they’re taking it slow, exercising frequently on a healthy basis, eating full meals and not falling into depression at any setback, and you know about their journey, then go ahead, cheer them on all you want. If not, please, don’t make any remarks.
Yes, the compliments might make them feel happy and validated, but it’s not about their reaction in this case, but what the words are leading to. Get it?
We need to get another idea into our heads: not everyone is trying to lose weight, bel 3aks (on the contrary), some might be working so hard on gaining a few pounds, and might have some metabolic issues that prevent this from happening. They might be losing weight because of stress, exhaustion, or dehydration, and feel pretty bad about themselves, wishing they were bigger.
In other words, not everyone has the same beauty standards as you, and not everyone sees “fat” as “not worthy” of praise and love. Because some people tend to remember people exist only when they lose weight, and honestly, your internalized fatphobia speaks volumes. Get it out of your head, please!
So, before you make a comment, pause for a few seconds and ask yourself a couple of questions. Did that person want to lose weight in the first place? Do I know how they did it? Did they accomplish this in a healthy way? If yes, would they want their progress to be brought up publicly, in front of others? Do all my words and affirmations involve their looks only? Have I ever tried to make them feel better about who they are as a person, compliment their work, their personality, how their mind works? Have I tried showing them love regardless of their looks?
Here are alternative compliments and words of affection you can say that will also emphasize your appreciation to them, like: “I’m so glad I got to see you again”, “I enjoy spending time with you”, “you’re a beautiful presence in my life”, etc etc etc.
Our compliments do not need to be centered around our and each others’ bodies.
This is me barely scratching the surface when it comes to issues like this, but think about it for a second. It’s serious, developing an ED is more common than you might think. Also, admitting one has it, plus finding help to recover is even harder, especially in this region.
Please, be kind to people.