It seems harmless, yet can have very detrimental effects. We are all likely, at some time or another, guilty of doing this, and genuinely feel we are helping someone’s self-esteem and confidence. But instead, it gives mixed messages about what is important, and how one should calculate their self-worth. At some point, we began making judgments and commenting on the appearance of others.
I’m completely aware of what a positive difference it makes when someone tells me I am rocking my new haircut, or when I tell my friend that the color they are wearing is stunning on them. That’s not what I am referring to. What I am talking about is when we make comments about someone’s appearance; how “skinny” they look, or that they look like they have lost weight, and it is meant to be a compliment. But when someone already puts their worth and self-esteem into their size and shape, this can perpetuate their own negative thoughts about themselves, and make them feel they are only important and successful when they lose weight, or have a specific look.
We live in a society where companies thrive financially when they send the message that we are not good enough, and in order to be good enough, we need to buy their product and look like their models - and we buy into that! In general, we tend to judge others more positively for “looking skinny”, and negatively for “looking fat” (what does this even mean!? To look “skinny” or “fat” is completely based on that person’s opinion, and it is so subjective!). I have had many of my clients tell me that when they first started losing weight as a result of varied disordered eating behaviors, they received multiple compliments on their weight loss, which then positively reinforced the need to continue to do whatever they could to keep losing weight, or to keep their weight low.
Comments like “you look like you’ve gained weight” and “you look moderately-sized” don’t tend to be looked at as compliments, and as such, don’t tend to be comments we hear often. So it seems it is only socially acceptable, and positive, when we comment about someone’s size only when they look “small”, or like their size has decreased. But the problem is that we can’t look at someone and know their entire story. We have no idea what kind of fight they are going through, be it mental or physical, and we cannot truly know if they are happy or healthy because of their body shape.
I’m not sure when this started happening, and I’m not sure I will be able to change everyone’s opinion on the matter, but I just encourage everyone to slow down and consider the potential ramifications of your words. Try complimenting each other based on personality traits, intelligence, or things about their appearance that they choose, such as hair color/cut or outfit choice, and stop reinforcing the idea that someone’s appearance is directly related to their worth.
- Beth Well