“You look great! How often are you working out?”
“How do you look that good and eat so much food?”
“I wish I looked like you! What do you eat in a day?”
By Alana Van Der Sluys
Why Positive Body Compliments Can Do More Harm Than Good
The above comments may seem like a nice thing to say. But, the thing is, you do not know what you are complimenting underneath the surface. You are complimenting weight loss, but how was that weight loss achieved? More importantly, why is complimenting weight loss normalized, and sometimes seen as expected? For many people who are struggling with food and body image, chances are they are engaging in disordered eating behaviors to change the size and shape of their bodies. Weight loss, whether intentional or unintentional, can come at a physical, mental, and emotional cost. It is important to keep in mind that weight loss could be the byproduct of issues like eating disorders, depression, chronic illness, or cancer.
Why Body Comments to Intuitive Eaters Can Also Be Harmful
Giving comments you perceive as “positive’ about someone else’s body may not have the intended effect. For example, some people naturally have bodies that fit society’s narrow views of beauty. In this case, the compliment has nothing to do with anything the person has intentionally done. On the flip side, complimenting a thin body, no matter what this intention is, is an indirect putdown to those in larger bodies, furthering a fatphobic society that will compliment a thin body and show “concern” for a fat body.
You also do not know who is listening when commenting on someone’s body. Are there younger individuals present to hear praise for a conventionally accepted body? They could be internalizing the message that they need to look a certain way to be accepted, praised, and loved.
The praise of a one body over another, can also be demeaning to everything that a person stands for. People are so much more than the body they live in. When complimenting someone’s appearance, it can seem to negate everything else they bring to the table: everything that cannot be quantified by their appearance.
“Concern Trolling” and Negative Body Comments
There are many who, as people in larger bodies, are at the mercy of comments from people steeped in size-obsessed diet culture, both in person and online. Some people participate in “concern trolling,” meaning that commenting on someone else’s body size or weight under the guise of genuine concern for their “health.” It is important to recognize that weight is not directly and singularly correlated to a person’s health. Commenting on a person’s weight under the guise of concern, and even going as far as to suggest the person alter their weight, is incredibly problematic. As a reminder, only 6% of those with diagnosable eating disorders are underweight. There are plenty of people with larger bodies with restrictive eating disorders.
How to Give Non-Diet Compliments
omplimenting someone can be a great way to find common ground and cultivate friendships. It can brighten someone’s day, and potentially provide them with an external self-esteem boost.
If aesthetic compliments still come more naturally to you and do not feel as intense as those geared toward personality, try complimenting someone’s outfit or something about their appearance unrelated to their weight.
Instead of: “I love those heels! They make your legs look so slim!”
Try: “I love those heels! That pop of color makes your outfit even better!”
Instead of: “That dress is gorgeous! So slimming!”
Try: “That dress is gorgeous! Where did you get it?”
But whenever possible, consider also giving compliments completely unrelated to someone’s physical appearance. Think about it: How much more meaningful would it be to get a compliment about who you are versus what you look like?
Try: “I love how you can always find the good in any situation!”
Try: “I know I can always count on you as my confidant.”
Try: “Thank you for always being there to give me your honest opinion.”
Comments about bodies and weight loss feel like a knee-jerk reaction in today’s society. Making the shift to move past how people look and appreciate them for who they can be very powerful not only for your body image but for theirs, as well.
Redefine Wellness is a virtual coaching platform that helps clients reject diet culture and cultivate a life free of guilt and shame around food and their body using an Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size® framework. Join us today and discover the power of intuitive eating and the anti-diet movement with Redefine Wellness. Embark on this transformative journey with us, take your first steps towards a more fulfilling life, and help others do the same. Click here to speak with our team to learn more about our programs.
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Alana Van Der Sluys is a TedX speaker, entrepreneur, author, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and the founder of Freedom with Food and Fitness. As a personal survivor of eating disorders, she is dedicated to empowering women to heal their relationship with food and their bodies to step into their potential, take up space, and improve their lives. Her debut book, Freedom with Food and Fitness: How Intuitive Eating is the Key to Becoming Your Happiest, Happiest Self, releases on November 7, 2023 with Urano World USA, Inc. She is a contributing writer for several national publications, including the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) and Best Holistic Life Magazine. She was, most recently, a panelist and speaker for the Speak Up Women’s Conference in April 2023.