Throughout 2021, Good Housekeeping will examine how we think about weight, how we eat, and how we try to control or change our bodies to become happier and healthier. While GH also publishes weight loss content and strives to do it in a responsible, science-based manner, we feel it is important to present a broad perspective that enables a fuller understanding of the complex thinking about health and body weight. Our goal here is not to tell you how to think, eat, or live – nor to provide a judgment on how you want to nourish your body – but rather to talk about eating culture, its effects, and how we are they might question, to begin with, the messages we are given about what makes us attractive, successful, and healthy.
I was 13 when I started my first diet and lost 16 pounds. One day a close friend greeted me and asked if I had lost weight. I grinned, glad someone noticed I was getting smaller after months of miserable counting calories and refusing candy at overnight stays. Then she pointed to a picture of me before taking off the weight. “I was worried about you there,” she said. “You got fat.”
My initial increase in confidence collapsed immediately: Her comment made me ask: What had she thought of me before? The realization that she had noted (and judged) my height surprised and hurt me. Even today, 20 years later, the question of my weight still sends me on an emotional roller coaster ride.
Many of us think, consciously or not, that “have you lost weight?” is a compliment, and the recipient can even experience it as such at the moment. But the truth is, even a well-intentioned weight question can trigger a variety of short-term and long-term effects, from negative body image to eating disorders.
Why do we think it’s okay to comment on each other’s body at all?
Growing up, I bonded with friends because I complained about our bodies and compared us to each other. I made self-loathing comments like, “Ugh, you’re so thin, I wish my stomach looked like yours.” That’s because the way we talk about our bodies is a huge part of our socialization. Research has shown that women feel they have something in common when they talk like this because society values our looks so much, says Phillippa Diedrichs, professor of psychology at the Center for Appearance Research at the University of Western England in Bristol. .
This is thanks in part to the nutritional culture, which tells us that slimness is the ultimate goal when it comes to beauty, success and happiness, a concept that is consistently supported by almost all pillars of society. This mindset promises that there is a skinny person within all of us who just claws to get out. However, studies show that talking about exercise or weight loss made women focus more on what their body looked like than what their body could do, which resulted in less appreciation for the body. It is no wonder that the vast majority of us have complicated relationships with our bodies at best, and are constantly evaluating and criticizing our own (and others) bodies.
There is something so presumptuous about the idea that I want to be something other than what I am.
Of course, commenting on someone else’s appearance doesn’t always have a negative impact. For example, you can compliment someone’s outfit or hairstyle, but Telling someone: “You look great, have you lost weight?” ultimately means: “You look good because you are smaller and thinner.” We’re starting to internalize the idea that other people are monitoring our bodies, which perpetuates social pressures to be thin, says Diedrichs.
Even if someone sees “Have you lost weight?” As a starting point for friendship, it’s actually a very invasive question for many people, says writer and activist Virgie Tovar. “A lot of people have no idea that it’s offensive, offensive, and discriminatory,” she says. A person’s body is not only extremely intimate and personal, but, says Tovar: “There is something so presumptuous about the idea that I want to be something other than what I am.”
Why this “compliment” can be even more problematic than you think
When you know your friend is on a diet, it may seem rational to praise him for what he sees as an accomplishment. But ultimately, this can validate their thinking that they should actually try to lose weight – which in the end can reinforce, validate, and at the same time be harmful, all of the body’s insecurities. “Beyond that moment, it doesn’t do any good for the person concerned,” says Jes Baker, international spokesperson and author of Landwhale: On Turning Insults into Nicknames, Why Body Image Is Hard, and How Diets Can Kiss My Ass. Any person who trying to change their body can be motivated by self-loathing or fear.
The dieter cannot even realize this. Every time I went on a diet, I told myself that I was doing it out of self-love. In reality, food culture has convinced me that a better life awaits a leaner version of myself. When friends with good intentions told me I looked shorter, I was thrilled – until I felt the pressure to keep losing weight. Until I discovered the body positivity community, I didn’t know that a) I already had a better life regardless of my size, and b) Commenting on someone else’s body, even with the best of intentions, can be harmful. And it was the double punch of first of all feeling very comfortable and then being so stressed that makes this “compliment” so difficult to digest.
Also, Baker points out that diets don’t work. So if someone loses weight and the red carpet is rolled out for them, the compliments stop, when they regain the weight (which at least 80% will do), their self-esteem plummets. “Getting the rug pulled from under your feet feels really crappy when you’re already doing physical changes and trying to exist in the world,” says Baker.
Aside from the impact it can have on our confidence and self-esteem, being asked about your body can be traumatic and triggering. “You never know what people are going through. Imagine that this person has not eaten for days, “says Plus-Model, fat fashion influencer and fat activist Saucye West. who is struggling with bulimia. This seemingly innocuous question could plunge them into a spiral in which they want to continue their harmful behavior. Demi Lovato also recently urged people not to comment on other people’s bodies, adding, “Does it feel great? Yes, sometimes. But only to the loud eating disorder voice in my head that says, ‘You see, people like you thinner’ or ‘If you eat less, you will lose even more weight.’ “
Eating disorders aside, Diedrichs points out that weight loss can be caused by a number of terrifying or life-changing events. If a person’s weight has changed dramatically, it could be:
- Suffer from anxiety and / or depression
- Struggling with eating disorders
- Receiving treatment for an illness
- Experiencing grief over the death of a loved one
- Going through a divorce or other major traumatic life change
Suppose a small body that is targeted (or even desired) can be reductive, and all in all, weight loss, whether intentional or not, is likely to have a painful or sensitive cause.
How should you react to the question about your weight?
You should react in a way that makes you feel that you respect your values and take good care of yourself, says Tovar. If the question doesn’t feel good, you can tackle the question head on or distract it, but remember, “You don’t need to educate someone if you don’t have the capacity or if you don’t feel confident,” she says. It’s okay to loosen up entirely if you want to.
It can also be helpful to prepare a script in advance if you know you will meet someone who talks about corpses on a regular basis. You can also say the following as an answer:
- I feel uncomfortable talking about my weight. Can we talk about something else?
- Let’s talk about something more interesting. What did you see on TV last night?
- I am not invested in weight loss. My body is swaying and I am fine with it.
- For me, this is a sensitive topic that I would rather not discuss.
- I’m going through a stressful time and I’m not doing well. Can we talk about this?
- I try to focus less on body talk right now. Would you like to come with me?
- I don’t know and that really doesn’t matter to me.
- I don’t have the capacity to talk about it now.
- Did you see Demi Lovato’s post on Instagram about this question? It really enlightened me.
- Shrug your shoulders and change the subject.
How can we connect with each other without discussing our weight?
I understand: old habits die hard. But believe me, taking weight out of the equation can be really liberating when trying to build a relationship with someone. Here are 10 ways to make a friend feel good or start a meaningful conversation:
- What do you like to do with your free time?
- You seem so happy What made you smile today
- I love your bag / shoes / headband. Where did you get it
- You’re beaming – what’s going on that makes you happy?
- Have you learned anything new lately?
- I love hanging out with you!
- You have such a great taste in music. what are you listening to
- Your tattoo is so cool. What’s the story behind it?
- What was the best part of your weekend?
- Thank you for spending time with me today.
“There are so many other things we can talk about that make a meaningful, real connection,” says Baker. “I can learn so much more about you and we skip the body talk altogether.”
Read more from our anti-diet series
The unbearable weight of food culture
What Exactly is Eating Disorder?
The real reason you can’t lose weight
Is It Possible To Be “Overweight” And Healthy?
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