Sometimes we don’t look or feel our best and a comment – negative or positive – about our weight or body may make us a bit self-conscious. Even though others may have the best intentions, these comments can be harmful and not helpful and may come from a place of misunderstanding.
Words have power. Someone may tell us how good we look because of recent weight loss or innocently notices we have “added a few pounds,” but our brain may tell us something else. “Did I look bad before my weight loss?” “Do I need to lose more weight?” “They noticed I am getting fat, I need to do something about that.” The bottom line is we don’t know how an unintended comment may be interpreted. For individuals with an eating disorder, weight or body comments can be triggering, making it important to keep a few things in mind.
Does weight tell you about someone’s health?
The simple answer is no. You can’t tell what is going on with someone simply by looking at them; therefore, commenting on their weight could be detrimental. This is especially true with eating disorders. Remember, you don’t know their story. Many individuals struggle with food and disordered eating behaviors, regardless of their size. For example, unlike individuals with anorexia, those with bulimia may not appear underweight. Or, you may think someone overweight is just eating too much, but they could have binge eating disorder. Everyone’s body is different, and a healthy body will look different depending on the person.
Also, you don’t know if weight gain or loss was intentional. There are many physical illnesses that can cause a change in weight. In addition to stress and grief, some mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety can also bring about body change.
How can a comment be body shaming?
We live in a world where being thinner and small has become a beauty standard. Weight loss should not be viewed as something good or bad, or that thinner is always better. While we may not realize it, a simple compliment about recent weight loss can be triggering for someone with an eating disorder. For someone with anorexia, positive reinforcement about weight loss can lead to further disordered eating behaviors.
As others positively reinforce or negatively view changes in size or shape, we will continue to see issues with body image. As we praise individuals for thinness, we increase the pressure to be thin and reinforce the thought that there is something wrong with other bodies. Remember, accepting others regardless of weight and promoting a positive body image is what is most important.
What should you say?
So often we judge others by their physical attributes, not realizing the damage it can do. Before you say something about someone else’s body, keep these tips in mind:
- Compliment the character. We all know the old saying, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Actually, this is true, beauty and self-worth come from within and we all have positive and unique attributes. Empower someone to feel good about themselves and the body they have.
- Remember it is not your business. Asking someone about change in weight can be intrusive and send the wrong message. Everybody has different needs to function properly and you may not know what those needs are. Some comments can only lead someone to be more critical of themselves and less trusting of their natural body cues.
- Be the change. Instead of commenting on other bodies, you can be a leading example of body positivity. Self-love and self-care are vital for positive body image and how you take care of yourself can be the change that someone struggling needs. Do good for yourself and those around you.
Appearance is not the defining attribute of an individual, so why spend so much of our time focusing on it when there are more important things.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact Magnolia Creek today. We offer evidence-based treatment that helps clients improve their health and strengthen their commitment to recovery. Through individual and group therapy sessions, clients learn to ways to cope with poor body image and learn to love their body moving forward.
Magnolia Creek is a serene place of healing for those with an eating disorder or a co-occurring mental illness such as depression or anxiety. If you would like more information, contact our admissions team at 866-318-2329 or complete our contact form.