As a woman, I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by conversations about weight. I mean, think about how many times you’ve heard phrases like:
“Oh wow, it looks like you’ve lost a lot of weight!” or
“I’m starving, I haven’t eaten all day” or
“Did you know Tina lost ___ pounds?!”
For me, the number of times I’ve faced this is countless. I know these all sound like harmless statements, and I can pretty much assure you that they’re never said with malicious intent. However, statements like these hold a lot of power over how a person thinks about and sees themselves. For example, think about how many times you’ve immediately (consciously or subconsciously) thought:
“Wow that made me feel great. People must really like me when I’m skinny” or
“Dang, I ate a lot today. Maybe I shouldn’t have” or
“Maybe I should start losing weight like Tina.”
With this, we can see how these “harmless” statements turn into misjudgments about one’s self–worth, cause self doubts, and result in self criticism. So, here’s why we should never comment on someone’s weight, especially during a time when eating disorders are at an all time high.
First off, let’s set something straight. Someone’s weight does not provide any insight into how happy or healthy they are. If you aren’t convinced, let me provide you some insight into my past. In high school I was known as “the girl who was always smiling.” People would ask me how I was “so happy” all the time—the answer was that I actually wasn’t.
What people weren’t able to see was that I was a three–sport athlete who had been struggling with an undetected eating disorder for over three years. The reason people missed it for so long is because diet culture, weight loss, and extremely small portions have become socially normalized, if not supported, in recent years. Additionally, I maintained a relatively normal weight for my height until my senior year, when I was finally diagnosed. And, since I was always “happy,” there was no reason to blink an eye at my low weight.
In contrast, I have a friend who is healthy and happy, but maintains a very low weight due solely to genetics. She consistently gets comments like “oh my gosh! Have you ever eaten a burger?” or “my arms are half the size of your legs!” While people think these are lighthearted jests, these comments are extremely frustrating and upsetting for my friend, who has never engaged in disordered eating. It makes her feel like she needs to change her body, even though she can’t and shouldn’t.
Moreover, if these comments were directed at me when I was actively struggling with my eating disorder, it would have not only confirmed that my unhealthy behavior was “working,” but would also perpetuate the disordered behavior itself if I knew I would get positive feedback. These same concepts also apply for people on the other end of the spectrum, who are naturally curvy or heavy and constantly get comments like “have you ever tried the ___ diet” or “have you tried running? It really helped me get in shape.”
Never are these comments helpful, supportive, or warranted, unless someone sits down with you and specifically asks you for your suggestions. Simply put, we all have different body types, and none of them are less worthy than another.
Eating disorders are at an all time high in 2021. Currently, it’s predicted that 28.8 million Americans will experience an eating disorder within their lifetime. Even scarier, eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental illnesses, averaging a death rate equivalent to someone passing every 52 minutes.
However, what are eating disorders? There are several forms: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge–eating disorder, and others you can find more information about here. The symptoms of these disorders can include a fear of food or gaining weight, a sense of losing control while eating, perfectionism, body dysmorphia, and so many others.
Considering how various subtypes and symptoms of this disorder exist, it’s no surprise that determining the cause of eating disorders is a very complex issue. However, what we do know is that they can happen due to a combination of genetic, interpersonal, societal, and psychological factors. It’s important to note that, while in most circumstances I don’t support commenting on someone’s body, if you are genuinely concerned about someone’s mental or physical health and you know them on a personal level, I recommend having a serious, sit–down talk with them to check in on their mental health (rather than just their weight).
It is important to be aware of the fact that not only are eating disorders extremely common in our society today, but also that comments on someone’s weight can be triggering, even for those not suffering from disordered eating. We can so easily change how we influence someone’s understanding of their self worth.
Rather than commenting on whether someone has lost or gained weight, compliment something you value about them as a person. With steps like these, we can begin to create a more compassionate, accepting, and welcoming environment for everyone with all body types—something that couldn’t be of more importance.