Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Life > Experiences

The Balancing Act of Discussions about Bodies and Weight

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

Throughout the past couple of years, we’ve introduced and moved through various movements targeted at reaching a positive or even neutral attitude toward our bodies. We’ve had body-positive movements, body-neutrality movements, and this general increase in self-love and acceptance. Whilst these movements have been wonderful for opening up more dialogue and creating space for different types of bodies, there’s also been some somewhat unpleasurable and triggering outcomes to all of these.

What I mean by this, is that people tend to overlook that certain conversations about bodies and weight might be a little triggering, for various reasons, and aren’t always wanted. What I’ve noticed, is that some people don’t seem to realise that there’s a delicate line in these sorts of discussions. From my experience, there’s often a lack of awareness of the possible implications of conversations surrounding bodies and weight, and often no consideration in checking whether these types of conversations could be triggering to those involved. This is, however, largely based off personal experience, and so it could be vastly different for other people.

More specifically, it’s starting to look like fat people have become the go-to for these types of conversations. There appears to be an assumption that fat people are always willing and wanting to have these conversations, and that every fat person has trauma and has struggled with their bodies. The problem here is the underlying fatphobia in assuming someone’s struggled with their body because their body is bigger- that being fat is something to have to struggled with. Fat people are already very often roped into conversations about weight loss and fitness simply because of being overweight, and thus assumed to be someone who does not exercise. Fat people aren’t a dumping ground for body trauma, nor are they your way of feeling better about your own body. Just like many others, these types of conversations can be really triggering and cause a lot of discomfort for bigger people, so be sure to check with whoever (regardless of size) you’re talking to about body issues that they are in the right state to have these kinds of conversations.

Another important thing that I’ve found to be overlooked in conversations is the impact of commentary on bodies (even just in passing). Whilst you may think body-directed comments are a nice way to compliment people, you may also be fuelling an eating disorder or reinforcing unhealthy habits. Commenting on, for example, somebody’s weight loss and how ‘great’ they look after losing weight displays the idea that being fat or bigger is bad and that being smaller is better. A lot of this tends to occur from unsolicited commentary when someone is (often unknowingly to the other person) in recovery from an eating disorder and likely gaining weight. Commenting on weight gain (which happens far more often than it should) causes such a slippery slope into relapse. These types of weight-focused comments often do more harm than good.

Beyond this, the way people talk about others in clothing is often very concerning- and perhaps even damaging to those who hear this. It’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “I wish I was as confident as you are in wearing that” or “You’re so brave for wearing that, I could never” in relation to someone’s outfit (most often to a bigger-sized person). The problem with this is that it implies that the person is not meant to be wearing whatever they’re wearing. I’m not saying don’t compliment someone’s outfit, though, I’m saying to make sure that there’s no underlying fatphobia or back-handedness to the compliment. If you think someone looks good in what they’re wearing, just say that. Avoid using words that hint at anything more than that.

The point I’m trying to make, is that conversations about bodies and weight are quite delicate. There’s a bit of a balancing act needed in them in order to avoid any negative outcomes. Obviously, the goal here isn’t to stop talking about bodies and body-love or body-neutrality. The goal is to make sure these conversations happen in a comfortable and safe way for all involved by making sure people understand that there are times when these conversations are unwanted or can do more harm than good. 

Hey, I'm Cameron! I'm currently a 2nd year BA Student (with chaotic music taste) majoring in Psychology, English and Linguistics at UCT. Most of my free time is spent watching series/movies, reading and writing.