Most of us grew up witnessing women comment on other women’s bodies, and we see it all too often today as adults.
These usually were comments of adoration or jealousy after someone lost a few pounds or “toned up”, in addition to snarky remarks about those who gained weight or who didn’t fit their ideal of what a woman should look like.
These comments slowly solidify themselves in our subconscious, although few of us are aware of this as it’s taking place. We begin to understand that thinner is better, and gaining weight warrants mean-spirited discussions behind another woman’s back.
We (hopefully) understand that speaking negatively about another women’s body is inappropriate, mean-spirited, and is simply a reflection of the perpetrator’s own insecurities and hang-ups.
However, we rarely consider the consequences of compliments.
They seem innocent enough, right? In fact, many would argue that it’s better to pay a compliment to another rather than keep it to oneself. Why wouldn’t we make an effort to make someone feel better about themselves?
Because this is where many obsessions and eating disorders begin.
Many of the women I work with, in addition to those in my personal circle, lament on the compliments that kicked their hustle for the ideal body into high gear.
They began their health and/or weight loss journey as a result of their own preferences for themselves, and once the weight loss was in motion or achieved, the compliments rolled in.
“Oh my gosh, you look so good! What have you been doing?”
“You look so skinny—you look amazing.”
“You are body goals. I want a body like yours.”
These comments are often said before asking how anything else in the woman’s life is progressing, too. Talk about a hierarchy of values, no?
Panic then ensues. Did everyone think I looked bad before? Does everyone like me better now? Are they only interested in me because of the weight I lost?
I have to maintain this or I’m going to lose their interest/attention/love/acceptance!
If weight is gained, the compliments cease, and they may even be told not to worry—that they’ll lose the weight again soon. And the notion that their worth is tied to their body is solidified.
They begin to believe that people only see, value, and love them for their appearance.
We Don’t Know the Whole Story
Furthermore, changes in weight can be the result of a multitude of scenarios, both positive and negative, including divorce, death, illness, stress, or an increase in happiness.
We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.
The woman who lost weight may be suffering tremendously inside due to circumstances that have nothing to do with her physical form, or she may be deep in the throes of an eating disorder.
Does complimenting her on her body send the right message in any of these situations? I don’t believe so.
We could argue that this is the responsibility of the recipient, and there is certainly some onus on each of us to filter both compliments and insults alike.
However, can we wrap our heads around the idea that our compliments to other women regarding their bodies may be doing more harm than good?
It’s a foggy line, to be sure, and I have been on both sides of the fence.
Today, I don’t comment on another woman’s body unless I have a deep and established relationship with her and am privy to the motivations and circumstances behind the changes.
The last thing I would ever want to do is further cement another’s belief that all I value her for is her body, or that the circumstances that led to these changes are less deserving of my attention than the result itself.
The vast majority of us have been conditioned to pay these compliments, and while they’re often well meaning, they may be doing more harm than good.
There are SO MANY more important things about each of us, and so many of us are just waiting for the space and nurturing environment to show them. Instead of commenting on a woman’s weight loss, ask her about her life.
See her as a human being first—a body second.
How is her family? Her relationships? Her career? Her travels and recent fun adventures? What has she learned or read recently? What is she struggling with?
Focusing on the qualities that truly matter in each of us prior to the superficial will do us all a world of good.