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Dear father, mother, spouse, partner, grandma, granddad, uncle, auntie, sister, brother, son, daughter, cousin, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, person-on-the-street-I've-never-met,
I am writing this because in the past, you've made comments about my body.
You've wolf-whistled as I've walked in the room, or down the street.
You've exclaimed 'Wow, you're looking skinny!'
'You're looking hot!'
'Have you lost weight?'
'You've lost weight!'
'Look at you! You're looking great!'
'You've managed to keep the weight off! Well done!'
'Wow, those few kilos really make a difference.'
'You're looking 20 years younger!'
'Never mind, you'll lose it again.'
'Oooh, you have a bit more covering on you these days' as you squeeze my bum.
'I prefer a bit of meat.'
'You have such a beautiful face... you'd be drop dead gorgeous if you lost just 5 kilos!'
'Have you put on weight?'
'Jeez, what have you done to yourself?'
'You're looking...[pause, sizing me up and down]... well.'
I know when I was caught up in Diet Culture, I would also comment on other people's bodies. Well, I would only make so-called 'positive' comments -- the ones about weight loss, and looking great.. not the ones about noticing weight gain. Oh noooo, when I noticed that I stayed silent, because I knew how utterly painful it was to be at a social gathering with people who last saw you 10 kilos ago.
The fear of judgement... I can still smell it... The wish for the earth to swallow me up whole. Leaving no traces.
The fear of what they would say, or how they would look at me and say nothing. I think the silence was even more scary.
The silence would say all that wasn't being said.
Like how I'd let myself go, or let myself down.
Or how unhealthy it was for me to be carrying extra weight.
Or how I clearly didn't have my shit together, if I was obviously eating so much.
How I must be unhappy, or stressed, or depressed... or... something!
How I have no willpower, no self-control, or how I don't care about myself... obviously.
If you've ever commented on other people's bodies, I really really want you to hear this:
It doesn't help.
It doesn't encourage. No wait... it does encourage.
It encourages obsession with weight.
It encourages a dysfunctional relationship with food at best... disordered at worst.
It encourages low self-esteem and low self-worth.
It encourages binge eating.
It encourages over exercising and also under exercising.
It encourages social isolation.
It encourages people to disconnect from their bodies.
Even the so-called 'positive' comments encourage these things.
Can you see why?
Because we place so much importance on appearance.
So when you give a so-called compliment about someone's body, this is the kind of thing that s/he will think (very often without realizing it):
'I have to work hard to stay this way.'
'I must keep this up'
'I'm attractive like this.'
'People like me like this.'
'It matters that I stay this weight.'
That's why I hear so many people saying they don't want to go to so-and-so's wedding (even their own child's!) because what will people think/say or not say about their changed shape?
I kid you not, some people I know do not want to leave their homes. Some stay indoors for days -- and some longer -- because they are ashamed of their bodies -- at any size... which is because it's not about the weight -- it's about shame.
I promise you, the people whose bodies you comment on... the ones who gain and lose weight repeatedly; the ones who don't change size much, but have dieted their way into a large body; and the ones who are desperately weight suppressing to maintain their thin one -- KNOW. They KNOW. They do not need you to tell them about their bodies.
Really, they don't!
Most of you will be doing because you think it's kind or supportive. Or possibly out of concern for the health of someone you love.
Perhaps you say these things as a way to 'make them feel good about themselves.' It doesn't. Not really. Not long term. Possibly momentarily, but that's only because they've already connected their self-worth with their size and you're validating their size - so in their mind, validating them. Which to them means in order to retain your approval, they must keep trying to get or stay small(er).
Your 'encouragement' is driven by a cultural belief that thin = good & healthy, and fat = bad & unhealthy -- which is simply not true. You cannot tell a person's health status from their appearance. End. Of. Story.
When you talk about someone's body ('positively' or 'negatively'), you are unwittingly reinforcing the tie between body size and self-worth (by bestowing your approval or disapproval). You are contributing to the alarming rate at which children are dieting to fit in. You are contributing to the so-called 'obesity epidemic' -- because guess what... one of the most consistent predictors of weight gain is... drum-roll... dieting!
I want to be in a culture where all bodies are good bodies -- simply because they are alive! I want to live in a world where who people are, how they behave towards one another and how they're contributing to the world is what we acknowledge in one another -- NOT OUR BODY SIZE!
That is each person's very own private business and no one else's.
What sort of a culture do you want to be creating?
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.