Why it is not ok to comment on other people’s weight ….
As a society we seem to think that it is okay to comment on other people’s weight and/or appearance but in reality, it’s not. Often times we offer our unsolicited comments to others unaware of the lasting effect that these comments might have. Weight is a very personal thing however, it is a common topic of conversation for many. This blog aims to explore some of the reasons why it is not ok to comment on other people’s weight. The overall message I hope to portray is that how someone looks and what they weigh does not define who they are.
We don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors.
We don’t know why someone’s weight may have changed or whether the weight change was intentional or unintentional. Things aren’t always apparent by simply looking at someone. For example, someone may have unintentionally lost weight as a result of a recent acute illness or stressful period. Equally, someone may have gained weight because they wanted to in order to feel stronger and be healthier. We are led to believe through diet culture messages that weight defines health status. Society has ingrained the idea that weight loss is good and weight gain is bad however, this oversimplified explanation is incredibly harmful. In reality someone’s weight is not a good indicator of their health, happiness or lifestyle behaviours. The images in this blog post illustrate only but a few potential explanations as to why someone’s weight may have changed. They demonstrate that all weight loss is not good and all weight gain is not bad. When it comes to complimenting someone’s weight loss you never really know what you are complimenting. Does that person have a chronic illness or an eating disorder? Are they experiencing grief or stress? The reality is that you just don’t know and that is why it is best not to offer any weight-based compliment or comment under any circumstance.
Can be dangerous and triggering
Weight related comments can be triggering for those who are in recovery from disordered eating or an eating disorder (ED). We cannot tell that someone has an eating disorder by simply looking at them. The stereotype that you have to be underweight in order to have an ED is not true. Passing a weight related comment that you perceive as harmless to someone may actually be triggering or fuelling eating issues. A study conducted in 2009 investigated the phenomenon known as complimentary weightism (Calogero et al., 2009). Complimentary weightism refers to the negative impact that appearance related compliments can have. Calogero et al’s study found that the highest body dissatisfaction scores were in association with appearance compliments not appearance criticisms, although body dissatisfaction was also reported in association with appearance criticisms. The above finding contradicts what we would expect, it found that the more positively women felt about appearance compliments, the higher their body dissatisfaction. Thus, we can conclude from the above findings that giving a weight/appearance related compliment to someone, although it may be intended to have a positive impact, is likely to have a more negative effect on that person’s body satisfaction.
We are giving into society’s standards of beauty.
When we compliment people for being ‘skinny’ or ‘thinner’ what we are actually doing is feeding into society’s standard of beauty that places ‘thinner’ people above people of other body shapes. Although weight related compliments may appear uplifting, what they actually do is remind people that they are being evaluated based on their appearance. Weight related comments reaffirm the social ideal that weight is of high importance in establishing a person’s worth and value. However, we know that in reality weight is not synonymous with our worth, our weight does not define who we are. We live in a society that is ‘diet culture’ orientated, one where we are encouraged to go on a ‘diet’ in order to achieve an idealised weight and fit societal norms. Diet culture is however destructive, it fuels the concept of weight stigma also known as weight bias or weight-based discrimination. This is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight and we know that weight stigma among many things can increase a person’s sense of body dissatisfaction and act as a risk factor for developing disordered eating. Dietitians and registered nutritionists often promote a non- diet approach to nutrition. This approach takes the focus away from weight and diet and encourages healthy behaviours through concepts such as intuitive eating. Non- diet nutrition celebrates body positivity and weight inclusivity and highlights the detrimental effects that dieting can have on a person.
Shifts focus away from things that are actually important in life.
Talking about weight shifts focus away from things that are actually important in life. It is upsetting that much of our conversations continue to be dominated by diet and weight related topics. This is of course no fault of our own given that we live in a society that encourages us to talk about weight and appearance. Unfortunately, society’s views on weight are not going to change overnight, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t all take small steps to break away from diet culture, steps such as changing the topics of our conversations. Rather than complimenting or commenting on someone’s appearance/ weight we should be offering compliments based on the values that we admire in them such as, their character traits and their skills. We should be saying “I hope you are doing well”, “I hope you are healthy and happy” rather than “you’ve lost weight you look great”.
Changing the conversation
To conclude, commenting on someone’s weight reinforces the idea that looking a certain way is ‘better’ than another, which of course is not true. Weight is not an accurate indicator of someone’s health status. We don’t know why someone may have lost weight and we don’t know whether it was intentional or unintentional. We all have qualities, skills and talents that should be complimented and praised, these should be the topics of our conversations not weight/ appearance. So next time you find yourself commenting on someone’s weight, stop and think of the potential effect that this seemingly harmless comment may have on that person. Equally, if you find yourself on the receiving end of a weight related comment simply say “I don’t enjoy talking about this” and politely change the topic.
Created by Eimear Mc Coy (health_aligned)
CALOGERO, R.M., HERBOZO, S., ; THOMPSON, J. K., 2009. Complimentary Weightism: The Potential Costs of Appearance-Related Commentary for Women’s Self-Objectification. Psychology of women quarterly [online]. 33 (1), pp. 120–132. [Viewed 28 February 2021]. Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.01479.x?journalCode=pwqa