Compliments are great, right?!
Of course, we want to tell someone when they look great. Who hasn’t complimented someone who has obviously lost a significant amount of weight?! We probably all have. But we may be doing more harm than good…
In 2013, after finishing nutrition school, I weighed the least I’ve ever weighed, which was far less than when I was 16 years old. Yet I was complimented for how lean and fit I looked. The truth is this was an unhealthy weight for me and it was a result of being overly obsessive with my food choices and exercise. It was a result of having an unhealthy relationship with food. And while back then I loved the compliments, now I see how they reinforced my desire to stay at this unhealthy weight.
If you have to restrict, purge, over-exercise, or punish yourself (including your mental health!) in order to stay there (or get there), your body is not meant to be at that weight. - Gina Susanna, @Nourishandeat
Here are a few more human factors to consider as well.
What if someone’s weight loss is the result of a terrible breakup? Loss of work? Illness? Unbearable stress or depression?
What if that compliment is phrased as “Wow, you look so much better!” Well, this could easily cause a mental tailspin for the recipient. Were they judging me before, thinking I should look better? Was I loved less by them before I lost the weight?
A few readers at Beauty Redefined weighed in on this topic. One said, “When my mom was sick and three months later passed away, I was so stressed out and grief-stricken that I lost about 20 lbs. Everyone at work complimented me and told me to keep doing whatever I was doing because it was really working for me.”
Our culture reinforces the body image ideal that thin is desirable.
It’s time to shift the conversation.
In Heather Widdows’ article, A Duty To Be Beautiful, in Psychology Today, she says, “That (the) preoccupation of trying to attain unrealistic beauty standards causes increased anxiety, worry, feelings of failure, lowered self-esteem, disordered eating, relentless dieting and exercise obsessions, mental and physical health issues and overall diminished well-being.”
We can teach our daughters, sisters, nieces, granddaughters (and all human beings) that they are more than their bodies. We can do that by shifting the way we speak about bodies.
A person’s appearance is the least interesting thing about them. So, what can we say instead to turn the conversation to things that actually matter? How about…
It’s so great to see you so happy and healthy!
You’re so much fun to be around!
I love your perseverance.
If you really want to give a looks-based compliment, pair it with a compliment based on their character. For example,
You look incredible! I admire your ability to set goals and really pursuit them!
And finally, if you want more strategies to create a more positive body image for yourself or future generations, checkout my latest article in the JH Woman special section of the Jackson Hole News and Guide, Mirror mirror on the wall, what we look like isn’t all.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions. I’d love to keep the conversation flowing. Let’s chat!