I don’t speak for all women. These are just some comments I have heard and–regrettably–said in my life. Comments delivered with the best intentions that nevertheless sting, because they move me away from a confident, body-positive headspace. Comments I now try to avoid.
1. Don’t worry–a lot of guys really like curvy women.
Heteronormativity aside, this statement reinforces the notion that a woman’s worth lies solely in her ability to sexually attract a man by comforting her with the idea that men still find her body sexy. It’s like saying “all that matters is your ability to get a man to sleep with you, and being fat hasn’t totally compromised that ability.” Ouch. Try “you’re an amazing/strong/intelligent/ creative/etc woman!”
2. Wow; I can’t believe you weigh that much. But the weight looks really good on YOU.
Weight varies. And the same weight can look very different on different people–I get it. But brushing aside our ridiculous standards of beauty and acting like I am a “special case” either comes across as condescending–”don’t worry; you don’t LOOK fat”–or as an indirect, self-inflicted wound–”Your weight would never look as good on me.”
Let’s assume for a moment the revolutionary idea that no weight is inherently good or bad and that no body is inherently flawed. Wow. That frees up a lot of room in the conversation for celebrating the attributes of a person that really matter, doesn’t it?
3. Oh my gosh–you’ve lost soo much weight… how did you DO it?”
This goes hand-in-hand with “how do you stay so thin?” A lot of things can cause people to lose weight or maintain a thin frame. Genetics. Diet and exercise. Fasting. Eating disorders. Grief. Depression. Anxiety, and a host of other mental health issues. Not to mention cancer, lupus, AIDS, certain medications, mono, the flu…
Don’t assume that a person’s weight loss or thinness is intentional, and don’t assume they want to talk about it.
If you know a friend/co-worker/family member has embarked on a new diet and exercise regimen and they are losing weight, let them take the lead in talking about it. Reflect their feelings (increased energy, confidence, sense of pride) rather than focusing on weight loss.
And if you just happen to notice someone’s sudden weight loss or petite frame and you are genuinely concerned? Try telling them you are concerned without mentioning weight (“I noticed you haven’t been yourself lately” or “You seem a little stressed/overwhelmed; is everything ok?”). Then give them space to talk.
In the end, it’s not their weight that matters, and focusing on a person’s body or weight loss can detract from appreciating their holistic value as a person.
4. Did you see so-and-so-from-high-school’s new profile pic? She got FAT.
AKA “I can’t believe how much weight she’s gained.” This is fat shaming. Pure and simple. And no good can come if it. Besides, you have no idea what may be happening in that friend’s life beyond her FB pages. Leave her alone. You got your own life to worry about, right?
5. Those jeans make you look so skinny!
As opposed to all my other clothes? This is a pseudo-compliment. It insinuates that I am not actually skinny and thus need a pair of jeans to make me look skinny, and that by pointing out my miraculously skinny look, you are somehow doing me a favor.
Imagine a world where “looking skinny” is no better or worse than looking any other way, and what mattered was how we felt. Well, we can move closer to that world NOW by trading the skinny complement for something more meaningful, like “I can tell you feel confident when you wear that outfit” or “You look really happy today.”
6. I wish I had your arms/stomach/thighs/whatever.
Really? I wish I had 20/20 vision. The power to teleport. The ability to do crazy hard math problems in my head. C’mon, you can wish better than that!
7. I hate it when fat girls wear _____ .
Fat shaming hurts all of us. So, just don’t.
8. She is so anorexic.
Is she really? Because anorexia is a complex, life threatening, mental illness (that’s right, ya’ll, I said “mental” because it’s not just about weight…). Using “anorexic” as a derogatory adjective to describe a thin person is not only offensive to that person, it perpetuates the stigma and stereotypes around eating disorders. Maybe she is anorexic. Maybe not.
If she is a close friend and you are honestly concerned about her mental health, don’t gossip about her behind her back. Read about ways to be supportive and helpful or check out Embody Carolina’s training. And if she’s not a friend or someone you are honestly concerned about? Leave her alone. Get back to living your life!
Look, we all have those days. Even the feminists and the fat acceptance folks and the media image warriors. The days when it gets to us. The fat days. And it’s ok to have that day and let yourself wallow. Lean on your friends. Although thinness is definitely valued in our culture more than fatness, even thin people have body shame, and skinny shaming sucks too. In the end, fat shame and skinny shame are really just two sides of a multi-sided problem. Many women–large and small–bond over a shared body hate, and body shame hurts us all. So instead of feeding it, let’s work to STOP it!
10. You have such a pretty face.
This is almost the flipside of the “butter face” insult. Pretty face, huh? I also have a super sexy brain, a smoking hot personality, and drop-dead gorgeous talent. A woman is more than a body and a pretty face, and there are countless complements you could give a woman that lets her know you value more than the physical features of her face. Try: “you have a great sense of style.” “You are so well-organized.” “I really admire your cool-headedness.” “You have such a way with words”….
What is your favorite non-body complement to give or hear?
Tell us in the comments!
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It’s gotten to the point that we can’t have a normal conversation for fear of being offensive and/or politically incorrect. At the end of the day, you will always be at risk for offending people when speaking as you can never truly know where people are in their life. Just the other day, I met someone who told me I didn’t look like a weight lifter and that bothered me almost as much as the person who said I my strong arms didn’t fit my female body..
As long as people aren’t passing judgement or harassing others regarding where they currently are in their life, fixating over linguistics is just another form of harassment.
It can be very frustrating to always be in fear of offending someone. Like you said, “you can never truly know where people are in their life,” so what offends one person may seem harmless to another. My intention is not to make people responsible for another person’s reaction (whether it be offense or not), but simply to make people aware that what they say affects people; what you do with that information is up to you. Thanks for your comments!
I remember an acquaintance once greeted me by saying “You have an aura about you today, so tell me what’s going on”. Her inflection was enthusiastic, completely sincere, and let me know that she really wanted to know more about me.
#6 – I really do wish I had my sister’s small boobs! I got big boobs and it makes my life hell 80% of the time.
Thanks for your comment! Physical qualities come with pros and cons, and sometimes it can seem like the grass is always greener on the other side….it’s ok to wish things were different, but I would encourage you to focus on the positive aspects of your body and celebrate them. It’s the only one you have!