10 Things We Say That Hurt Body Image

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 body-shapebrushing 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!

BLD0851989. I look so fat today!

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!

Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week!

February 26 – March 3 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAWeek). Eating disorders affect all of us, men and women from all walks of life. According to a Global Market Institute Survey, four out of ten Americans have either suffered or known someone who has suffered from an eating disorder. That means it’s pretty likely that someone close to you has been touched by an eating disorder: a friend, classmate, co-worker, brother, sister, significant other.

In honor of NEDAWeek, take a break from class, get some free food or watch some groove-shakers, and learn more about eating disorders and body image at the same time! Here’s the scoop:

SUNDAY (February 26th)
Miss Representation film screening, panel discussion and FREE fro-yo
111 Carroll, UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communications
2:30 – 5:00pm

UNC Eating Disorders Program is hosting a FREE screening of “Miss Representation,” a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Afterwards, there will be a  Q andA with Frank Stasio,  host of The State of Things on NPR; Dr. Cynthia Bulik, Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders and author of The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like With Who You Are; and Ms. Stephanie Crayton, Media Relations Manager for UNC Healthcare with a decade of broadcast experience. FREE frozen yogurt, compliments of TCBY, offered at the event!!

MONDAY (February 27th)
Greek Groove 2012
Memorial Hall
7:00 – 9:00pm

This is a large dance competition hosted by Panhellenic Council. Come see these impressive dancers battle for a cause. Tickets are $10 and are on sale now at Memorial Hall. Funds raised benefit UNC Eating Disorders Program to provide treatment and support for those struggling with eating disorders, and promote awareness of the dangers of eating disorders in the Carolina community.

TUESDAY (February 28th)
The Mirror Event: Book signing with Dr. Cynthia Bulik, and Mirror Pictures!
FREE Food! LIVE Music! Prizes!
@ The Pit and Student Stores
5:30 – 7:30pm

Come to the Pit at 5:30pm for free food, games, giveaways and activities hosted by peers and experts in nutrition, eating disorders, body image, and self-esteem.  Participate in the Great Jeans Giveaway to enter our prize raffle. At 6pm in the student bookstore, meet world-renowned eating disorders expert Cynthia Bulik, listen to excerpts from her book, The Woman in the Mirror , engage in invigorating discussion facilitated by Dr. Bulik, have your book signed and take your picture with The Mirror! Stay from 7-7:30pm for live music and continued festivities as we announce raffle winners.

“Bury” your negative body attitudes at the tombstones in Lenoir and Ram’s Head dining and contribute positive affirmations on the mirrors at the SRC.

Even if you can’t attend any of these events, you can still take a moment to learn a little bit about eating disorders.

  • Can you have an eating disorder and be overweight?
  • What are the different types of eating disorders?
  • How is bulimia different from binge eating?
  • Who is at risk for an eating disorder?
  • Can eating disorders be cured?

Find answers to these questions on this NEDA factsheet and visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for even more information!

We’re pumped about the week’s events, and we hope you will take part in NEDAWeek at UNC.