It’s been a hot minute since I’ve talked about body image.
To be honest, my priorities have shifted since I started this blog. Restoring a positive body image was something I had been so passionate about. But since then, I’ve been through the rollercoaster of a pregnancy, miscarriage, healing and another pregnancy. It’s been a wild ride over the last year, and my blogging has certainly reflected that.
But for a moment, I want to return to that topic that has always been near and dear to my heart. Like most girls (now women), I remember struggling with body image from a very young age. I allowed negative body image to consume my life to the point that I was over-exercising, under-eating, and visibly losing weight I didn’t need to lose. More on that here.
My struggle with body image was one of the main reasons I started this blog, because I know it touches so many girls and women out there. And I’m thankful that over the last few years, the body positive movement has caused people to be more aware and inclusive of all body types as a way to promote healthy body image.
But in my own experience, even within a culture that is changing the way we think and talk about bodies, we still have battles to fight. One specific area of concern is the way people feel they can talk about other people’s bodies.
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Where Well-Intended Comments Go Wrong
By now, I hope it’s common sense to NEVER go up to someone and ask, “Have you gained weight?”
That’s obvious, right?
We all know that commenting on someone’s weight gain is rude and obviously socially unacceptable. You have no idea what might be causing the weight gain, and it’s not your business to dig into it.
And who’s to say that someone who’s gained some weight isn’t happy exactly how they are? You can gain weight and be content with who you are and how you look. Isn’t that a novel concept?
There are enough false messages out there telling women they have to be thin to be beautiful and causing negative body image. I think by now, most of us are aware that there’s no need to pile on by continuing to comment on someone’s size.
But is that really the case?
Seemingly innocent comments (or “compliments”) can throw people into a downward spiral of body image issues.
What about comments like “You’ve lost weight” or “You’re so thin, you can eat anything you want”? We’ve (hopefully) learned not to make comments about a person’s weight gain or larger body size, and rightfully so. But does it go both ways?
In my experience, it doesn’t.
My Struggle with Seemingly Well-Intended Body Comments
I want to make sure I’m careful about this, because I know this is a difficult subject. I have never dealt with hurtful comments about weight gain because I’ve never lived in a large body. I’m not equating these scenarios. I am challenging us to think critically about the ways we comment on all types of bodies.
Growing up, I was always just average sized - not fat, not thin… just average. But even being average has most girls feeling inadequate in a culture that tells us that thinness = beauty.
As I grew out of my teenage years, my hormones shifted, and I began to lose some weight. That weight loss was like a high for me, and I chased it by over-exercising, under-eating, and displaying some scary obsessive behaviors over my weight. You can read more of that story here.
Besides the scale, the number one motivating factor for me was other people’s comments.
People I wasn’t even close with would comment that I’d lost weight, and they’d make subtle references to how I ate so healthy and how I was exercising. And for that average-looking girl that struggled with body image all throughout childhood, those comments fueled me.
I restricted my calories even more and ran even farther just to keep those comments coming. Even my doctor once told me, “That’s a number every girl wants to see!” when I stepped on the scale at an appointment. I’m quite certain that if I did the math, that number would clearly rank me in the “underweight” category on almost every type of chart. Yet healthcare professionals told me that thin = good. And I loved it.
I thrived on people’s comments… or did I?
I look back on these years as a pivotal time in my life. I was feeding on other people’s seemingly “innocent” comments, to the point that I ran myself into the ground with undereating and overexertion. It took a running injury, some self-reflection, and a lot of education about good nutrition to undo the damage I’d done in those years.
The point of my story? Even “compliments” about thin bodies or weight loss can send people into a spiral of negative body image, similarly to comments about weight gain and larger bodies.
Challenging the Way We Talk About Bodies
It is so important to be careful about how we talk about bodies. I know that what I’m saying might sound overly-sensitive and too PC. But as an expecting girl mom, the topic of body image weighs heavily on me. How will I talk about body image with my daughter? Will the things I say in passing have long-term effects on her? We have to be so, so careful that we’re not causing damage, even when we think we’re doling out compliments.
The bottom line in all of this: Keep your comments to yourself.
You may be free to talk about your body how you want, but you don’t have the right to comment on someone else’s. It doesn’t belong to you, it’s not your business, and your words may carry more weight than you realize.
Case and point: Recently, I received a comment on an Instagram post comparing my third-trimester pregnant body to this woman’s second-trimester body. It’s hard to read tone over an Instagram comment, but it was either one of those seemingly innocent “compliments” on how petite my pregnant belly is, or it was a dig implying that I’m not healthy in my pregnancy.
Either way, comparing two pregnant bodies is completely nonsensical, and it hurt this first-time-mama’s feelings. At a time when I wanted to be proud of my growing bump, someone else felt the need to make a comment about my size.
Regardless of the intent - it was not okay. Dragging my body into a comparison that I never asked for was both unfair to me and unhelpful to the commenter. Thankfully I’m in a much healthier headspace these days to field comments about my body, but others might not be. You have no idea how someone else may be dealing with their own body image.
Let’s keep an open conversation about body image, but refrain from commenting on other people’s bodies - especially in a culture that already has so much to say about what our bodies should be.
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