We are all guilty of it. Leading with a comment about someone’s appearance has replaced the basic niceties of modern conversation when greeting someone. Let’s face it, it’s easy to comment on someone’s clothes or looks instead of on something of more substance. It has become an easy fallback comment for many people. Why? When we don’t know what to say to someone……we compliment them. It’s used as a conversation starter at a party or social event. The intent is to show that we are interested in getting to know you better, but in some cases, can have damaging effects when we don’t truly know the other person.
It takes effort to think beyond appearance and comment on something besides looks or clothes. Try replacing you look “pretty or skinny” with you look “healthy, rested, or relaxed” Or, just don’t comment on appearance at all. Try introducing yourself to someone with just a smile, a hello, and an extended hand.
Greeting people with a comment about their appearance can, unfortunately, be a trigger for certain people. Especially those with eating disorders. If they receive compliments for their thin appearance, this can encourage them to lose more weight. So, if an individual struggles with an eating disorder and they hear that they “look great” or look “so skinny”, this can encourage them to keep on the unhealthy path. It’s all about control. Those with eating disorders often struggle to be “the thinnest in the room”. A comment about their weight, can serve as a source of pride or success and encourage more weight loss. And, a comment like “you look too skinny” can also be seen as a badge of honor to someone who thinks that you can never be too thin.
The same can also be said for people who have always struggled to put weight on. Maybe they were picked on for their slight appearance during childhood. Many people hold on to those damaging/bullying comments into adulthood. They don’t just go away, especially, for those who look at more “curvy” or “muscular” physiques as being the ideal. Hearing “you look too skinny” reaffirms what they are already feeling about themselves. It deepens their disapproval of self and increases their body shame. For those already questioning their thin appearance, comments like these can ultimately affect their self-esteem, their relationships, and their sense of self-worth. After many failed attempts at trying to put weight on, they can end up in a downward spiral that leads to depression and thoughts of being unwanted or unloved.
Words have more impact on others than we realize.
When is it ok to comment on appearance? When you know the individual well and it is truly heartfelt. Like the friend that has struggled with weight gain, but is on a “healthy” path to losing the weight. Telling her that you are proud of her for losing the weight can be very encouraging as long as you can back up your words. Be sure to support her and her new healthy lifestyle. Offer to go on walks or hikes, check out some new recipes and spending time cooking together can put more credence behind your words.