We live in a diet-centric and appearance-focused society where “have you lost weight? you look great” is a normal and quite heavily used compliment. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve gotten unsolicited weight-based comments from our families and friends. For instance, there’s the famous “haram wejja helo bas jesma naseh” (what a shame, her face is beautiful but she’s fat). Or, there’s the “mnasahak hal pantalon” (these pants make you look fat) and the notorious teta comment “ma b ta3mouk ahlak? Ktir mbayyan d3if” (do your parents not feed you? You look too thin). Whether you’re Arab or not, I guarantee you’ve had someone comment on your weight at least once in your lifetime. Hey, you might even be the one commenting on other peoples’ body shape or size thinking it’s harmless or even flattering. Truth is? It’s not. Here are 5 reasons why you should never comment on someone’s weight:
1. Weight-based comments can be highly triggering for people.
One of the most important reasons why you should never comment on someone’s weight is that for folks who have a life-threatening eating disorder or those in recovery from one, weight comments can fuel their disorder even more or cause a relapse. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and affect at least 9% of the population worldwide. It’s also extremely important to note that you cannot tell who has an eating disorder based on physical appearance. You don’t have to look underweight to have an Eating disorder and you definitely don’t have to be a thin white woman. Eating disorders don’t have a look and they come in all shapes and sizes. For more information on Eating disorders, check out the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) or the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).
2. Weight loss or weight gain tells you absolutely nothing about a person’s health, happiness or lifestyle habits.
The person you’re praising for weight loss might be suffering from cancer, depression, a chronic illness, grief or a life-threatening eating disorder. Likewise, the person you’re judging for weight gain may be in recovery from an eating disorder, healthy, happy and out of a chronic dieting cycle. The society we live in often assumes that weight loss is always “good”, weight gain is “bad” and that fat people never exercise or eat salads. These assumptions are incredibly harmful because you can’t tell anything about a person’s health, happiness or behaviors based on what they look like on the outside.
3. Complimenting weight-loss perpetuates fatphobia and increases feelings of guilt and shame when weight is regained.
Diets fail 95% of the time and dieters often regain the weight they lost within 2-5 years. So, you can imagine that praising people for weight loss will only bring on feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety when they inevitably gain the weight back, to no fault of their own. Congratulating someone on shedding a few pounds also perpetuates fatphobia and insinuates that you like, respect and prefer the thinner version of that person. Thus, the cumulative effect of fatphobia and fat-shaming that these people face pushes them into endless diet-binge cycles that negatively impact health and happiness.
4. Talking about weight or size shifts away the focus from what’s actually important in life.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by wonderful people in my life who are successful, kind and caring. Imagine all the conversations we can have, yet most of the time, conversations end up being centered around dieting and weight talk. By focusing on appearance and weight, we continue to propagate toxic diet culture and harm others’ body image and self-esteem. Instead of talking about dieting and weight-concerns with friends or family, I challenge you to discuss achievements, relationships, fun habits, hummus recipes and honestly anything other than weight or eating habits.
5. Body diversity is to be celebrated, not criticized.
As you can tell, there are a lot of reasons why you should never comment on someone’s weight, but this one is a big one. What someone says about your weight, shape, or size has more to do with them than it does with you. Trust me, It’s not about how your body looks. On the contrary, it’s about their own internalized fatphobia and obsession with the thin ideal. Society clings to the idea that thin = beautiful, successful, popular, healthy and more worthy of love. This is a dangerous message that’s rooted in systems of oppression which only uphold non-marginalized bodies (thin, white, straight, able-bodied). Beauty and attractiveness are relative. Health is relative. Success is relative. It is not, and should not be a one size fits all. We weren’t all born in one single mould. Body diversity is to be celebrated and uplifted, not criticized and punished. You deserve to be treated with love, respect, kindness and dignity no matter what your body looks like.
Now that we’ve gone through reasons why you should never comment on someone’s weight, 20 compliments you or your relatives can use that have nothing to do with weight, shape or size:
1. You look so happy. I’m glad you’re feeling great
2. I appreciate you so much
3. You are such a good friend
4. You are a great listener. I always feel heard
5. You are so passionate about X
6. You make me laugh. You are so funny
7. You are glowing
8. You are so kind
9. You are unique
10. Your happiness is contagious
11. You are so creative
12. You make the world a better place
13. You are brave. You stand up for what you believe in
14. You are enough just the way you are
15. You are worthy of love and care
16. You are always there for me
17. You are incredibly fierce
18. I admire you so much
19. I hope you know how amazing you are
20. I am lucky to know you
Marie Elena Bitar, MPH, RD is the Founder of Beyond Food Rules, LLC. She is a non-diet dietitian who practices through a Health at Every Size(R) and Intuitive Eating lens. Marie Elena helps chronic dieters ditch their food rules and regain food freedom and body appreciation. Through her virtual private practice, she supports clients in setting and achieving realistic health & wellness goals by targeting mind, body and soul.