Over the years, I’ve heard the gamut of comments others make about weight and appearance. There’s the judgy and cruel, “you look sooooooo much better”. The perhaps not meant maliciously but stinging, “you look like a different person”. Or, the curious and acceptable, “can you share what you’re doing? You look great.” The New York Times Social Q’s column covered this topic last month. The headline was “Please Stop Talking About My Body”.
The question submitted was this:
I’ve been through three big weight gains and losses in my life (about 50 pounds each time). Whenever I lose weight, I get tons of comments: “You look so great!” “I hardly recognized you!” I hate these remarks. I’d like to respond: “Thank God I’m not so fat and ugly and gross anymore, right?” Or: “My body is none of your business.” I’m losing weight again now, so I’m getting barraged with comments. So far, I’ve just been saying thanks. But I’d love to express how uncomfortable these remarks make me without offending anyone. Thoughts? HEATHER
Philip Galanes’s response advised Heather to shut down the commentary with, “let’s skip my body as a subject for conversation, it makes me uncomfortable.”
Over the weekend, Chrissy Teigen handled a similar subject on Instagram. She posted a pic of her and her husband, John Legend, and someone commented, “baby bump”? Chrissy kindly replied, “I know you didn’t mean it to be rude but think twice about asking this, there are people who have trouble conceiving and it hurts every time. I’m not pregnant but would be happy if I were. But I’m also happy not to be! “
I hope we call all agree that asking someone if they are pregnant is wronger than wrong, it’s off limits. A doorman asked me this, years before I was pregnant. Let’s leave out the fact that I was the thinnest I’ve ever been and had just had a great workout. Twenty years later, it still upsets me. And that’s the thing with some of these comments, they stick.
The interesting part of this conversation is how commentary makes us feel, it’s personal. Often with clients, I’ll hear “people are noticing my transformation and commenting.” And each time I ask, “and how does this make you feel?” I have to say, over half the time people say, “it makes me feel good.” And if a client tells me comments embarrass or upset them, we work on appropriate responses. I could lie and write that I feel every commenter means well but that’s simply not true. But if the person making comments that you dislike is well-meaning then a simple, “these comments make me uncomfortable” can help steer them.
My usual line about this topic is that you can’t go wrong with a, “you look great.” The majority of people will be fine with that.
What do you think? Do you think all body commentary is off limits? OR, is it OK if it’s purely positive?
For me, it’s off limits. I’m in a similar situation to Heather and can easily gain or lose 50 lbs 1-3 times a year. Thankfully people are polite enough not to comment when I am gaining weight (other than an offhand remark like “you’re still pretty”… like my face is still kinda cute.) Whenever I’m losing weight and people start commenting on how I look, in the back of my mind I’m always thinking, yeah well it won’t last long and I’ll soon be heavy again. It’s such a deeply personal issue for me and my weight reflects how I am doing emotionally. Unfortunately it’s on display for the whole world if I’m not in a good place because my weight will show it. I could see though for someone that was heavy their whole life and is really just losing weight for the first time that compliments could be appreciated. Just depends on the person and their history.
I hear what you’re saying and that the comments could almost feel like an uninvited progress report. “You have a pretty face” can go in the trash with “are you pregnant” not ok and actually kind of mean. thank you for sharing. I so understand what you say about wearing your emotional state for all to see.