'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all'. That's what I was told as a child, and it seemed to be a pretty good rule to live by. But recently I've reconsidered this statement, for perhaps it's not up to me to decide whether something is nice or not, and perhaps 'saying nothing at all' full stop, is a better choice. Especially when it comes to commenting on someone else's body.
I mean, can we ever really be sure that what we are saying to someone, will be taken as a compliment. When it comes to issues of the body, women of all shapes, sizes, weights and ages can be affected. Body image issues are often invisible. We actually don't know who is affected and who is suffering in silence. But we do know, that majority of women will experience body image issues at some stage in her life, to some degree. So how can we be sure that when we give someone a compliment (in relation to their body), will benefit their self esteem and body image and not hurt it? We simply can't.
'Have you lost weight? You look great!' ... is a pretty familiar line for women. Congratulating someone for losing weight is a common thing, in fact I'm guilty of it myself. But more recently I've stopped myself from doing so. Losing weight is not a sign of success, nor does it make a person more or less valuable in this world. And although the person may have worked hard to change their body for whatever reason, praising a person for doing so, may just reinforce the reason they felt they had to loose weight in the first place. Reinforcing society's pressure to be thin at all costs. To value thin above all else. To futher align thin with Beauty.
Praising someone for weight loss not only celebrates the idea that skinny is an achievement, but also suggests that the way a person was pre-weight-loss was not ok.
At this point, you might be wondering why I have come to this conclusion. Well, ... it comes from my own experience. When I was in high school, just 16 years old, I got tired of being the 'fat girl' ... and decided I was going to change the way I looked.
I lost a lot of weight, excess of 22 kilo, and it dramatically changed my appearance. I received all kind of praise, everyone seemed so proud of me. Unfortantely this attention did nothing for my self esteem, in fact it had an incrediably negative impact on my body image. Something that I would spend years working to overcome.
I developed severe anxiety around what I was eating and how much I was exercising. I was terrified of letting people down. Everyone seemed so happy that I had lost weight, that I was now skinny. At the time I didn't realise how damaging this experience had been for me. My perception at the time; was that I was valued and liked more, in a smaller body.
The effort to maintain this thin body and keep up the facade that I was a 'thin person', was both exhuasting and paralising.
So, although a 'compliment' will always have the best intentions ... the subtext may do more damage than good.
Placing less value on how people look, but on what they do, will not only avoid putting additional pressure on women, but will highlight what is actually most important.
So, ... I'll be teaching my girls something very simple; it is NEVER okay to comment on someone else's body. Nor is it okay for someone to comment on theirs. Simple.
Love Bianca x