When it’s OK to Comment on Someone Else’s Body (Hint: Never)

Having opinions about other people’s bodies is normal and human. But if you find yourself wanting to share your opinion and comment out loud, first pause, then follow this simple guideline: don’t do it.

Even if you imagine that what you’re about to say is positive, it’s never okay to share an unsolicited comment on someone else’s body. Not ever.

A Fat-Shaming World

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s which was a bleak time for body-positivity in general. For some reason, it was socially acceptable back then to freely and openly share your opinion of someone else’s body.

“Is she walkin’ or is she rollin’?” That’s a phrase I would hear my dad say every time he saw someone pass by that he perceived to be overweight. And soon my brothers started to join him on mocking large people.

I remember feeling sorry for anyone who was overweight during this time; especially the “fat kids,” as they were known at school, who were regularly taking blows to their self-esteem.

My own mother struggled with her weight and went from diet to diet. It must have been incredibly painful when her own husband made fun of chubby people. I felt guilty for secretly being grateful for a thin body. It seemed like Dad was most critical of large women and skinny men, but no one was completely immune to receiving negative comments.

“Blessed” with a Skinny Body

Whether out of an internalized fear of being shamed if I gained weight or whether I simply inherited my father’s long, lanky build, I have always been thin. Really thin.

No matter what I eat: ice cream, pizza, cake, bacon, it burns right off. It’s like I have the metabolism of a race car. I never have to count calories, or regulate my food intake, either. Some people hate me for this, but I’m not actually trying to be skinny.

I don’t think we have as much control over the size and shape of our bodies as the advertising and diet industry would like us to believe.

Things Nobody Needs To Hear

But no matter their size, no one needs to hear unsolicited comments about their body. As a “skinny girl,” the number of comments I routinely receive is disheartening. Society as a whole might be moving in the right direction but we still have much farther to go when it comes to accepting and appreciating all the variations in body types.

It seems like it’s still okay to openly body-shame skinny people, even now in 2021. I’ve heard so many rude comments over the years: “You’re too thin! You must starve yourself! Do you use drugs?” My mom used to call me the “hipless wonder” and my sister would tell me I looked like a zipper if I stuck my tongue out and turned sideways, or that I needed to wear skis in the shower to keep from going down the drain.

As I grew into a young woman, I remember wanting desperately to trade my stick-straight body for something curvier and sexier, something more feminine like Marilyn Monroe or Betty Boop. I hated having a boy-shaped body that couldn’t even fill out a pair of women’s jeans. It felt like I wasn’t shaped the way women were supposed to be.

And here I am, decades later and just now starting to come to terms with my natural shape. Only now learning to feel empowered in this body. To love it for what it is. To love myself for who I am and accept the fact that I’ll never be curvy. I’ll probably always shop in the junior section for bras. And those high-waisted jeans with curves built into the hips? Forget it.

Compliments are still Comments

Working in food service, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fielded unnecessary comments from customers about my body. They say I must “never eat the food” at that particular restaurant or never eat any food at all, trying to find reasons for why I’m so thin. I’m sure, for the most part, they mean well but it’s never actually appreciated.

Before commenting on how skinny a person is, ask yourself if you’d still say that if the situation were flipped. Would you also tell someone who’s overweight that it looks like they eat “all the food in the restaurant?” Or would you ask if they constantly have to eat to get a body like that? Of course not, it would be rude.

So, is it ever okay to comment on someone’s size?
In my opinion, no.

Thick or thin, assume everyone is sensitive about their bodies in some way or another. That body you’re commenting on might belong to someone struggling with an eating disorder, or fighting cancer, or taking a new medication. You truly never know.

Bodies are Not “One Size Fits All”

And no matter how we think of beauty, we have to remember that what’s beautiful in one culture might be ugly in another. In some parts of the world, being round and voluptuous is the highest standard of beauty and skinny people are seen as malnourished, common, and ugly.

What it really comes down to is that everyone processes and stores nutrients differently, there isn’t one size that is best and we need to stop shaming people for who they are.

Rather than getting sucked into the popular opinion at the time, or letting media tell us what is ideal or “perfect,” maybe we should try instead to focus on how amazing all bodies are and how useful they can be.

We experience this world through our bodies; they are beautiful because they function, they get us from place to place.

Being strong, capable, healthy, happy, these are the things that affect the quality of our lives, and outward appearance matters very little.

We grow a little older every day and eventually these bodies of ours are going to die. It’s what’s in our hearts and souls that counts: how we treat people, the relationships we form, the memories we make.

Think Before You Speak

Our bodies are just temporary forms that we inhabit and hopefully they help us live a good life. Sometimes they are capable and fit, other times they might be weak, tired, or frail. Let’s start by assuming that everyone is doing their best and that most of us have very little control over our natural size and shape.

We can’t know what someone has been through, the details of their personal history, or their unique body chemistry and it’s hard to know how a comment is going to be received.

Perhaps your “compliment” will be taken the wrong way. Perhaps you’ll reopen an old wound.

If you find yourself about to comment on someone’s body, stop and then just don’t.

Be kind.
Don’t assume.
And please, please keep your comments to yourself.

Together we can make this world a healthier, happier place.

by Sarah Caton

Photo credits:
Gerd Altmann
Lena Helfinger
and Pixabay

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