Every now and then, someone will make a comment on my appearance. Meant to be a compliment (although not exclusively...), it makes me uncomfortable. It's not that I don't know how to take a compliment, as it is more that I know how harmful such comments can be, even though 'well-intentioned'. Here is why, can you relate?
1) You don't know how the comment will be received. For those struggling with body-image, eating disorders or distorted eating, commenting on one's body/appearance can potentially be dangerous. It can feed into the unhealthy mentality that looks are the most important thing. It can perpetuate unhealthy and symptomatic behaviours in others and give the illusion that what they are doing is okay. Even the comment, "You look healthy" can be interpreted as, "You've gained weight". A part of recovery is about pulling away from the need and emphasis on looks. It is learning about who you are as a whole, instead of focusing on one aspect.
Solution - If you want to encourage someone, try identifying something other than how they look. What do you like about them? Was it how they were compassionate towards their teammate after a loss? Do they seem more happier or friendlier lately? Have you noticed their bravery in asserting themselves to a friend/bully/boss/family member, etc? Try asking them how they would like to hear compliments, praise or concern. What may work for one person may not work for another.
2) You don't know how others in the room who hear the comment will respond. If a thin person is praised, it could lead to body comparison by bystanders. Those of different weights/shapes/sizes who didn't receive the compliment may feel as though there is something wrong with them and/or that they are not 'good' enough. By praising one thing, it is easy to assume that the opposite of this deserves criticism.
Solution - Go directly to the person instead of saying it in front of a room full of people. Obviously, there are times where it is completely appropriate to praise someone publicly (and I'm not talking about beauty pageants or weight loss shows). Again, try giving a compliment or praise on something non-body or appearance related. Remember, we come in all shapes and sizes, and that's okay! Perhaps, try praising the whole group or team on their effort instead of singling out one individual.
3) People get treated differently due to their shape/size. I've heard (and experienced) from too many people how they've been treated differently due to weight loss or gain. Although many factors could play into this, I do question why and how one's weight/shape has the ability to make one more/less attractive, have more/less 'will power', is more/less intelligent, etc than they were before. Approval and inclusivity should not be determined by how someone looks. This is sizeism. This is no different than treating people of different genders, skin colour, culture, religion, age, etc. differently.
Solution - Ask yourself if you hold any stereotypes about people of different shapes and sizes. Whatever the answer, don't judge it, just ask, "why is that?" and "do I really believe it?". Try talking about it to a trusted and non-judgmental friend, family member or therapist.
4) Beauty is narrowly defined. There is this cultural idea of what beauty is, which is too narrowly defined. It is a genetic lottery if you fit into it. It is not someone's fault if they are short, tall, or have a heavier set point. Humanity is diverse, let's celebrate it!
Solution - Ask yourself why is being 'beautiful' so important. Who defines what it is? Do you have a tendency to buy into the cultural and media driven ideal of beauty?
5) Self-worth is not dependent on shape, weight or beauty. Comments from others about your body don't have to make or break your day. They don't have to define you. You are much much much more than how you look.
Solution - Practice positive self-talk and self-validation instead of solely relying on the comments of others.