By: Leslie Barrett
“Oh my gosh. Look at you, Skinny Girl!”
“Thanks. Um, I mean, I haven’t really been to the gym in a month.”
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t go,” my loved one laughed.
I stayed silent because the situation wasn’t right for a verbal challenge. But as I forced a smile and looked around the small party, my thoughts grew angry. Are you kidding me? I shouldn’t go to the gym because I look “skinny”? I’m sorry, but I would rather be strong than look “skinny.” The fact that I haven’t gone to the gym upsets me because I have lost muscle. I have lost strength. I couldn’t care less if I’m “skinny.” I want to be strong enough to lift my 50 pound suitcase with ease and strong enough to run up the stairs without losing my breath. I would rather be strong and muscular and athletic than “skinny” any day. If you think that looking frail and “skinny” will lead to a long and healthy life, you’re wrong. And if you are not after a long and healthy life then you may want to re-evaluate your priorities.
All right, so maybe in that moment I didn’t think those thoughts verbatim, but the comment ignited passionate anger leading to a strong reaction along those lines. I decided it was time to spread the word.
Over the past few days I have been to numerous parties where friends and family are reuniting for the holidays. I have noticed that more often than not, people comment on each others’ appearances.
“You look great! Have you lost weight?”
“She lost some weight too. Good for you guys!”
“Oh my god, did you see her? She’s gained so much.”
Frankly, I’m sick of it. Neither my weight, nor my sister’s nor my friend’s nor my mother’s nor my brother’s, should be of importance to anyone else. “Complimenting” each other upon reuniting has become so acceptable that, unfortunately, many of us dread coming home expect the comments each time we come home.
“Complimenting” belongs in quotes because these comments are not purely positive; they can even endanger people. One of the dangers of making such statements is that we don’t know how our loved ones lost weight. If they did not do it in a healthy way, we are doing nothing but reinforcing negative behaviors, which could be detrimental to their health. In addition, what people convey when they say these “nice” things is a message that you are now good enough. Before you lost this weight, you did not look great. You were not as good. We didn’t value you as much. And now, we would like to welcome you into the club! You have joined the other side where people look great!
These comments create associations between outward appearance and self-worth. When you look “great” you are better, and when you no longer look “great” you are no longer as worthy. Family and friends have good intentions and think they are doing their loved ones a service by saying “nice” things to them, but they are unaware of the effect their comments have. They have no idea they are teaching their children to value appearance above all; they have no idea that they are instilling fear of weight gain with each word; they have no idea the long-term damage they are doing.
So, this holiday season I would like to invite you to take a pledge with BARE. We have pledged not to comment on the appearances of our friends and family. We have pledged to instead ask questions about their accomplishments, comment on character, and compliment in ways that will positively affect them in the long run. We have pledged to stand against fat talk whenever we can. I am a Beauty Advocate with Realistic Expectations and I intend to spread the message.
If you notice that someone else looks “great” you are welcome to tell them, but find a way to focus the comment on their health or happiness. Comment on how they are holding their shoulders back more or how they are radiating confidence. Comment on their beautiful smile or their sense of peace. And, if you were not aware of this back-handed “compliment” trend before reading this post, I would like you to pay attention next time you go to a party or reunite with someone. I would like you to listen to the amount of times people comment about bodies. If you are someone who is on the receiving end, I want you to remember that you are more than your appearance. You are more than the weight you lost or gained. Your inner beauty will always shine through if you let it. Do yourself a favor and try not to take people’s words to heart; you will be much happier.
Even if you choose not to take our pledge for whatever reason, please just become more aware of the issue. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking out, at the very least, don’t participate. You will be doing absolutely no one a service by commenting on someone else’s body.
BARE wishes you all a happy and healthy holiday season. Find your inner beauty and celebrate yourself.