The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of West Island News.
If there’s one thing I’ll never tolerate, it’s people – whether it’s family, friends, or strangers – commenting on my body, or the bodies of those around me.
First of all, my body is the least interesting thing about me, and secondly, comments on a person’s body can be incredibly damaging not only to the person in question but to anyone within earshot.
I’m sorry Carol, I don’t want to hear about how you’ve been in ketosis for 30 days and how you've subsequently watched the inches fly off. Newsflash, you're also probably hungry. No Lucas, I don’t want to talk about your paleo, raw vegan, high-carb-low-fat intermittent fasting.
Nowadays, it seems to be everywhere I turn.
The other day I was in line at a coffee shop, and two women were waiting behind me. One said to the other, “I just want to get down to 165. I’ve gained like X pounds in the last year. That’s a lot.”
I’m all for having goals. But you know what else I’m for? Celebrating the bodies that carried us through and continue to carry us through a global pandemic. We have all just been dragged through a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime tragedy. If you gained pounds because food became comfort and entertainment, so be it. If you lost pounds because the stress and the fatigue often won the better of you, so be it.
If everyone was a little kinder and more patient with themselves and others, the world would be a much happier place.
Now, if that’s not your style, and you still plan on starting the next fad diet next week, I totally support you. I mean this genuinely: we are entitled to want to make changes to our lifestyles to see changes in our appearance and the way we feel.
What we are not entitled to is an opinion over anyone else’s body but our own.
When my best friend came to me earlier this week – visibly upset – about some comments her grandmother had made about her body in passing, the gears started turning. I was reminded just how irritated I am by other people thinking it’s appropriate to comment on another person’s weight, body hair, clothes, or body modifications like tattoos and piercings.
I’d like to preface by saying this: it’s always a good time to learn, and this article is not intended to make anyone feel guilty or like they’re a bad person. Instead, I hope to potentially shed light on reasons why commenting on another person’s body can be incredibly damaging, and hopefully convince you that there are 10,000 other things to talk about with that old friend you haven’t seen in over a year.
Weight does not define health
For centuries, we have been fed the skewed idea that a person’s weight is an indicator of health. Now, I won’t deny that the two don’t sometimes go hand in hand. However, there are plenty of skinny people with lots of health issues, and plenty of fat people who lead balanced, healthy lives.
The famous singer-songwriter Lizzo for example announced she was going vegan a few months ago because of how the diet made her feel. Lizzo is known for endorsing body positivity and encouraging young men and women to love themselves at any size.
When she announced she was going on a juice cleanse on the popular social media app Tik Tok, she received violent backlash. Fans claimed she was promoting weight-loss, and that she was trying to shrink her larger body.
Lizzo was quick to respond and remind viewers that the choices she makes aren’t about attaining a particular physique, and instead about feeling the best she can feel.
For a moment, imagine a thin person taking a bite into a big mac.
Now, imagine a fat person taking a bite into that same big mac.
Ask yourself what feelings come up? What assumptions do you make about each person?
I use the terms skinny and fat here liberally to emphasize the fact that they don’t carry any value. They are simply adjectives describing a person. One is not better than the other.
Some bodily choices are personal
Now more than ever, people are making bodily choices that were never made before. Primarily because of social norms and values, things like tattoos, piercings, and body hair on women were once considered highly taboo.
For you, or a loved one, they may still feel taboo. In which case, I invite you to never get a piercing or a tattoo.
What I don’t invite you to do, however, is comment on anyone else’s piercings or tattoos. I, a young woman, choose to remove my leg and underarm hair. Other women and non-binary people my age do not.
Just because society and the media market one as being better than the other, does not mean we have to perpetuate that standard by believing it.
Others are not
For as many things on a person’s body that are a personal choice, there is an equal amount that is out of a person’s control.
Excess body hair, for example, is sometimes the result of hormone imbalance or autoimmune disease.
Scars are the result of injuries, surgery, or mental illness.
Hair loss is the result of cancer or alopecia.
Whatever the case may be, it is not your place to point these things out on a person. Oftentimes, things like scars and hair loss are a person’s biggest insecurity.
Having the courage to head into a public space with insecurities on display can be scary and overwhelming for a person. The last thing they need is you or anyone else reminding them that they’re there.
I won’t shy away from the fact that certain situations can be jarring. I’ve been around friends or acquaintances who get ready to hop in a pool, and as they pull off their long-sleeve shirt, reveal arms covered in scars.
My mom has a good friend who was the victim of a stabbing attack and has been left with severe mobility issues. Even though my mom and those around her friend are aware of the situation, it is not any less disturbing when her wounds are on display. But that doesn’t make it any more appropriate to speak about it.
If a person with scars, hair loss, or excess hair wants to tell you their story, they will.
It is important to practice neutrality before these situations occur so as to avoid embarrassing or upsetting someone when a situation does arise.
You have no clue how they lost or gained the weight
The sad reality is that we live in a world that celebrates weight loss and frowns upon weight gain.
Truthfully though, the situation is far more delicate and nuanced. If you’ve never had someone say to you “you look amazing, did you lose weight!?” then you’ve likely said the same thing to someone else. And if neither is true, then I’d confidently bet you’ve overheard these words said to someone else.
The fact of the matter is, if you have a friend or loved one who’s lost a substantial amount of weight, you have no idea what may be going on in their life.
Perhaps they are grieving the death of a family member, perhaps they were recently sick with a bad infection. Perhaps they’re undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. And perhaps they’ve been struggling with an eating disorder.
The same holds true of weight gain. Before being quick to judge someone for the pounds they’ve put on, perhaps ask yourself what underlying causes may be contributing to the sudden spike in weight.
Going back to the eating disorder thing, it’s very possible you have a friend or loved one who was maintaining their thinner body in an unhealthy way. The bigger version of themselves may also be the recovered version.
You’re perpetuating the notion that an “ideal” body type exists
As previously mentioned, Western society celebrates thinness and shames fatness. By complementing a person’s weight loss, or secretly judging them for their weight gain, you are contributing to the idea that one body type is better than another body type.
Instead, I challenge you to embrace a new attitude. One that questions the media, high fashion, and overall societal standards.
When you catch a thought entering your head about a person’s body or your own, don’t take it at face value. Question it, reflect upon it and remind yourself that all bodies are good bodies.