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  • Writer's pictureDina Skaff

Body Comments are Never Helpful

Updated: 5 days ago





Body comments are so normalized in our society that many don’t think twice when hearing or making comments about someone’s body.  This is especially true if a comment is considered “a compliment”.  But body comments of any form are incredibly harmful.  For those affected by eating disorders, they can trigger challenges with nutrition, create other struggles and impact eating disorder recovery.  Body comments are also harmful to those who do not have eating disorders.  They send messages that “good” and “bad” bodies exist, and that a body’s weight, shape, or size, is important.  Body comments are essentially a form of oppression. 


What is a Body Comment?

First, let's clarify the term. I define a body comment, as: any message that is relayed verbally, in writing, through actions or through body language, about a body’s weight, shape or size. This could be seen as either a positive or a negative comment.  This is different from body shaming, which is defined as “The act or practice of subjecting someone to criticism or mockery for supposed bodily faults or imperfections(1).


How are Body Comments Harmful?

Commenting on someone’s body inadvertently says that a person’s body weight, shape or size is important. It encourages weight- and size-discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias.  Body comments are a form of oppression, most often oppressing those in larger bodies or at higher weights.   

 

Commenting on someone’s body also sends the messages “I notice your body”, “Your body is important to me” and may even send the message that “I think your body is…” (insert good, bad or something else...).  These messages are heightened, and can be extremely triggering, for an individual living with an eating disorder.  It does not matter if the comments are made about the individual, or about someone else.  An eating disorder can take body comments of any kind, and run with them. 


An eating disorder may interpret body comments in many ways, like:


 “If they think this about that person’s body, what do they think about mine?”


“Being _____ is a bad thing.  I need to change my body.”


“That is a good body.  I need to become like that.”


“They said my body is good the way it is.  I can never change.”


There are endless possibilities of how an eating disorder may challenge an individual. 

Body comments can start a mental struggle making recovery even more challenging.


Avoid compliments that focus on bodies. Save your compliments for the wonderful things you know about a person, like their talents, their sense of humour, or their kindness. 

But It’s a Compliment…

While it may feel like something helpful, complimenting anyone on their body perpetuates fat phobia, and reinforces size- and weight-discrimination.  Additionally, body comments of any kind send the message that a person’s body is noticed, that any changes a body may go through are noticed, and that these things are important to you. 


Complimenting someone on their body can trigger an eating disorder, and put individuals at risk for further struggles.   It can leave an individual feeling that, if their body is “good” now, they cannot let their body change.  But bodies are meant to change – body changes are a natural part of life! 

Also consider that a “positive” body comment could be providing a compliment about someone’s body change that may have occurred as a result of their illness or because they are struggling significantly.  This can leave an individual feeling alone in their struggles, ashamed about this change, or ashamed to try to recover.  Note that this is not only true for those affected by eating disorders, but also any other illnesses that can impact body weight, shape or size, (for example, cancer, cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and so many others).


Avoid compliments that focus on bodies. Save your compliments for the wonderful things you know about a person, like their talents, their sense of humour, or their kindness. 


What if I’m not talking to someone with an eating disorder?

You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder simply by looking at them.  According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre’s resource, Eating Disorder Facts and Statistics, “At any given time, an estimated 840,000 to 1,750,000 people in Canada have symptoms sufficient for an eating disorder diagnosis”(2).  That means approximately 2.1%-4.3% of the population in Canada are living with an eating disorder at the time that this blog post was published.  That does not include those who are struggling with symptoms, but do not meet criteria for a diagnosis.  It is highly likely that you interact with individuals who have eating disorders, struggle with disordered eating, or have challenges with body image. 


Regardless of these facts, even if you are not speaking to someone who is living with an eating disorder, body comments perpetuate fat phobia, and encourage weight and size discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias.  They continue to oppress individuals and groups based on body weight or size, in particular those in larger bodies or at higher weights.  It is a form of oppression that is still widely accepted, and affects so many individuals on a daily basis.  We need to stop this oppression, and that starts with actions such as stopping body comments.


So what happens if someone, like a loved one living with an eating disorder, asks you about their body?  Or if you are around someone who is making body comments?  I'll discuss these scenarios in my next blog post, “Navigating Body Comments to Support Eating Disorder Recovery”, coming soon!



Are you looking for support for yourself, or guidance on how to support a loved one, with eating disorder recovery, disorder eating, or food or body image challenges?  Book a call to learn more about working together.


Disclaimer: 

Blog posts are for informational and educational purposes only.  They are not considered individual nutrition counselling, and are not a substitute for medical, nutritional or mental health advice. Consult with your health care providers for individualized recommendations.


References:

1.     Body-shaming definition: Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/body-shaming, Accessed on March 6, 2024.

2.     “Eating Disorder Facts and Statistics”, https://nedic.ca/media/uploaded/NEDIC_2021_ED_facts__stats.pdf , NEDIC, Accessed February 21, 2024.


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