“I wish I had your problem.” “Do you ever eat anything?” “Is that all you’re eating?” “Of course you’re cold. There’s no fat on you!” Anyone who is thin has probably heard those comments, among others, many times over. Although those delivering such statements believe they are offering compliments, it often times feel like a backhanded-compliment at best and an insult at worst.
It might seem strange that a person would feel insulted by comments about how thin they are. But we live in a society that is obsessed about body image and comments about a person’s size, no matter how well-intentioned, are not always welcomed. Few people want to hear comments about their weight, regardless of the number they see on the scale.
I recently stumbled upon podcasts from Chalene Johnson about body shaming and skinny shaming. I was intrigued and decided to delve into it further. As I was reading, I found myself relating to a lot of what people have already written about the topic. I have been thin my entire life, and in the past, people would at times make comments about how thin I was. Such comments usually involved how much food I was or wasn’t eating. I even had a coach in college thank me for eating while we were away at a tournament (I later found out he had teammates watching me because he thought I was anorexic.) Although the comments can bother me, I do try to brush them off and ignore the fact that someone brought it up. And like many others, I don’t appreciate people making unsolicited comments about my weight.
Thin/skinny shaming is dangerous. Making negative assumptions about a person’s weight is never appropriate. For some, being underweight can be just as difficult as being overweight. There are some women who have trouble keeping weight on and that could be a sensitive topic for them. Just because a person is slim doesn’t mean they have an eating disorder and accusing them of such is hurtful. People struggling with an eating disorder come in all sizes, and stigmatizing the illness is disrespectful to those who are actually sick.
Any comments about weight send the same harmful message: Your body does not conform. Many women suffer from body image issues. Approximately 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies. Just because a woman is thin doesn’t mean they lack insecurities about their bodies and those back-handed compliments may deepen those insecurities.
You can’t tell the health status of a person from the outside. Genetics or an underlying health condition can be factors in the size of a person and something that is out of his or her control. Lynn S. Grefe, former president and CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), considers any weight discrimination of any type “appalling” and says, “The bottom line is about helping people be healthy and that’s what we should be talking about, not how many pounds they weigh.”
Fat shaming has also been receiving a lot of attention with celebrities, such as Pink and Kelly Clarkson, being criticized for their weight. And both women took advantage of social media and immediately fought back. Whether you think someone is too fat or too thin, it is best to keep generalized comments to yourself. As health communicators, the message we send should focus on the overall health of the individual instead of a number on the scale.