7 Body-Shaming Phrases to Cut from Your Vocabulary…and What to Say Instead!
By Kira Rakova and Annabelle Edge--It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of body-shaming someone else. Seemingly innocuous comments such as “you look tired” or even “you’re looking healthier lately” can trigger feelings of body insecurity in another person. Here are seven things you should never say to anyone, ever-–and seven positive things to say instead!
1. Don't say this: You’ve put on/lost weight.
While some people might perceive this as a compliment, for many people, it isn’t. It could be especially harmful to someone with an eating disorder–-and you might not always know who that person is. To comment on someone’s weight suggests that their weight is the first thing that you notice about them, and that you might even be judging them based on their weight loss or gain. By commenting on someone’s weight, you could unintentionally trigger long-lasting and upsetting thoughts.
Say this instead: Nothing.
It is inappropriate to comment on someone’s weight. Even if they bring up the subject themselves, do not make judgmental comments. Most likely, if they wish to discuss their weight with you, it is because they are looking for your support, not your judgment.
2. Don't say this: You look tired.
This is often said out of concern for another person, but how would you feel if someone told you that you looked tired? It can prompt self-consciousness and nervousness.
Say this instead: How are you feeling today?
If you are concerned about how tired or upset your friend looks, it is okay to ask how they are doing! You never know when someone needs a sympathetic ear.
3. Don't say this: You have a lot of pimples/a big pimple [there].
Chances are, I know I have a pimple. You don’t know how many products I have used to try and get rid of my acne and even if I haven’t, please don’t mention it. Think about how the person you’re telling might receive the comment, and perhaps take your lead from them; if they mention their pimples then you can listen to them, but if they don’t talk about them, neither should you.
Say this instead: Your hair looks especially great today!
Instead of pointing out blemishes or anything else that might make your friend self-conscious, compliment them! Of course, your compliment should not be about their weight or body type. However, mentioning that their hair looks especially nice or that you really like their jewelry is a simple way you can make someone’s day.
4. Don't say this: I don’t like what you’re wearing.
We’ve all had fashion mishaps, and we don’t need them highlighted. And, of course, you might not like their outfit but that doesn’t mean that the other person feels the same way. The two of you might have different styles, and it’s not up to them—not you—what they get to put on their body.
Say this instead: Where did you get that top?
Chances are, you like one part of their outfit. Ask about it! You might learn of a new shopping spot and boost someone’s confidence at the same time.
5. Don't say this: Are you pregnant? You look pregnant.
Never assume or ask unsolicited questions about pregnancy—it’s personal, sensitive and their family planning is none of your business (unless they choose to open up to you). On top of that, you can’t tell if someone is pregnant just by looking at them. There are many different body types, and someone’s body shape can change daily; bloating can be a symptom of many different conditions, including an eating disorder or gastric problems. By asking about pregnancy you may unintentionally be highlighting an area that is embarrassing, painful or upsetting.
Say this instead: Nothing (again).
Unless your friend wants to discuss whether or not they are pregnant, there is no appropriate comment to make here. Even if they are pregnant, there are a number of reasons why they might not want to disclose that to you. Let your friend decide for themselves what they are willing to share (or not) with you.
6. Don't say this: Are you really going to eat that?
Don’t question what someone’s eating or tell them what to eat. Their dietary choices are their own, and figuring out what to eat when recovering from an eating disorder can be a huge challenge. Don’t talk about working off calories in relation to what you’re eating or what diet you’re on, and never bully people about their diets. It is up to them what they eat.
Say this instead: How is school/work?
Instead of talking about food, dieting or burning off calories, talk about everyday activities or hobbies. For many people mealtime can be stressful, but talking about common activities and interests can make the situation more fun and relaxed.
7. Don't say this: You’re looking brighter/healthier.
This can be meant as a compliment, but it might prompt someone to wonder “what did I look like before?” Healthy can be a difficult concept for many people, particularly someone struggling with an eating disorder. Telling someone that they look ‘healthy’ might be interpreted in a negative way—the bottom line is that unsolicited commenting on someone else’s appearance is always risky, so think twice about what you’re saying.
Say this instead: How have things been?
It can be exciting to see your friend look “healthier” and happier, but let them tell you how they are feeling. Sometimes someone can look “healthier” but be in need of emotional support. By asking them how things have been, you allow them to dictate their own narrative.
What other body-shaming phrases would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!
About the bloggers: Kira Rakova is an undergraduate senior at the City College of New York studying international studies, communications, and anthropology. Her research and advocacy passions include: gender justice, mental health justice, and community organizing. Apart from school work, she is part of various community-based organizations, including the Student Mental Health Initiative and the Body-positive Empowerment & Acceptance Movement (BEAM).
Annabelle is 23 and from the UK. She just completed a degree in psychology and hopes to go into sport and exercise psychology. Annabelle loves running, dancing, cups of tea, Harry Potter and spending time with friends. She has fought various mental health problems and is beginning to come out the other side of them and hopes to use this experience to help other people.
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