I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s not okay to start a conversation with someone by telling them that you hate them. Even if it is followed up by something like, “You’re so pretty.” As in, “I hate you. You always look perfect.” I mean, where do you go from there? Kind of a conversation killer if you ask me.
Same goes for . . . well, so many things associated with weight. Your subtle encouragement of a friend on a diet may come off as judgmental, pushy, or as “fat shaming.” Your “admiration” of a thin friend may not sound like admiration to her. Either way, there are stigmas involved with weight that can lead to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders whether you are talking about being fat or thin.
So, how do you keep from making a weight-y faux pas? Below are some of the biggest blunders and what to say instead.
What Not To Say 1 of 11
There are things to avoid saying on both sides of the fat/thin line. Here's a guide to help you navigate.
"You’re so skinny. I hate you." 2 of 11
This is meant to be a compliment. I realize that. But if you are trying to compliment someone, it's best to actually compliment them. Telling them you hate them because of something they either 1. don't have a lot of control over (some people really do have a hard time putting on weight) or 2. work really hard at can be confusing and disheartening.
Instead: "I really admire your body type."
"You look anorexic." 3 of 11
I think, but I'm not sure, that this is also supposed to be a compliment. It's not. I think what the person is trying to say is that they look thin. But telling someone that it looks like they have a serious and sometimes life-threatening mental disorder is not a nice thing to say. Ever. Even if they do look like they might be anorexic, there are much better ways of expressing concern for them and their health.
Instead: If what you're trying to say is, "You are so thin!" then just say, "You are so thin!" or maybe "You remind me of a model!"
If what you're trying to say is, "You look like you might be suffering from a mental disorder," then try, "Hey, you don't look well. Is everything okay? Are you feeling alright? I'm worried about you."
"You could be blown away by the wind." 4 of 11
This, and similar comments, like, "Well aren't you a string bean?" (or toothpick or beanpole) are more neutral ways of commenting on someone's thinness but they can make girls and women feel self-conscious and uncomfortable about their bodies especially young girls who are still developing.
Instead: The author of this New York Times piece suggests that the proper way of commenting on someone's thinness is don't. I personally think there are appropriate ways — but in dealing with developing girls, a safer, less fraught route might be to simply say, "You are growing so tall!" Or, "You look like you might grow up to be a good runner. Want to race?" (With a wink and a smile, of course.)
"When are you due?" 5 of 11
It boggles my mind that people ask this question before ascertaining a very important piece of information: whether or not the woman is actually pregnant or not. It happens. All the time. Even though you often really can't tell by looking at a woman whether or not they are expecting a baby.
My personal rule of thumb is to never ask if someone is pregnant. Period. Especially strangers whose bodies I am completely unfamiliar with.
Instead: If you really want to know if someone is expecting, ask them how they are feeling. Get them talking and if they tell you, they tell you. If they don't, maybe they're not ready to divulge the information. Or maybe they're not pregnant.
"Still holding onto that baby fat?" 6 of 11
This one is for the kids. Let's agree to not talk about baby fat in front of anyone who is old enough to object to being called a baby. Because they can hear you and they know that in our culture "fat" is almost never a good thing.
Actually, let's also just not be too hasty to comment on the bodies of those whose bodies are so far from fully developed. I've had people recount instances from their childhood in which someone said something about their weight or shape that has stayed with them for decades. My own son and the children of friends of mine as well have been said to be "chubby" when they are, in fact, completely average size. While there are times to worry and circumstances in which stepping in or speaking up about a child's weight might be appropriate, do it out of range of the little pitchers with big ears. It can be incredibly damaging to hear someone talk about you like that.
Instead: "You are the cutest thing ever. What is your favorite thing to play?"
"Why are you on a diet? You look fine." 7 of 11
Answer: "Because looks aren't everything."
So often we judge whether or not people need to change their eating habits or work out based on their appearance. But thin people can be unhealthy and weak, and larger people can be very healthy and strong.
This comment may be an attempt to ensure the person that there is nothing wrong with them, but it can undercut their resolve to make positive changes in their life and show a lack of confidence in their judgment.
Instead: Ask them how their new diet is going and how they are feeling with the changes they are making. Then find a way to encourage them to keep at it.
"Are you really going to eat that?" 8 of 11
Yes, you are trying to be a good friend. You are trying to encourage them by reminding them of their commitment to give up sweets. But to them, it feels more like you are poking their tenderest bruise.
Friends don't need to be the diet police. So approach such situations cautiously lest you unintentionally drive your friend into a shame spiral.
Instead: Ask them if they are interested in something a little healthier to go along with their cookie.
"You’re lucky you don’t have to worry about that." 9 of 11
The truth is that body image issues are not limited to one size or shape or weight. Even people who are a healthy weight can struggle with their body whether it be the size of their breasts or the curves of their hips. Assuming that they don't struggle, it cuts them off from being a part of a conversation that they have an interest in. It also presumes that they don't worry about their weight or that they don't work really hard to maintain a healthy weight. Excluding someone with that kind of perspective from the conversation leaves everyone else a little poorer.
Instead: "You look great, but do you ever worry about your weight? Is thinness just something that comes naturally to you?"
"Have you tried _________?" 10 of 11
While it can be helpful to get a variety of opinions and points of view, it can also feel like badgering when someone is a little too encouraging. Or it can feel like you think they haven't done their research.
Instead: Ask them what kind of diets or workout programs they have tried already, then you can tell them about the thing that ended up working for your aunt or your old roommate or your neighbor down the street. You'll come off as interested and helpful, rather than as a badger.
"Don’t lose too much weight!" 11 of 11
This comment might be a way to tell the person that you like them just the way they are. Or maybe it's a passive-aggressive attempt to encourage them to stay a little heavy so that you look thinner in comparison? It's hard to tell.
More importantly, however, it ignores the fact that trying to lead a healthier lifestyle working out, eating healthfully isn't necessarily about weight. Losing weight is merely the by-product of a healthy and active way of life.
Instead: Ask them if they are happy with how things are going, if they are feeling good, or if they are getting what they want out of the changes they've made in their life.
photos via istockphoto.com