I’m sorry to be crass, but I’ve never seen a more effective response to weight stigma. Put differently, I believe with my whole heart (and have seen time and again) that criticizing someone else’s body – even when we think we’re being helpful – never, ever, ever helps. Unless I am living under a rock and I never leave, I am deluged on a daily basis by messaging about what my body “should” look like to be acceptable in this culture: believe me – we have each already internalized those images and have become quite skilled at comparing our own bodies to them. What we accomplish by commenting on another’s body (particularly negative comments) is to let them know that we, too, are judging them by this one yardstick; we become the personification of the messages that are already a Greek chorus, a tickertape, in that person’s head. And that person can never “un-know” that we view them through this lens.
When we are critical of something that does not directly affect us, such as someone’s size, it shines a spotlight on our own fears, anxieties and perceived shortcomings. It’s really about us. When you are tempted to express your concerns about someone else’s weight or size, consider these questions:
- Does this person know they have a body?
- Does this person live in Western society?
- Do I know how this person already feels about their body?
- Has this person asked me for help or support concerning their body’s size?
- Am I willing to lose this person’s trust and possibly the relationship itself by saying what I want to say?
- How comfortable am I inside my own body?
Hopefully, answering those questions silently in your mind will give you enough of a cautionary pause to prevent your words from leaving your mouth. Because loving that person and shutting the heck up is how you help. Love, connection and acceptance allow us to become the whole person we’re in this life to be, a whole that contains multitudes more than the “skin sack” holding it all. Yet again, an old adage wins the day: if you can’t say something nice, keep your mouth closed and consider what your words really say about you. Or something like that.