I’ve never felt confident with my body regardless of its size. Whether I was bigger or smaller, my body often seemed like something to be ashamed of. I felt like I never measured up, literally.
When my body was bigger, people called me “fat,” “unhealthy” and “lazy.” When I was smaller, people called me “attractive” and “healthy.” You might think that I would have appreciated the latter comments more, but both were just as painful to hear.
This hasn’t just been a problem for myself. Actor and comedian Jonah Hill also took to Instagram recently to post a message about unwarranted body commentary. In the message, he wrote, “I know you mean well but I kindly ask that you not comment on my body good or bad. I want to politely let you know it’s not helpful and doesn’t feel good. Much respect.”
When I saw Hill’s post, I had a feeling I couldn’t describe. Finally, someone said it. Someone made it known that unwarranted body commentary, whether negative or positive, can be harmful. While the intentions may be good, these comments don’t always translate that way, especially for those with body image issues. Even for those who are confident in their bodies, this kind of commentary can often lead to insecurities that weren’t previously there. I can’t speak for Hill’s experience personally, but for me, regardless of intention, these comments all hurt just the same, and people need to stop with them.
Whether I was bigger or smaller, my body often seemed like something to be ashamed of.
In elementary school, I had such low self esteem and absolutely hated my body. I was on the larger side—probably the biggest kid in the whole school. The name calling, teasing and bullying was awful. I’d come home from school everyday and wish that I’d get sick so I’d lose weight. Let that sink in. I wanted to get a disease so I would lose weight—thinking back at that, it’s so sad and goes to show where my mind was at the time.
Family members would micromanage what I ate or make comments about my body, such as “You’d look better in that dress if you lost weight” or “You’d be prettier if you lost 20 pounds.” The people who were supposed to love me unconditionally were encouraging me to be “healthier” for all the wrong reasons. This encouragement not only perpetuated diet culture, but destroyed my mental health and tarnished the way I viewed myself for a long time.
In middle school, I fell victim to societal pressures and developed an eating disorder where I lost around 70 pounds. This is when the influx of compliments and praise came in: “You look so good” and “How did you do it?”
If I had to make an estimate, I’d say I ate under 600 calories everyday for more than a year. That’s absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, but I wanted to lose the weight as quickly as possible so I could finally be “happy” and “fit in.”
Unwarranted body commentary, whether negative or positive, can be harmful.
It was only when I was starving myself, losing hair and passing out from malnourishment that people valued me. However, being valued was something I wasn’t used to feeling, so I kept it going. Before this, nobody ever even batted an eye at me or talked to me aside from verbally abusing me. It was kind of nice to feel acknowledged for once. I wasn’t invisible; I wasn’t the sore thumb sticking out. The compliments kept flooding in. They perpetuated this vicious, unhealthy cycle, but the way they made me feel accepted was too good to pass up.
When looking back at this time in my life, I completely respect Hill and agree with what he said. Even if you mean well, comments about someone’s body may not come off as positive to them. You’re better off saying nothing at all—trust me.
Since I’ve been treated for my eating disorder and body image issues, I now recognize why these comments can be so troublesome. Think about it this way: You tell someone, “you look great” after they lose weight. While this seems like a compliment, it can actually be perceived as “You didn’t look good before. Only now, because you are skinny, are you good enough.” It makes you question your worth and it can start this debilitating, internal dialogue that’s difficult to shut off.
The same goes for comments like, “Your arms look great. Have you been working out?” While the sentiment usually comes from a positive place, for those with body image issues, these comments can raise thoughts like: “Why are they looking at my arms? Have they noticed my insecurities all this time? Why are they so obsessed with my body?”
With all of this said, it’s a rocky road when it comes to unwarranted body commentary because sometimes the intention doesn’t match up with how it’s perceived. It’s a safer bet to not say anything at all unless prompted to. There’s really no need to comment on someone else’s body because at the end of the day, it’s none of your business.
I give Hill massive props for his courage to come forward about how these comments can be unhelpful, and hopefully, by using his platform, he’ll be able to bring more awareness to this topic.