Stop normalising the compliment 'you look slimmer'

We have become far too comfortable with projecting our internalised fatphobia onto others, no matter how good our intentions are.

Imogen Mole
11th May 2022
Image Credit: Pexels, Andres Ayrton
Compliments can be a really beautiful thing. They’re a way of showing someone they’re appreciated and admired and let’s be honest, it does feel great to receive them.

However, when it gets hard is when someone compliments you on your body. Whether this is a grandma you haven’t seen in a while that says ‘you’re looking so healthy and slim!’ or a friend you see for a quick catch up, it can really feel like you’re suddenly not a person, or a friend, or a grandchild, but a creature under a microscope.

So-called 'motivational' images like this are part of the problem - they draw our focus to being thin, not being healthy. Image credit: Pexels, Andres Ayton

Whether intentional or not, when someone compliments you on looking thinner, it translates to saying, ‘you look acceptable because you fit into what society deems as appropriate, keep doing what you’re doing!’. It’s a chant that you never asked for, it's never needed and puts you in a lonely place of choosing between the appearance you feel the happiest in or the appearance you feel you need to uphold to keep others happy. I’ll give you a clue, always choose the first.

Although it is a completely offensive thing to say and can have extreme effects on people’s health and wellbeing, sometimes it can really be from a place of sincerity, sometimes someone really wanted to give you a genuine compliment but internalised fatphobia jumps out and ruins it. We are hardwired to believe that to be healthy is to be slim so much so that whenever we see someone that looks visibly slimmer than the last time we saw them, all those magazines we read with the photoshopped abs, all the ‘I’m watching my figure’ comments we heard when we were younger, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ weight loss adverts on buses, the diet posts on Instagram all manifest and come to the surface, and culminate into thinking the only possible way to compliment this person is to say they look thinner instead of saying they look good. By doing this, we end up just churning out the poisonous ideas that we were polluted with in the first place. You’d think in a society so technologically developed we’d be able to get over the binary of fat = unhealthy, slim = healthy.

You wouldn’t walk down a street, see a nice looking house and think that nothing sad would ever happen inside it.

The truth is you really never know what anyone is going through, no matter what they look like. That person you just told looks amazing since losing a few pounds could be in the throes of depression, the person with a six-pack could be working out to look like the models on Instagram, and really not enjoying it at all. At the end of the day our bodies are simply just a physical home for our minds ,so maybe we should think about it in the way that you wouldn’t walk down a street, see a nice looking house and think that nothing sad would ever happen inside it just because it looks what you deem as acceptable.

I’m not saying we should never compliment anyone ever again; I just think it’s important to normalise not commenting on people’s bodies and instead ask how they are or about something happy that’s happened to them recently. That can mean a lot more to people and open up a much more important conversation than saying they look slimmer ever could.

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