YOUR BEST FRIEND JUST GOT INTO RUNNING and she’s looking mighty fine these days. Her skin’s glowing, she’s happier and she’s wearing clothes a size smaller than she used to. You want to let her know how amazing you think she is, so the next time you see her, you say, “Wow, you’re sooo skinny now!” Cue the applause, the fireworks and the presentation for your Best Friend Ever Award – right? Well, maybe not. While your heart’s in the right place, it turns out this much-used compliment can be a psychological time bomb wrapped in good intentions. Sure, your friend/gym instructor/favourite aunt looks great, but complimenting them on their appearance can lead to a whole bunch of emotional conflicts. Instead of fortifying their confidence, you could actually be chiselling away at its very foundations, making them second-guess their worth and what people thought of them before. Likewise, while you might not have noticed the effect other people’s words have on your body (especially when they’re singing your praises), you might be surprised to know that deep down, those compliments could be making you resent your own body. We’ve got the experts here to explain.
The Phrase, “You Look Skinny” Isn’t Always Appreciated Here’s Why Photo Gallery
So here’s the deal: While you might think that commenting on someone’s weight loss is a positive thing, sometimes it’s not. In fact, as clinical psychologist Dr Julie Malone (self.net.au) points out, some women are desperately trying to put weight on. “Let’s say they’re underweight,” she explains. “When people say, ‘You look skinny’ like it’s a compliment, it could really upset them.” Since none of us are blessed with telepathy, it’s impossible to know what other people are thinking or how our words affect them. Plus, you’ll never know what someone really wants to hear, so making assumptions can be risky. On the other side of the coin, if someone’s actively trying to lose weight and is told they’re looking good, it can open up the proverbial Pandora’s box. Yeah, we get it, you never really thought that telling someone they look slim could be a bad thing, but consider this: What does that compliment say about the person they were before they lost weight? Were they any less deserving of praise or love when they were a couple of kilos heavier? And how are they supposed to feel now? “In another scenario, where someone’s told they look skinny but aren’t trying to lose weight, they might think they need to start and wonder if that person thought they were ‘fat’ before,” says Dr Malone. “It’s stirring a pot that doesn’t need to be stirred,” she adds, and it’s also a way to expose a person’s insecurities, make them question their self-worth or cause them to feel as though their only source of value is derived from a set of scales. If the alarm bells aren’t ringing yet, this might get your attention: using weight or appearance as a means of complimenting someone can unknowingly reinforce unhealthy behaviours. “You don’t know what that person’s been doing to lose weight,” warns Dr Malone. “They could have been engaging in a lot of disordered eating, and when they’re complimented, they think they have to keep doing those things.” Sure, they might look good according to social standards, but they might not be healthy on the inside – so their actions shouldn’t be applauded.
Thinking back to every time you’ve felt chuffed because someone told you all those hours in the gym were paying off? We get it. “It’s human nature to feel happy when we’re approved of by somebody else,” assures Dr Malone. When someone says something nice about us, it feels good and it’s natural to want to feel accepted, she adds, but relying on other people’s compliments isn’t a sustainable way to build self-worth. Place your confi dence or body love in the hands of someone other than yourself, and you’re effectively outsourcing your happiness and relying on external factors to make you feel content in your own skin. Not only is this unsustainable, it’s also exhausting, because if you’re always chasing an aesthetic ideal, you’ll be forever on the run. “Your body is constantly changing because of natural processes, and society constantly changes the ideal view of what your body should look like,” Dr Malone adds. “If you achieve what’s trending at the moment, in a year’s time it will be different, so you’ll always be trying to pin down a changing source of perceived happiness and forever chasing something that’s unrealistic.” Likewise, if you’re always holding people and their bodies up to an unrealistic societal view (knowingly or not), anyone who doesn’t fi t the bill is going to feel totally left out.
If you fi nd yourself questioning your worth because of something someone said, focus on what you have instead of zeroing in on what you lack. “Ask yourself what your body can do for you,” says Dr Malone. Do your legs carry you around? Do your fi ngers allow you to feel? They’re the things that are really worth concentrating on. “It’s all about body acceptance and respect, so working on those things can protect you from other people’s opinions,” explains Dr Malone. It doesn’t happen right away, and you might not ever be 100 per cent happy with every part of your body, but at the end of the day, it’s the only one you have so it’s important to fi nd a way to appreciate it. On the fl ipside, if you fall into the trap of using someone’s physical appearance to compliment them, take a second to be mindful. Instead of projecting your (or society’s) ideas about what a great body should look like onto your pal, think about who they are beyond their appearance. Are they a kind, caring person? Do they make people laugh? It’s the qualities people cultivate on the inside that really provide the keys to intrinsic happiness and confi dence, so do your best to help others recognise those instead. “Whatever you think is important as a personal trait, those are the things that provide a real sense of achievement and they’re things you can work on,” explains Dr Malone. You might not be able to help the size of your hip bones, but you can defi nitely work on being a better listener. And while your friend might be slimming down, it’s the smile on her face that really stands out, right?
DO IT FOR YOU
If you feel the need to ramp up your fi tness routine, ensure you do it for the right reasons – not for the compliments you think you want to hear. “It’s important to treat your body with respect and care,” says Dr Malone. “The idea of ‘bettering your body’ implies that it needs to be better, but there’s nothing wrong with your body.” You might feel as though you need to change to fi t an ideal, but the truth is, the only person you need to impress is yourself. So instead of working out to score a, “You look skinny” comment, why not work out so that your clothes fi t better? Or, remind yourself that those early workouts will help you climb the stairs to your apartment without resting every fi ve steps. Focus on the things that help you feel confi dent and happy from the inside out, because when you’re comfortable with who you are, the compliments will come rolling in – and you’ll appreciate them a whole lot more.