“Careful the things you say, children will listen.”

“OY, would you just look at the waist on her? You’re so lucky to be so skinny!” The number of times I heard this line in any number of variations as a child would be impossible to estimate. I got it from family members, my parents’ friends, and completely random women in grocery and department stores. I heard it constantly.

The earliest I can recall someone telling me how lucky I was to be skinny is at least elementary school-aged, somewhere between 5-9. Yes, I was a child. I was an innocent, fairly healthy and active child who ate macaroni & cheese and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches as my mother put them in front of me. I was picky, but the way I looked wasn’t even a concept in my head. Food was for nourishment and I was taught to eat it 3-6 times a day as my mother gave it to me. But I was apparently very lucky to be so skinny, according to everyone.

I didn’t know that was meant as a compliment (and why should it be?). When I heard I was lucky to be skinny, that meant skinny was good, ideal, something everyone should aim to be. And I was there, so… success! It meant that to be something other than skinny was unlucky and would lower my quality of life, as you could hear it had for the women talking to me in their envious tones. It meant I had it good as long as I remained thin and tiny.

And those same women would later threateningly say, “Oh, it’ll catch up with you one day.” But I’d learned that was bad, so I wasn’t about to let that happen.

And those same women would even later say, “Oh gosh, she’s in the hospital? How sad. The media these days is just terrible.”

It’s the media, BLAME THE MEDIA! It tells our youth that we have to be thin to be beautiful and it’s causing eating disorders all over the place! Man, it’s so easy to blame things that are bigger than us and out of our control.

Is the media innocent? Of course not, they suck. But we’re not either and we should be held accountable. We need to really think about our actions and the words we say, especially to children and adolescents. They hear things differently and I remember exactly how I heard things when I was that young. The things people told me that played over and over in my head as I bullied myself through starvation are things I will never forget.

The thing is, there’s a difference between a compliment and pushing our insecurities onto someone. A compliment should have nothing to do with you, which is difficult for our society to understand. We’re often very self-centered people and most of our words and actions are driven by our own needs. This is not always a bad thing, but something to be mindful of. “Your hair looks really nice today!” is a compliment. It is an opinion you have about that person and only that person, and there is nothing negative about it. A compliment should not have a negative connotation to it; complimenting someone with a negative statement should intuitively seem counterproductive. “Ugh, I wish my hair was straight like yours,” is not a compliment. In your own head, it probably feels like you’re telling them, “Your hair is straight and I like it!” but all you’re really saying is, “I hate that my hair isn’t straight,” while looking at another person. It is negative and it is about your insecurity rather than their hair.

Everyone does this. I have definitely done it. I have super frizzy, not-quite-straight but not-quite-curly hair. I do it all the time without thinking, which is usually how these things happen. “Uuugh why doesn’t my hair look like yours?!” That’s my problem, not theirs. Good for them for having awesome hair, which probably also drives them crazy every morning. I’m working on it because I know that, on the receiving end, it’s super awkward. Especially when it’s about, oh I don’t know, my weight. Wow, look at that… full circle!

Since we’ve come back to this, let me lay this out for you: it makes me incredibly uncomfortable when you comment on my weight. Anything ranging from, “Oh my gahhhd, I wish I was as skinny as you,” to “You are SO lucky you’re thin,” to “How do you eat so much and stay so tiny?!” Let me cover all of these for you so you never have to say or ask any of these things again:

1) I stay so tiny because I had an eating disorder for almost 20 years of my life. Yes, 20. I screwed up my metabolism and it’s very difficult for me to put on weight.

2) No, I’m not lucky that it’s difficult for me to put on weight. I don’t (see also: no longer) feel pressured to be skinny because society tells me I have to be. I would like to gain weight to be healthier, have more energy, and thicken up my organs that lost some muscle mass from, you know, starving myself.

If you have a problem with your weight or feel uncomfortable in your skin, I’m sorry to hear that. I absolutely understand what that feels like and how difficult it can be to accept yourself and love your body under the pressures of society. If you’d like to talk to me about that, I would be more than happy to. But please, please do not use my body — and the hell I’ve put it through, for the matter — to commentate on your own insecurities. It makes me extremely uncomfortable and further reinforces “ideals” that we are trying to steer away from.

This is how I look. That is how you look. Now matter how much I weigh or how much you weigh, the two are — and should remain — completely unrelated. Children are obviously the most impressionable, but no matter the age of who you are speaking with, please always consider this before complimenting someone in a way that may lead them to think that there is a wrong way to look. There is not. I deeply hope that this becomes universally understood one day.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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