As I’ve reflected over the years as to what’s contributed to my body image struggles, I’ve realized I can’t blame just one thing. But rather, it’s a compilation of messages I’ve heard – things said in the media, things said in my presence about other people or things said to me, plus images I’ve seen.
One of the many contributors that I’ve pinpointed, though, is people commenting on my outfit, my weight and/or looks. Those comments were “positive.” “Huh?!?,” you might be saying to yourself. A positive comment is a bad thing? Let me explain.
There are specific instances in childhood when I was complimented for my outfit/looks, yet other kids with me weren’t. Although I enjoyed that attention, because of it I subconsciously started to associate personal value and worth with looks. I felt a need to keep up with my appearances to continue to receive that affirmation. And at the basic level, I also realized when I walked into a room, people were going to judge my appearance.
In college, I experienced multiple periods of weight loss due to restrictive eating (when I was already at a healthy weight). One of the motivators for this unhealthy behavior was people talking about the freshman 15 SOOO much before I went to college. It wasn’t just my friends, but adults were talking about it. I was adamant I was not going to gain the freshman 15 and that in fact, I was going to LOSE weight. When I came home over break, I’d get lots of comments from people that I’d lost weight. I not only enjoyed what I felt to be positive attention, but those comments reaffirmed that people DID notice my weight, my looks, appearance and that those things mattered.
If you think about it, how many times do you comment on someone’s looks when you see them? Or how often do people comment on yours? I get why our salutations often include a, “Hi! You look so great!” or a “I love your outfit!” We are trying to be nice and a person’s exterior is what we see first. You can’t NOT see their hair, face, clothes, etc. But what if we see those things, yet on occasion choose to look even further inside the person and greet them with a comment that goes beyond the physical surface?
But what if we see those things, yet on occasion choose to look even further inside the person and greet them with a comment that goes beyond the physical surface?
Here a three ways we could all try to do this:
- Comment on something you’ve missed about the person. For example, my friend Brooke in Kansas City gives the BEST hugs. The next time I see her I’m going to greet her by giving her a hug and telling her how much I’ve missed her hugs.
- Mention something you’re excited to hear about. For example, how their work is going, what new thing their kiddo has learned to do, how their last trip was, etc.
- Simply tell the person it’s great to see them and you’re glad they are there.
My husband and I have discussed this topic a lot because I’ve shared the experiences above with him. How do we handle complimenting our daughter when it comes to appearance? It’s hard not to squeal and say “you look so cute!” when she has a stinking adorable outfit on. And we’ve asked ourselves, ‘If we never compliment her appearance, is she going to think she’s ugly or have issues later in life because of that?” I mean, if she walks down the stairs in her prom dress and we don’t say anything about how she looks, that would be a little absurd.
We don’t have the magic answer but what we’ve landed on is that an occasional compliment on her appearance isn’t a bad thing. But when it’s the most frequent thing she’s complimented for, she might start to associate her value and worth based on her appearance. And that’s the last thing we want for her.
Just being aware of this topic has helped us press the pause button and, instead of saying “Hi, beautiful” saying, “Hi, sweetheart.” Because in the end, a sweet heart is truly what matters.
P.S. Have other ideas on how to greet people without commenting on looks? I’d love to learn from you. Please share below.
P.P.S. After I wrote this post, a friend on Facebook shared this Buzzfeed video – “Things to Say to Young Girls That Aren’t ‘You Look Pretty Today!‘ I highly recommend watching and sharing. Such good stuff.