12 Oct Skinny Is Not A Compliment – Body Image in the Digital Age
A couple of weeks ago, I was at an event for an animal shelter, of which I am on the board. I posed for a picture with a pup, and posted it on my social media accounts. Shortly thereafter, I got a direct message from a distant friend. I note distant friend, because this is a friend who I really only engage with on social media. She is a friend that I respect and admire, and one that doesn’t know much about me, my life history or what is currently going on in the personal life. The direct message said, “Your face looks so thin, did you lose weight?”
I was overcome by many emotions, that I had to use my DBT “STOP” skill and think and get mindful before proceeding. My first thought was “Wow, I must look good.” My second thought was “Does that mean I didn’t look good before?” The third thought was embarrassment, “She must think I need to lose weight, therefore is everybody thinking I need to lose weight?” The fourth thought was anger, “Who is she to comment on my appearance?”
After struggling with my weight as a child, which led to major body image issues in adolescence, I make a conscious effort in my life to not focus on my body. I work out often because it makes me feel good. I eat healthy yet allow myself whatever I want in moderation–otherwise known as mindful, intuitive eating. I do not own a scale. And yet, there this was–a comment about weight that made me spiral into a plethora of thoughts and feelings that I haven’t had in a long while.
I did not respond to this friend. I still have not responded to this friend, and I am not sure I will. If I do, it will be a very well thought out, interpersonally effective assertion that says: “although I appreciate the effort to ‘compliment me’, I believe that commenting on peoples’ weight and body is absolutely inappropriate in most arenas.” Why? We live in a society where there are unattainable, unhealthy standards of beauty and eating disorders are at an all time high.
Social media does not help this. In fact, it perpetuates it.
Scrolling through my Instagram feed recently, I paid attention to the comments written on other peoples’ photos. There was a friend of mine on her wedding day and she looked radiant, jubilant, glowing with love. The comments included: “Skinny mini!” and “So thin!” Another friend, on graduation day, with the comment from someone that stated, “Body on point!” and “Yes!!!!! So Skinny!” It made me so sad that “Skinny” is a compliment. How, what, why?! Is this all we are seeing when we look at one another? Are we inviting this when we communicate mainly through images on social media? Is commenting on another person’s body the new, “congratulations”?
I make a conscious effort to not comment on peoples’ bodies or looks. I’m sensitive to the fact, as a therapist, that eating disorders and body image issues come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone is trying to lose weight. Not everyone is trying to attain a societal standard of thin. To assume so, plays into exactly what is wrong and dangerous about our society.
I encourage you to think and get mindful before posting about someones’ appearance. You may think you are complimenting by commenting on body shape or size, yet you may be doing more harm than good. You never know what a person is going through, or has been through. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are often silent and hidden. One comment could trigger. And besides, don’t you want another human being knowing that you are seeing more than just who they appear to be?
If we all don’t make a conscious effort to change this, the answers to the aforementioned will be yes. Let’s change the language. Let’s look beyond our bodies.
Authored by: Jaime Gleicher, LMSW