Body talk is quite a sensitive matter. Especially nowadays with the worldwide obsession of body image, fitness culture, healthy eating habits and social networks like Instagram.
The ideal body standard that society is shaping is almost unachievable. For this reason, the relationship that people are having with their bodies is also more complicated and faces the lack of self-acceptance and is usually based on a negative attitude. All that means is we have to mind our communication: a delivery of an innocent message can cause mutual harm – the receiver might feel offended meanwhile a sender can be considered as rough or not emotionally intelligent.
The main rule: if you don’t need to say anything, say nothing. Avoid saying anything about someone’s appearance. Especially if you don’t know them personally.
“You look healthy”, “You’re so brave”, “You look better now”. These and similar expressions can provoke drama. It is related to a personal interpretation and a mood of addressee. For instance, the last quoted opinion can imply that one didn’t consider the other being healthy before.
In most cases, we only have a very narrow understanding about other peoples lives. We see only a very tiny part of other peoples lives, especially when it comes to social media. Moreover, we don’t know what they are facing or what chronic conditions they might have. It is important to choose our words wisely, otherwise our statement can sound like a judgment.
Avoid complimenting someone’s appearance or body
A word “healthy” has several meanings. In the medical vocabulary it means to be free of diseases. Meanwhile, on the internet it stands for looking skinnier and fitter. Social media proves this social standard because in the search of #healthybody gives results of mostly one body type on Instagram.
Even complimenting someone on looking photogenic or curvy in a specific image can be dangerous. Simply because we don’t know how much effort and time was spent to produce such a perfect image (taking tons of pictures or retouching images with photoshop).
It is better to avoid some certain descriptive words like “slimming” or “flattering” too. They refer to the statement that a natural body shape is not good enough and clothes can make it look better. So, for your own peace of mind, just forget the expression “This dress makes you look slimmer” forever.
Avoid using someone else’s body to make a statement
“You’re so brave” is not and expression which is suitable to use in many cases. Behind the statement is unspoken message that somebody else with the same photo might be acknowledged as “normal” or not brave. Moreover, if people who don’t have a model type body share a bikini photo do so because in most cases they feel comfortable and confident. Negative comments like in the example can make them wonder that something is wrong and change their opinion about their own body, usually in a negative way.
To make it clearer, our physical bodies and appearance in general shouldn’t be divided in right or wrong, valuable or not valuable. “Attacking or praising the body turns the body into a casualty, when it was never meant to be a weapon”. (Rachel Cargle)
Always be careful with your words, especially on social media where is plenty of room for interpretation. So, before sending a message, think what you want to say and compare if that corresponds to your written communication.
In addition, if you really feel complimenting someone choose safe options like clothing, colours, moods…: “I like your dress/smile/vibe!”, “This colour looks so good on you!”, etc.