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How to compliment someone – without focusing on their body

In our thinness obsessed culture, we are conditioned to praise weight loss and leanness automatically, completely disregarding how it may have been achieved or how the person we’re speaking to might feel about those words or attention being brought to their body. 

As I have said in the past, compliments on weight loss can reinforce unhealthy behaviours. Or if weight loss is a side effect of stress, trauma or illness, people can feel uncomfortable disclosing these details, which makes it hard to navigate comments about their body. It can also feel confusing and hurtful as their lived experience is being completely bypassed in favour of complimenting them on having a smaller body, regardless of the reasons how that occurred. 

 

What should you say instead?

Focus on qualities not physical attributes

People are so much more than just their body. Compliment their sense of style, their dazzling smile, or their kindness. There are so many wonderful things about each and every one of us that to only focus on the exterior is rather shallow and limiting. Does your friend tell great stories? Is their laugh instantly contagious? Are they really passionate about something? Complement these qualities rather than only focusing on their physical attributes. 


Compliment the effort, not the result

Comments on how great someone looks “now” sends the message that their body is better than it was before. Weight and size aren’t the singular determinants of health and focusing only on their physical changes disregards everything they did to get there. This adds to the belief that it’s the results, and not what it took to get there, that matters. THis can reinforce and unknowingly encourage engaging in unhealthy behaviours to reach this result. 

Instead, compliment their motivation or commitment to achieving their goals. Or maybe they’re inspiring you or others to make healthy changes as well – let them know! We all know how long it can take to learn a skill and become somewhat proficient at it. If you know someone has been working hard at something, you can tell them how much you admire all the time and effort they have put into this skill because it’s something that’s important to them. 

These are all great ways to acknowledge someone’s progress or something positive about them without commenting on their body and how it looks. 

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