No doubt it’s said with great intentions, but it won’t work for everyone.
The mind is a resilient but fragile creation. It can bear a thousand scars, yet get out of bed each day. But sometimes one open wound can throw a person, head first, down an abyss of complete shut-down. I don’t try to cause alarm, but I hope to provoke some pause.
Many moons ago I was a girl who was very confused about how to be in a body. Heck, I still am, but I’m better than before. To me the highest goal for a body was to look good. Physical appearance was more important than how I felt, whether I was sick, whether I was healthy, whether I had friends or not. If you’ve been there then you’ve been there. It’s like being in a funnel – everything was channelled towards one goal and one goal only – and that was looking thin.
Can you imagine, if all of your energy was consumed with counting calories, checking yourself in the mirror, wondering if that handful of almonds had too many carbs – and then someone commented on how you looked – you might analyse, interpret, over-analyse, misinterpret, bring up streams of mixed emotions, and derive empty joy or crushing devastation from it?
I remember how much power I gave away. How much power I willingly handed to family, relatives, friends, strangers, the opposite sex, the current of society – to determine how I would feel about myself. When anyone told the 19-year old me “you look great”, I honestly can’t explain how I felt. Because while I invested all my energy into earning a comment like that, truly I didn’t know how to deal with it. It was extremely uncomfortable for me to say Thank you, because I knew I couldn’t tell that person what I really wanted to say. I couldn’t say “Maybe I look good, but I binge and purge everyday. Sometimes many times a day. I think I have bulimia. Do you think I should get help? Do you know someone who could help?”
No that would have been too much, so I quickly changed the subject to the weather.
Many people with eating disorders and other mental ailments hide in plain sight. You probably won’t know who’s going through it and who’s not, so be very hesitant to assume anything. To you, it may be a perfectly nice thing to tell someone that they look beautiful, amazing, radiant, gorgeous. And thank you for thinking that, it’s very kind. But please know that having an attractive body is very powerful in this society. And with great power comes great confusion.
It’s probably quite hard for most people to comfortably reside in their bodies, let alone sensitive souls who struggle with eating disorders. It doesn’t even matter if there’s a clinically defined condition, many people have a difficult relationship with food, eating, exercising and how they see their bodies. So if you can, be hesitant to comment on someone’s appearance when you see them. Respectfully, you don’t really know what’s going on.
Instead, a genuine inquiry into how they’re doing will work.
But be actually willing to listen to the response.
Instead of assuming that a compliment on their appearance will make them feel good, let them tell you whether they feel good or not.
When we focus less on the outside we might get a better connection to the person.
But hey if that doesn’t work, the weather is always a good fall back.