Now that the holidays are upon us, we have a friendly reminder: Body-shaming—and/or any general commentary about bodies, weight, or eating habits—isn’t just rude but actively damaging. You don’t have to just take my word for it, either: Both scientists and mental health experts agree that this type of dialogue, no matter how “well intentioned,” doesn’t help anyone. It does the opposite.
“Any comments about the body are harmful, especially for those struggling with body image or disordered eating,” Samantha DeCaro, PsyD, psychologist and director of clinical outreach and education at eating disorder recovery organization The Renfrew Center, tells Glamour. And yes, this includes snide observations about people not physically in the room and remarks meant as admiration, like “Have you lost weight?” and “You look so thin!”
This is because purported praise is oftentimes still hurtful and can come at the expense of someone’s “former” self—which, by the way, is the same exact person. Who I am plus or minus 50 pounds is literally still me and equally deserving of love, compassion, and your interest. “It’s a reminder that their body is being noticed, assessed, and ultimately judged by you,” DeCaro says.
People are not “before” and “afters”; please stop treating them as such. And I, quite frankly, don’t want to spend a celebratory meal hearing about your friend’s friend’s Ozempic journey.
As for why the holidays are the prime time to discuss this issue? Family members are most likely to body-shame. This isn’t just anecdotal, either: According to research published in the International Journal of Obesity, 80% of the study participants, all of whom were WW users (formerly Weight Watchers), had been fat-shamed by family members—double that by friends.
For the Last Time: Body Types Are Not Trends
After a decade of Kardashian-pushed BBLs and full-figured physiques, celebrities are now openly discussing and displaying rapid weight loss, heralding the return of extreme thinness in media. But as history has repeatedly shown us, treating bodies as commodities you can “try on” is damaging and dangerous—and frankly something we, as a society, should have already evolved past.
It’s unclear why family members feel so entitled, but one thing’s for sure: It’s not going to end how they want it to. Despite body-shamers insisting that they’re “just trying to help”—thinking they’re somehow inspiring their victims to become (their definition of) “healthier”—overwhelming evidence proves that, in reality, they’re provoking a contradictory response.
“A common perception is that a little shame or stigma might motivate people to lose weight, but that is not what we see in research,” says Rebecca Puhl, lead writer and researcher on the study, who serves as deputy director at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “In fact, when people experience weight stigma, this actually contributes to unhealthy eating behaviors [and] lower physical activity.” That and avoiding the doctor. All great things!