Normalize Not Commenting on People’s Bodies

Jonah Hill took to social media a few months ago with the following message:

“I know you mean well, but I kindly ask that you not comment on my body. Good or bad I want to politely let you know it’s not helpful and doesn’t feel good.”

His honesty resonated with many, myself included. I have struggled with body image for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of comparing my body to others dates back to elementary school days. I grew up taking in negative comments about my size, my looks, and what I ate. Insecurity about my physical appearance has been an unwanted companion for 30 years of my life.

In my early 20s, I found myself in an abusive dating relationship. The emotional toll this relationship took on me wiped out my appetite almost entirely. I stopped eating all but one or so meals a day. I lost a lot of weight. And people commented positively on the change in my physical appearance: “You look great!” “Wow, what are you doing to lose the weight?” “You’re beautiful!” Commenters had no idea what an unhealthy situation I was in. My weight loss was actually a red flag of what was going on behind the scenes.

On top of that, a certain weight loss program was becoming very popular. I was direct messaged multiple times by acquaintances I didn’t know that well. Their messages were similar: “You look great for now, but we can help you keep the weight off with our drink supplement!” The weight loss propaganda didn’t go away, even at my thinnest. I wondered, would I ever be thin enough? Would I ever be enough?

I still struggle with body image, and I suppose I always will. Ultimately, I had to learn to love myself in order to drown out unsolicited opinions about my appearance. I learned and still practice healthier coping skills.

First, I practice gratitude for what my strong, resilient body has carried me through so far in life. She is my home. I am thankful that she hosted, grew, and delivered two healthy babies. My body is different than before my pregnancies, but different isn’t bad. I exercise, eat healthy, and sometimes I don’t eat healthy, all because I love myself.

When I think about weight now, I factor in my family’s medical history. Rather than being thin, my motivation to take care of myself is fueled by the goal of living a long, quality life with my husband and children.

My husband and I are thoughtful with the compliments we offer our children. They are valued for so much more than their physical appearance. It’s important they know that from a young age. We affirm that they are smart, kind, funny, responsible, strong, and, yes, beautiful.

What would it look like if instead of immediately sizing people up and commenting on their appearance, we dove deeper and complimented who they are as a person? What if we battled our own insecurities with deeper truths about ourselves?

“You work so hard for your family.”

“I admire how you advocate for your kids.”

“You have really great intuitions.”

“I always appreciate your brilliant insights.”

“You really have a gift for that.”

“Thank you for using your sense of humor to bring others joy.”

“You are such an amazing friend, mom, and partner.”

Assume that everyone is doing their best. Remember that you never fully know someone’s story and what might be happening behind the scenes. More than just diet and exercise factor into a person’s physical appearance: Genetics, mental health, finances, disease, and medications all play a role.

Our judgement of others is oftentimes a good reflection of our own unhealthy perceptions and insecurities. Learning to love ourselves gives us the capacity to love and accept others as they are, judgement free.

The next time you are tempted to comment on someone’s physical appearance — whether positive or negative — stop and think twice. It likely will not be as helpful to them as hearing other ways that you value them as a human.

Shannon started following Boston Moms on social media before she even lived in the Boston area! She credits her passion for the brand to the way it served her personally before she ever contributed to it. Though Shannon moved to Boston to support her husband’s career, Boston Moms was the unexpected gift and opportunity she had no idea was waiting for her. Shannon is mom to Elizabeth (2016) and Anderson (2018). She has been married to her husband, Benjamin, since 2012. Benjamin is a filmmaker and owner of Boston production company Magnus Films. In her free time, Shannon enjoys going to the beach, browsing antique stores, hiking with her family, traveling, reading, and watching movies with her husband.