What gives people the idea that they’re entitled to comment on your weight, or your appearance, or your eating habits? Our in-house therapist helps one reader deal with the endless unsolicited opinions.
Dear Ms X,
I am in a bit of a rage and I need to work out why before I go all blood wedding on a few of my friends and relatives.
Why does it piss me off whenever somebody tells me I look like I’ve lost weight or comments on a photo of me saying something along those lines or even using the word skinny?
It immediately makes me so angry.
Specifically one of my skirts I usually fit into nicely is a bit big at the moment and was falling down a little at work and I complained about it briefly, like I was just filling silent space and my coworker was like ‘omg are you losing weight??’
Their eyes were fucking beaming.
Then my cousin just commented on my Facebook photo saying ‘skinny girl’ (not the first time she’s commented on it), I deleted it, I can’t put into words why it makes me so mad.
I don’t know if I’m grumpy because I’m insecure or secure.
I don’t even have a second thought about other people’s body’s so why the hell are they commenting on mine and why am I worked up about it?
By the way I am an average and healthy size and weight for my height and BMI – I consider myself to be a person with a healthy weight and body image.
I don’t binge diet, I try to exercise and eat healthy around the normal cravings for carbs when I have my period or a shitty day.
I am not constantly instagramming bullshit fitspo whole grain propaganda either, so why do people, especially other women, think it’s ok to just have this conversation or actually make these statements publicly at me?
I know with the skirt comment at work I may have started it or maybe encouraged it but the rest of the time I am not one of those people obsessed with imaginary weight.
It doesn’t feel like they are complimenting me with these comments on social media – it feels weirder.
Ooh good, I can return to two of my favorite themes. Good manners and keyboard-specific stupidity.
You will have noticed on social media (much like in life) women are rewarded for looking pretty and slim. We have whole TV shows dedicated to makeovers and weight loss.
I have noticed it myself with a kind of amused horror. When I use a photo that is a bit glam on Facebook, I get a zillion more likes and lots of “wowza girl” comments.
I feel the sickly trickle of ego inflation pumping up whatever gaps I have like a tragic air mattress at a camp ground. In that moment I simultaneously understand the Kardashians and feel like gross click farmer.
I could blah on about commodification and competition between women, but this is a help column so lets pull this apart and work out a way to understand whats really happening when we talk to each other like this and how we shut it down if we are uncomfortable with it.
When we are paid a compliment there can be a shadow side to it, an underlying implication or even a clear judgement that is implied.
What seems on face value to be a compliment can in fact tell us all about the person who delivers it. I have a friend who self describes her build as curvaceous. She says people on Tinder will sometimes say “oh what a pretty eyes you have”.
She says this sometimes feels more like “shame about the rest” and it often signals that they are either not into her particular body shape or that they are subtly negging her. And she takes that as a useful clue as to whether she wants to talk to them anymore.
With respect to your cousin’s comment of “Skinny girl” it may have felt darker in its intent because it’s not exactly “Yaaaaaaas Gurl” or some other charming piece of fluff comment. I think that you felt there was an undercurrent that indicated something abut your perceived worth.
I don’t think your cousin is consciously negging you but it may indicate how she feels abut herself or even how she thinks you should feel about yourself. It will be interesting if she notices that you deleted the comment and if she says anything. You may want to think up a few words in preparation in case she brings that up over Christmas lunch.
You can of course be completely up front with her and say “I don’t feel comfortable with comments about my weight in public forums because I feel it adds to the utterly vile commodification of women and girls in our society. More pav?”
Generally there there is a proud and important history of women being uplifting to each other in social media comments (slay kween and many heart eyed cats etc) in a way that subverts the cacophony of criticism aimed at women from every other avenue.
With the work situation you describe maybe it has been unfortunate theme that all got rolled into a ball, a perfect storm of opinions you didn’t want or need in a short period of time from Facebook cousin and workmate.
But the difference between the two situations here is that you are dealing with coworkers vs family.
So what are ways that you shut down that type of stuff at work?
More widely what do you do so that you don’t feed the self doubt monster? How can we pay compliments to other women in a way that means we aren’t somehow signaling what we think their value is?
With the workmates I think you have to lead by example. Don’t complain about clothes not fitting if you know that sets fire to your coworkers biggest loser ambitions.
Find other stuff to talk about. I don’t say that glibly – it can be really hard to change the tone of banter from ‘Oh I ate too much and a customer asked if I was knocked up and/or my pubes are fighting to establish themselves as a world heritage site’.
But if you don’t want to hear other peoples opinions about your body then don’t start those conversations unless you build a layer of armour.
Have some friends you can debate skin care/contraception/odd smells or whatever with, but keep it plain at work so you don’t encourage it .
I know you didn’t exactly say anything super personal but I think you are experiencing something I see with women a lot and have been conscious of myself – a kind of fatigue at being looked at and appraised. That is a totally real kind of wariness and maybe right now you have just had enough. Frankly, posting pictures of your cat while you have a detox from other people’s opinions would be a completely legitimate response for now.
Meanwhile you have inspired me to move to making non appearance-based observations on all my female friends’ social media posts:
‘Woah, check out those non-emotive responses on you’, ‘Omigod I’d agree to your maternity leave’ or ‘Shit girl, you are going to totally get equally paid.’
Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to email@example.com, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.
All messages will be kept in the strictest confidence and your name will not be published. If you wish to remain completely anonymous, consider using a free remailer service like Send Email.
Need help now?
Lifeline 0800 543 354
Youthline 0800 376 633
OUTline (LGBT helpline) 0800 688 5463
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.