How to Deal With Unwanted Body Commentary

Nice responses to the vegan roast beet and goat cheese salad! When all else fails, give them fromage.

I’m pretty good at making lemonade out of lemons. When I make a mistake, I focus on the good things I’ve learned from it. When I suffer a professional setback, get fired up to work harder and achieve more. When I argue with someone, I take it as an opportunity to learn more about his or her sensitivities (and my own!). When I break up with a boyfriend, I welcome the onslaught of freedom. Don’t get me wrong: I’m far from a sunny optimist. My own particular brand of realism has been labeled “cynicism” by family and friends. But I try not to dwell on negatives or regret.

This morning, as I was leaving the gym, Gina, the receptionist at the front desk, beckoned me over with a furtive smile. “Hey G!” she motioned. “C’mere!” (I’ve been going to the same gym almost every morning since I was eighteen, so the old timers there know me well, and we all share an easygoing banter.) I leaned in, and she whispered, “Have you gained some weight? Because your legs look thicker than usual!”

I stared, aghast. “NO.” I declared. “Why on earth would you ask me that?”

Maybe, if I could do it again, I would offer up a slightly more graceful response. But the question was like a knock to the gut, and that’s what came out.

Now, let me preface this with a few facts. No, I don’t think I’ve gained weight. I don’t weigh myself regularly, but the last time I had a check up (which was very recently), I was right at my norm. And my clothes fit as always, so I’m confident that things haven’t changed. I have, however, been injured. Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably heard me whining about my hip; for the last month, I’ve been struggling with on again, off again (but mostly on again) hip pain. Finally, last week, I got a proper diagnosis from an orthopedist. The good news? It’s not a plate injury or a stress fracture. The bad news is that it’s a dual injury–I’ve got a nasty adductor strain, and I’ve also got hip tendonitis, and I’ll need at least a month of physical therapy. I’ve had tendonitis from exercise before, but never like this. I’m OK, but I limp constantly, and any sharp movements, including shifting around as I sleep, hurt.  The upshot is that I can’t do any of my normal exercise. I can’t run, I can’t cycle. The elliptical is OK sometimes, but excruciating at others. So the only things I’ve been able to do routinely are long sessions on the stairmaster and the stepmill, both of which build leg muscle.

So I’m not surprised that my legs have bulked up a little. This little anecdote isn’t about me solving the mystery of why the receptionist said what she said, or me fretting about whether or not I’ve gained weight. I’m not fretting. It’s about my reaction to the question itself–its innocent, yet dangerous, thoughtlessness. And it’s about my personal development–where I am now, versus where I used to be.

Now clearly, Gina didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. And when I reacted as sharply as I did, she immediately back pedaled. “Oh no! I didn’t mean it to be a criticism. I just meant your legs, they look bigger than they usually do. I mean, it’s a good thing.” Perhaps she thought I’d want to hear these things. (To be honest, I can’t think of any scenario in which a woman wants to hear that she appears to have gained weight, but let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.) Perhaps it’s cultural; she’s Puerto Rican, and bodies that are shapelier than mine are usually admired in Puerto Rican culture. Perhaps she thought it was funny, that I’d respond with something like, “Oh my gosh, YES, I have! I’m so annoyed. I’ll have to cut back on the desserts, eh?” Who knows what she thought. It wasn’t malicious, I know that: it just wasn’t thoughtful, either.

Clearly, my gut feeling was to get angry. Instead, I tried to stay calm. “Gina,” I said, “you have to be really careful about what you say to women about their weight, especially if you don’t know them well. That comment doesn’t make me feel good at all, and I don’t see it as a compliment. I also have a history of struggling with food. So please, don’t ever comment upon the my physical appearance again.”

A sweet, horrified torrent of apologies followed, and I accepted them. I made clear that I knew she hadn’t meant to insult me, and that I wasn’t angry at her. And then I got out of the gym.

What was I angry at? I was angry at was the fact that it’s still widely acceptable for people–strangers, friends, family members–to offer up commentary on other people’s weight and bodies. How many former eating disorder sufferers could say that their weight loss began with a vocal observation from a family member or friend?

“Looks like you’ve been eating well!”

“My, haven’t you filled out.”

“You look great–you look so…healthy.”

I’m sure you’ve heard at least one or a few of these choice euphemisms for “you’ve gained weight,” and so you know how painful they all can be. Maybe there are women who can handle–even appreciate–them. But I’d wager most women are likely to be hurt. I remember a high school teacher who made a point of not accepting compliments on her physical appearance–even a remark as innocent as “That’s a nice shirt!” At the time, it seemed like an awfully dramatic stance. Today, seeing the carelessness with which people make comments about the way other people look, I sort of understand it.

A person’s feelings about his or her body are so deeply personal; some of us have uncomplicated relationships with our bodies, and others have tremendously fraught ones. Unless you know whom you’re talking to, and what his or her frame of mind is, it’s best to keep your observations to yourself. If a friend of mine has lost or gained so much weight that I’m concerned about her health, I might utter a few delicate words. Other than that, I keep any observations to myself. I make an effort not to focus on other people’s bodies too much, anyway–people are highly intuitive, and they typically know it when you’re scrutinizing them. For my part, I work to discourage outspoken commentary on body change. I do not broadcast angst about my body’s little ups and downs publicly–I try to be as impervious to them as I possibly can be–and I do not welcome weight loss conversations onto my blog.

I won’t lie: once upon a time–perhaps even five or six years ago–Gina’s comment would have sent me into a black hole of despair, obsessiveness, and isolation. Today, I’m happy to say that I let it roll of my shoulder. Here are the positives I took away from the whole thing:

  • Personal progress. I’ve come a long way from my days of self-loathing and body fixation. I may still true outrage and a sense of sympathy with women who struggle–and I hope that sympathy never goes away–but I’m no longer prone to self-destruction and warped self-perception.
  • Incentive toward setting an example. As I mentioned above, I make a conscious effort–on my blog and in the dialogs I have with other people–to in any way encourage excessive scrutiny of the body. This episode only compounded my dedication to this commitment.
  • Preventing future commentary. Gina said what she said innocently. But she works in a fitness environment, which is full of body conscious men and women, and it’s important that she not feel entitled to carelessly vocalize her observations about people’s bodies and how they change. My reaction to what she said today is likely to prevent her repeating the same remark to someone else.
  • This is probably the first time in my twenty-seven years that anyone has ever called me muscular (in not so many words).

Not bad, as far as lemonade goes.

What’s my advice for the next time someone comments upon your body?

  1. Remember that people’s perceptions are subjective and inaccurate. Gina may have seen more bulk than usual, but she didn’t see weight gain, and she didn’t express what she saw particularly well.
  2. Rather than feeling devastated or diminished, try to see the comment as a challenge: it’s a test of your relationship with your own body. Don’t give into the impulse to be easily influenced and irrational; instead, prove to yourself that you’re capable of an objective understanding of the way you look.
  3. Speak up. Eighteen year old Gena would have heard that comment, offered up a shy response like “Oh–I don’t think so, no–” and slunk away to fester in my own despair. Today, I spoke up immediately, defined my boundaries (i.e., I made clear that I don’t like it when others comment on the way I look), and offered up a gentle warning about the hazards of these kinds of remarks. Was I outspoken? Yes. But given the context (a fitness center) and the circumstances (Gina and I know each other, but not well; we’re friendly, but have a client/employee relationship), it was appropriate. Use every unwelcome comment as a chance to offer up your definition of what is and isn’t acceptable as commentary. Do your part in nipping these remarks in the bud.
  4. Move on. The more you fixate on your body, the more you perpetuate the kind of focus and attention on physical shape that fosters these kinds of comments in the first place. Fat talk begins and ends with us.

Those are just my two cents. But I’m sure I’m missing a lot of great strategies. So I’m opening it up to you guys. How do you handle unwanted commentary on your looks? How legit is it to remark on another woman (or man’s) appearance? How have your responses to commentary changed with age?

No matter what your strategies are, you needn’t be turned into a victim by unwelcome commentary; instead, you can use it as an opportunity for personal growth, as a reason to spread thoughtfulness, and as a chance to set an example.

And for another conversation about fat talk and its dangers, check out Tasha’s spicy post today!

Night!

xo

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    134 Comments
  1. I have this thing where everytime something hurts me I look up online to read other people’s experiences.
    It helps me understand and organize my feelings. So thank you so much for sharing.
    I struggled being an overweight teenager. I lost weight and today, I’m 29 and I am not overweight nor underweight. I’m healthy. I’m very short and although that fact alone doesn’t exactly bother me, everytime I gain or lose juuuust a little bit of weight, it shows. And apparently, it’s okay for everyone to comment. Sometimes as a “comment”, other times as an “innocent joke”. I know there is nothing wrong with my body but I still struggle a lot with this generally accepted behaviour. Today, I entered the kitchen and my boyfriend’s father said: “Raquel gained weight” (actually in portuguese sounds even worse, more like: Raquel looks fatter!).
    I tried to fake indifference, but he said it again. We weren’t alone it was me, my boyfriend, his father and his mother.
    Nobody said anything and I just made up an excuse to leave the kitchen because I felt so selfconscious and so insecure. I think he tried to see if I was okay later and I pretended to be okay, because I know him and he didnt mean to hurt me. He just thinks it’s okay to say it. My boyfriend came to check on me like he didn’t know what was bothering me. He was embarassed by his father’s comment and didn’t want to acknowledge it.
    So we ended up arguing when he said: “You are mad about THAT? You know he’s just joking he’s stupid but he didnt mean it in a bad way.I can’t believe your almost crying over it, that’s just stupid.” Somehow, after getting my body shamed by and in front of people who matter to me, I was to blame for my (over)reaction.
    My (over)reaction: 1st)I pretended to be ok so that his father wouldn’t feel bad about it. 2nd)I removed myself from the kitchen in a gracious way. 3rd)In a separate room, in front of my boyfriend, my face slightly showed that I was hurt.
    I had a really bad day after that. Went home and cried a lot. This was obviously just the “cherry on top” of many other comments and situations. I hadn’t feel this way for years. I went from hurt to really mad/outraged. So I finally decided that from now on, I will not take any more comments on my appearance.
    In portuguese we say: “You say what you want, you hear what you don’t.”
    I won’t be mean, but I will have my say. And if their okay making me feel unconfortable, I will have to be okay making them feel unconfortable too.
    I am sick and tired of people not knowing what not to say. I find it very hard to believe that in a lifetime you still didn’t learn something as basic as this. Really, I think people just know that most of the times the person they are “innocently” offending is more polite than they actually deserve.

  2. I think the problem is that many people lack general awareness and have no filter, where you don’t have this problem. It happens every day regardless of if it’sat the gym, at work, or front of your in-laws.

    I think the majority of people judge, some just do a better job of having awareness of when judge out loud and when to keep quiet. Too bad you had to deal with this but agree that it’s better off just moving on.

  3. I know I’m late to reading this, but I wanted to say that I really appreciated this post, Gena. I’ve had similarly unwanted comments about my body for a long time. In fact, one of my omnivore coworkers would focus on the vegan food I was eating (asking me questions about it and then say, “that would never tempt me”) until I finally mentioned to him that I wasn’t tempted by his food either. He would also say things like, “Maybe you eat too many vegetables” or “What I do is never eat until I’m completely full.” I wish I’d thought of saying something like you said to create boundaries in the conversation.

    More recently, my sister lost weight through changes in exercise and diet. Since then, a few family members or mutual friends would say to me, when she wasn’t there that she’s so skinny or that they’d heard she’d lost a lot of weight and looks really good without making a comment about me. Funny thing is that these comments make me feel almost as bad as when the comments are directed toward me personally.

  4. why are we so conscious of what other people think of us? I know most of us are but how about what we think of ourselves. The 2 are never weighted in the same measure. I’m trying to love myself just the way I am and maybe then I can love others just the way they are too. Great article

  5. I realize this post is over two years old, but since I joined the PC in Africa two years ago my internet use has been so minimal that I’m always reading outdated things.

    Anyway, the moment that you pointed out that Gina was Puerto Rican, I involuntarily thought, “OHHH. OK. That makes more sense.” My experiences in Cameroon have taught me to face my body issues a lot more. Culture influences body-attitude and what is acceptable to say SO MUCH. The diet in Cameroon is highly starch, and as such, many female volunteers gain a lot of weight. In my two years here, not ONE volunteer (i.e. an American) has said anything to me about my weight fluctuations (nor have I to them) and I always love that feeling of safety when I see a group of them after a long hiatus. I feel safe because they are going to care about my mental health and ask me about work rather than making comments about how much bigger my cheeks look and what I eat to look like that (this are all things Cameroonians do…and I should just say right now that I’ve never gained excessive amounts of weight here…)

    However, whether I like to admit it or not, I have developed a mild anxiety about the people in my village. Everyone knows everyone in my village, and as such, my friends and even strangers who just know me from being somewhat of a local celebrity, never hesitate to give me their unsolicited opinion. And naturally, it’s almost always about my weight. Typical comments include: “Tu a pris du poids!” (You’ve gained weight) or “Tu es en bonne forme!” (You’re looking nice and healthy), complete with a sumo wrestler like stance, animating the portliness. The thing is that hearing that I’m fat is never accompanied by a positive comment like “you’re beautiful”, it’s just out there stated like a fact. Analogously, sometimes in America, “You’re so skinny!” isn’t said in conjunction with “You look great” which just goes to show how programmed we are to see it as a compliment.

    In some ways I’ve accepted it, in other ways I haven’t. I know it’s part of the culture; when you have a little extra fat on you it means that you haven’t been sick with Malaria or Cholera and Typhoid recently or have AIDS [all of which usually make you lose weight] and therefore you are alive and capable of living. It’s a compliment so to speak. And many African men really do enjoy a rounder, fuller figure.

    However, it still stings me when I hear it. It always sounds like a criticism to me. My American values are just too deep, for better or worse. Sometimes I even feel like people say it maliciously because the more informed people know that American culture doesn’t value portliness, and they’re just saying it to get a rise out of me.

    But I made a promise to myself to accept it in stride. I just say “Merci” and smile and try to change the subject. Hence why I really liked your decision not to say anything about the body one way or the other, which is what I try very hard not to do, especially in reference to myself. I’m always glad that I didn’t. So no, I don’t take it as a moment to educate them about their tactfulness because it’s their culture. Yes, my very close African friends don’t make comments to me. With them I am direct and they understand I don’t want to hear anything about fatness. I’ve told them that if I’ve gained weight, they don’t need to tell me, because they don’t need to tell me what I already know.

    In conclusion, all I’m saying is that I relate. And I’m glad others do too. Way to grow and and I love your advice on how to make lemonade from moments like the ones above. We are together.

  6. Thank you so much for posting. After a severe battle with the flu at 12 years old, I had the receptionists at the club where I swam compliment me on weight loss. Our society enables a completely inappropriate level of body monitoring to the point where a stranger complimented a PRE TEEN on weight loss. I also had family members constantly monitor my weight from a very young age. The larger problem here is the superficiality of the short judgments, as many here have described. A weight loss or gain is never one-dimensional, it signifies our health, our self love, stress, a family issue, relationships, exercise, or disease. Keeping that in mind, as well as the myriad of complicated implications for commenting on a woman’s weight with our thin-fixed media, a loss or gain should never be assumed as containing an inherent positively or negativity. Even the smallest comment can be triggering, and I am so happy to see a community where people are fighting back against unwanted body talk. I

  7. Hi! Your post really resonated with me. It appears I found it quite late, but your words are still timely. For the majority of my life, I’ve been the tallest person in the room, school, work, etc. I’m 5’10. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me how tall I was, how they feel like a midget around me, how I intimidate them, etc. In reality, I’m really more scared of them than they are of me. By all rights, I really should be proud of how tall I am and I should have carried myself with confidence when in my 20s. But thanks to people’s opinion of me and assorted comments, my confidence didn’t get to develop fully. I’m now in my mid 40s and care much less about how people view me. I figure at this point in my life, there’s not much I can do to change my height. I can always concentrate on my weight, wear makeup, dress decently, and keep my grey hairs covered. Growing up, much emphasis was put on appearance, and any weight gain, messy hair, or pimples received inappropriate attention, usually in the form of a snide remark from either or both parents. It was usually phrased as a question like, “Why is your face so broken out?” Had I an appropriate answer, I’m sure I would have placated the parents. I think that when people make those kinds of remarks, they don’t take the time to think ahead to how they’ll sound or how they’ll make someone feel. It was almost a punishment growing up to hear something like that come from a parent. Like I had a reason? Also, I have a gut. Yes, there’s no other way to put it. I’m thin in all other areas except my stomach. It enters the room before I do. In the past, a few women have assumed I was pregnant when I wasn’t. It hurts. There is absolutely no response I can give to someone who is ignorant enough to say something like that. I immediately judge them for having the gall to even think it was okay to ask me that question. And these women didn’t even know me.

    The best solution, even if you really know someone well, isn’t to come out and say things about their appearance. Give them a compliment when you think they look nice. If you like their hair, say so. If you covet a piece of jewelry they’re wearing say so. If you think they’ve gained weight, are struggling with adult onset acne, or think they look like crap, keep it to yourself. I think that more people really need to think before they speak. The comment you received at the gym was totally inappropriate and she was very lucky that you handled it with grace.

  8. Very nice post! This brought up lots of feelings and thoughts for me. Growing up, I was overweight and my whole family liked to focus on it, commenting on what I ate at dinner, how much I had, whether I was doing good or doing bad. that launched me right into a big eating disorder that has lasted over 20 years until just recently. I lost most of my excess weight in my late teens and have kept it off except for about 30 lbs that i yo-yo’d up and down with for the next 20 years-hating myself for. I recently visited relatives that havent seen me in awhile and noticed that just like childhood, at 41, they still feel the need to let me know if I’m doing okay with my weight or not. I got a lot of. “looks like you’re keeping your weight off.” remarks. While I’m sure they think this is a compliment to me, and that i just relish hearing this, it actually makes me VERY uncomfortable. It reminds me that they all still feel like my weight and body are open to criticism or praise. Have we ever discussed THEIR weight gains or losses? No. But it’s still necessary to check in and see if ole Paige has “put the weight back on.” I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to these remarks. I say thank you, but stew for a long time afterwards, feeling like I’m still trapped in my childhood, unable to speak my real feelings. I also have a friend who would mentions often how she’d like to lose weight, but she never follows through with her intentions. This is okay with me, she can eat whatever she likes. But, if I mention that I’m trying to be healthier, she makes comments like, “Oh Please! you look fine.” or uses sarcasm like, “yeah right, you’re a real fatty!” I don’t say anything, but those remarks also make me angry. She never sees that I am trying to focus on being healthier, it’s not all about my physical appearance and wanting to look “hot” as so many people seem obsessed with. So, I can never share any of my goals regarding eating habits or lifestyle changes with her. I guess I still have a long way to go before I can hear these kinds of things and be alright with them!

  9. I’ve only just seen this post but wanted to say thank you for it 🙂
    I agree with what you say in that I can’t see how that ever would have been an appropriate comment to make although I’m sure she didn’t mean anything hurtful…

    It’s like when people at work tell me the reason I’m cold (with the Arctic air conditioning on!) is “because you’re so thin”.
    These are colleagues not friends – how would anyone like it if I told them they were hot “because you’re so fat”! Grrr. I think that, unless you’re close to the person and have a good reason for saying it, comments about people’s weight are out!

    Thank you again 🙂

  10. Very interesting post. So appropriate to my every day life!!! I have had a statement like yours on the tip of my tongue for quite some time now, but just had not yet formulated the words (about commenting on one’s body).

    I get a lot of comments, for what feels like a daily basis (I lost track when I was little). I REALLY don’t like it. I used to have an eating disorder and took all comments to heart.

    While all/most comments I hear in present time are always intended to be positive, I still do not like them. I like that you mentioned the teacher you had who said she would not respond to compliments or comments about her appearance. I think I want to follow in her shoes. It’s true, any attention to my appearance makes me VERY uncomfortable.

    I’ve recently committed (COMMITTED!!!) to running. In the past I’ve had flings with it, giving it up shortly thereafter. But with my recent runs, my body has been changing. People feel it’s their obligation to comment on this. Woman at work for example, “My GOD are you losing MORE weight!?” Ummm I guess. I don’t know, I don’t care to know. I just feel good. Does it matter any more than that?

    Actually, to make a lengthy comment lengthier, these comments make me so uncomfortable sometimes to a point of self sabotage! I’m trying to work on this, I’m doing pretty well with progress…but still, people comment on ____________ that sometimes I will literally go home and eat things that I know will take away my “glow” and make me puffy and ugly.

    It’s an interesting pickle to be in for sure. I’m glad you’ve touched on this, and furthermore, I’m glad I found your blog thanks to a google search for fresh juice recipes today!!! 🙂

    So thanks again!!!

    Love,
    -Megan

  11. This is an amazing post Gena. I love the response you gave and i really need to think about how to respond when people comment about my physical self (which sadly is very often). i like that you use the comment as a way to challenge your relationship with yourself. that’s a very interesting concept and i plan on using it next time i (might) have a hard time with someone’s comment!

    <3 you sweetie!

  12. I think most people genuinely have no idea how their comments — even ones meant as compliments — can affect a woman! I love “Please don’t ever comment on my appearance again.” I think that’s a great thing to say…I wish I had said that when people talked about my body. I will going forward! Great post!!

  13. Most people are pretty careful and sensitive when it comes to commenting on a person’s appearance if they are on the heavy side however they don’t always realize that commenting on how thin a person looks can be just a hurtful. I’m at a healthy weight and love my active body but I’ve have people say things like: “you’re soooo tiny”, “look at the bones in your chest” or “you have a lean boy body”. Those aren’t compliments and I don’t like hearing them anymore than I would like to hear that I look fat. I think it’s best not to share such observations and really why do we need to have so many opinions on other people’s bodies anyway?

  14. Gena, thank you for writing about your experience. I’ve dealt with many comments like this in the past – I had an eating disorder in college and lost a bunch of weight. The worst was when I had recognized that I had a problem and started working to gain weight. I would get comments from people (like my boyfriend’s mom, my mom’s friends, my grandma) and they made me sooo self-conscious. Some were, “You’re so skinny, you look great” and others were concerned. Then, when I had successfully gained weight and was still working on getting my mindset up to speed, there were many “Wow, you look MUCH healthier!” … which I had trouble accepting too. Bottom line, as you said, we should keep comments like that to ourselves unless we truly know the person’s condition and are close enough to actually discuss it!

  15. I apologize if someone else mentioned this take on the topic already–I used to become livid (not to mention mortified) when people at work would come up to me and congratulate me. . . until I realized they were congratulating me on being PREGNANT (which, of course, I was not). Finally I got so sick of it I’d respond with something snarky like, “Why? Do I look pregnant?” or even “No, just fat.”). Now that I’ve lost all this weight, I can see Averie’s perspective that even effusive compliments can mean “wow, you were an obese beast before”. I am much happier when someone simply says, “You look great!” instead of “Wow, you’ve really lost a lot of weight!”. Never thought of it that way before.

    And so sorry about the ongoing hip problems. Hope that therapy/chiropractic makes a difference and that you’re back to your regular routine asap.

  16. Hey Gena, I made a post about this unwanted body commentary and some of my readers told me to read your post! This is exactly what I needed to read. Thanks! My neighbor said to me, “you gained all your weight back.” Well yes, I did gain some of my weight back from when I was a mere 90 lbs during my ED but still, it was hurtful and made me feel like shit in the moment. Since then I’ve gotten over it though.

  17. Thank you SO much for this post! I love how you just spoke up straight out like that. You’re awesome! I love your blog.

    Wei-Wei

  18. In response to what you mention about cultural difference, from the puerto rican perspective, shapely/”thick” calves are considered sexy.

    An anecdote, I know a very tiny skinny mexican woman, about 5’1, maybe 90 lbs, who struggles to gain weight. An average weight white woman enviously commented on how slim the mexican woman was, at which point she completely freaked out and got offended. She felt mocked because in latin culture her tiny frame, small breast and butt are “unsexy” where as in white culture it seems to be idealized… I personally find it amusing… but hey I weigh 230lbs so what can I say….
    lol?

  19. “Puerto Rican culture naturally preferences bodies that are shapelier than mine.”

    Isn’t the word “naturally” problematic?

  20. Wow, another killer post. I’m so glad you’re at a place that you can just let this roll off your shoulders and offer up advice to the rest of us. If there is one thing I’m self conscious about it’s my legs!! Holy moly…if anyone ever said “your legs! they look bigger!” I think I might punch them 🙂 Okay not really..but I have thick legs that are the way they are and I’ve never been too fond of them. I have DEFinitely become more comfortable with them over the past 1.5yrs though. Also, I’ve always had a toned upper body..even after being on a exercise hiatus during grad school, my arms were still toned looking . My upper half has always been much easier to maintain. I’ve been active since I was young and feel that had a lot to do with it but it’s also genetic. So you’d think I’d be super excited that I have nice toned arms but I feel like freaking Super Woman sometimes the way people react in person…like DAAAANG girl, look at your arms!!! I should be proud but it’s embarrassing sometimes..I love lifting and actually like seeing improvement in my upper body but get a little shy when people talk about it. Not mad, but just kind of embarrassed. So, yes, even when it’s a complete compliment it might make someone uncomfortable! I have gotten a lot of comments about my arms on the blog too…and I might do a post about my arms, [lol as dumb as that sounds] and hope to get over my silly embarrassment..I should be proud! Okay..I’m done 😉 Apparently it’s “catch up on Choosing Raw day”!!

  21. About your hip… I know you have had it diagnosed, but it just hits too close to home for me. Drs easily can misdiagnose this sort of thing, I just wanted to add avascular necrosis to the mix of diagnoses. It took several years to discover that’s what I had and I wouldn’t have had as much damage to my body if it had been discovered and treated earlier. (It was very unlikely that I’d have it because I don’t fall into any of the risk categories – so don’t rule it out right away) Hope you get better soon!

  22. Hi Gena — this one really resonates for me. Because of some health issues I have a big abdominal area, and it blows me away how many people — well, they’re always women, and they’re usually older women, in their 40s and 50s — make some comment about my being pregnant, and it’s usually with this really annoying motherliness. Anyone reading this — please never, never voice an assumption to another woman that she’s pregnant unless you really know for sure. Just don’t. Because if you’re wrong, you’ve just told that person that she’s overweight and totally looks it. Gee, thanks. When it happens I usually just give them the evil eye and say “I’m not pregnant.” I hardly ever get an apology — usually they stare at my belly and then at me like I’ve got horns coming out of my head… I try not to let it ruin my morning or afternoon or whatever, but it’s hard. It was great to read how you handled this, Gena, and very reassuring to read other comments and see that I’m not the only one aghast and hurt by the casual thoughtlessness of other people.

  23. I think you overreacted. What she said was a compliment of the highest degree! I mean, she works at a gym, she knows progress when she sees it. She knew you had been working on your legs, and she wanted to acknowledge your progress.

    • Thanks Pierre, but I disagree. She didn’t say “G, your legs look way more muscular!” She said I had appeared to have gained weight, and then she back-pedaled with the bit about my legs. I’m not certain she meant to comment upon athletic progress. Additionally, she works at the front desk, and never sees my fitness work, so she has no idea what I’m working on. Finally, I haven’t been working on my legs at all — I’ve simply been relegated to activities that use them because of my injury.

  24. Great Post Gena!

    First off sorry to hear about your hip… I know the feeling exactly. I was training for a MS bike ride from Hosuton to Austin (180 miles) and two weeks before the big ride I fell off my bike because someone stopped on a hill in front of me… well injured my knee and needed surgery.. YIKES! Although a meniscus repair is a very very common surgery still it meant no excercise or anythign with resistance before surgery and 6 wks after surgery… for me this mean 10 weeks again YIKES! I am on week 6 and only 4 more weeks to go but I miss my regular excercise routine.

    On the body image and people’s comment part of your post… there are many days in a month that wish people would just keep their mouth shut. A few years ago while planning our wedding I started working out regularly and lost some weight after the wedding I sort of relaxed about it and gained a few lbs and there came all the comments about me being pregnant and I should be careful what I eat now that I am pregnant.. Really people I am not pregnant. Then last year.. after I became vegetarian and lost 22 lbs I had people ask me at work if I have an eating disorder.. when I asked why the question the response I got was shocking “because you don’t eat the normal stuff we eat and you dont eat meat” alrighty then. Dont you love people and their big mouths.

  25. another comment … just because I’m reflecting on the unwanted body commentary I’ve received over the years. when I first read your post, I was thinking primarily about the times people have commented on a real or perceived weight gain. reading through the comments has me thinking about the many many times people have “worried” I’m too thin. And while I chalked most of it up the jealousy, especially when it came from women, I’m forced to admit that some of it did come from a caring place. I’m feeling very grateful today for some men in my life who told me point blank at several junctures that I was too thin – a running coach at Trinity, a counselor at Fordham (who ended up referring me to the most amazing (female) ed therapist in NYC), boyfriends along the way, etc. I still lose weight when I’m working on a grant proposal or some other energy zapping project, and often my partner will see it before I do …

    • Great point, Elizabeth! I’m glad that men in your life have helped you to know when you may not be as self-caring as you should be. I can relate.

      I’ve had a different experience with women, in that I think it’s all been caring. I often dismissed it as jealousy, but then, I believe that was my disorder lashing out against the idea that I would have to change, and let go of my desperate pursuit of being a waif. Thinking they were envious was an easy way to avoid change; in retrospect, they really did want me to be better, and did not envy me my skin and bones, undernourished existence. Good for them. They shouldn’t have!

  26. Gena!
    I’m so glad you wrote a post about this.
    I have always been really self-conscious about my body and my looks in general. Most of the time I feel that I could stand to lose a few pounds, at least.
    That’s why it might seem strange that I had a negative reaction when my friend’s mother said to me “Oh Sam, it’s seems like you’ve thinned out!”
    I’m quite sure she meant this as the highest compliment – after all, isn’t it every girl’s hope that people see her as thinner?
    Yeah, well not so much. My opinion is that that kind of comment on weight loss tends to backfire- really, I’ve thinned out? Did I seem fat to you before? And also, why is that the first thing you say to me? Is that what I am to you- just a physical body, and not an intelligent person with complicated thoughts and feelings?
    Am I supposed to measure my self-worth by the size of my body?

    • I COMPLETELY agree! I’m writing a post right now along the lines of this… someone told me I lost weight last night and I didn’t feel complimented, I actually became a little upset!

  27. Great post!! I’m not sure if others would agree, but in my experience it tends to be more acceptable to comment on people’s thinness rather than “curviness”. I am very healthy and completely comfortable with my body, but being a 6ft tall vegan marathoner, I get a lot of unsolicited advice and comments..some more sensitive than others. The other day I was returning from a farmer’s market with bags full of veggies when one of them broke and the contents spilled all over the sidewalk. A nice man started helping me pick it all up and as he was handing me the green onions, spinach and radishes, he said “Is that all you eat? no wonder you look like that..no offense” Now, I have a pretty thick skin, but in what world is that not an offense? I asked that man if he would make the same comment if I was overweight and carrying a bag full of chips and ice cream and he said that of course not, that would not be a compliment..so I guess I was supposed to be flattered. Needless to say, I was not, but I wasn’t hurt either. For me, it’s only words and they only have as much power as I am willing to assign to them, but it infuriate me that he could have said that to somebody whose thinness is due to an eating disorder, chemotherapy, depression or grief. I may be wrong, but I think that part of the issue is that extreme thinness is somewhat glorified by the media. The super-thin are portrayed as virtuous and compete for the title of america’s next top model whereas the obese are harshly criticized in shows like the biggest loser or celebrity fit club. My 2c.

  28. Wow, this is an amazing post. It’s so hard to hear comments from other women, especially when you struggle with your self image. Like you, I think my 18 year old self would just DIE if I heard this. I’d like to think that now I would be able to handle it as well as you did. I think that everyone has different views of what’s “bad” or “good”, what’s a compliment, what’s an insult and really none of it matters but what we think of ourselves. Women comment on each other’s bodies all the time and it does absolutely nothing to help reconcile their own relationship with their body. I think it’s so great that you told Gina what you did. Hopefully it made an impression on her.

  29. Great post, so sorry you had that experience! I’ve gotten my share of awkward comments, especially as my body changed a bit while settling into a raw diet. I can’t think of any woman that wants to hear someone acknowledge weight gain. Great advice here on ways to interpret it and respond.

  30. I’m really impressed with how straight forward you were in terms of telling her exactly what needed to be said. I’m 31, but I imagine I’d be like your 18 year old self, muttering something like “no, I don’t think so”, probably turning red, and then hurrying away. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes the best policy is to voice what we really feel rather than what we think will make the other person feel good.

  31. Hi Gena, I just found your blog, and what a day to find!!! I cringed reading about your experience. I think that people who feel the need to comment on others appearances have deep set issues themselves. Making someone else feel bad makes them feel better. Even though you said these women didn’t mean for her comment to be malicious, deep down, somewhere in her self-conscious she must have some insecurities that, unfortunately were unleashed on you. As someone who works at a gym she should know what comments are appropriate and what are not when it come someone’s body.

    I think the only time it is ok for someone to comment on another’s body is if they are at extremes, extremely thin or extremely over weight, and the comment should be out of concern and wanting to help, not just casual conversation. You absolutely do not fall into this category, so the comment was totally inappropriate.

    I’m sorry you had to experience this. You seemed very strong and level headed in handling the situation. Comments like these do affect us. I still remember comments people made about my size in middle school. Taking these situations and using them to teach us to never put someone else in the position you were just in is a great lesson to take away from this.

  32. Amazing post Gena! I find that commentary is unnecessary, whether it is meant as a compliment or not! Sure, say someone looks nice in their dress, but talking about their weight/size (even to say “you’re so skinny!”) is so inappropriate. Its like commenting on what someone else is eating…even if something is out in the public, it is still private for that person.

  33. I am recovering from an eating disorder and I have been reading your blog for a couple of months. Some of your more food/body image focused posts, plus just the way you approach food in general, have actually really helped me change my perspective on my relationship with food. Hearing from someone who has gone through all of that and emerged with a level head and a balanced relationship with food/exercise is so assuring, because for so long it seemed to me completely unattainable. But something just clicked, and now I feel like that balance is somewhere in the near future. Thank you so much!

  34. when/if i have been skinny/underweight people will make comments when u start to gain about how u look “so much better”….i am not vain or superficial either…but it bugs me…i wish ppl would say nothing about my appearance ever ever ever…bad enuf to see it in their eyes

  35. great post, gena.  i give you credit for saying something so strongly in return. i think i have developed a lot more confidence in my opinions and lifestyle over the past year, but weight-related comments still tend to leave me meek or speechless.  and it really doesn’t matter if it’s a positive comment or not.

    i’ve definitely dealt with my share, and all that has stuck has been a fear of judgment based on my size.  my grandmother consistently asks me what size i wear – she’s been overweight all her life, and i think it fascinated her when i kept losing weight.  who knows, maybe she felt i’d want to flaunt those small numbers around.  i can remember one of my best friends responding to a photograph of me with the claim that she would force feed me cookies when i got back to the states.  not only did that spark an irrational fear that she actually would, but it fed into my disordered thinking. by the time i saw her, i was probably 15 pounds thinner. i remember my aunt once commenting after my sophomore year of college that i “looked good and had lost my freshman 15.” i never forgot that – not the compliment, but that she noticed that i had gained weight previously. every time i saw her, i worried that she was comparing my size at that moment to the last time she saw me.  clearly i could go on and on.

    on another tangent, aside from the social taboo of commenting on others’ weight, it drives me nuts that appearance is even deemed a relevant topic to discuss.  for so long i measured my self-worth by the way i looked, and it kept me from taking pride in (and pursuing) my far more important achievements and abilities.  the first thing we so often hear in a greeting is appearance-based – why is it that we can’t focus on our other accomplishments?  gina could easily have commented on an aspect of your workout instead.

    i love when you post such thought-provoking topics – especially since the discussion is always so intelligent as well!

  36. Thank you so so so much Gena!

    I get a lot of comments about me being thin, and it’s hard because I still have an ED so they definitely don’t help me. I never used to know what to say, but now I do. Of course they (acquaintances, etc.) don’t know my story but even if someone didn’t have an ED, it’s still inappropriate to comment on one’s body! Thank you for using this as a teaching experience!

  37. Great post. I wish more people spoke up in response to comments like that. What I find most shocking (well, perhaps it’s not so shocking, sadly…) about body commentary is that throughout my life, the times I have gotten the most compliments on my appearance have been the times my disordered eating has been at its worst.

  38. Really good post. My clients come in and share comments other people make and there’s a lot of dangerous ones out there. Even comments seemingly positive can be hurtful “you’re so much smaller” or “you look so much better.” I had a doorman ask me if I was expecting in my early 20s (I sooo wasn’t and it’s amazing I could ever eat again 🙁 I love your response because you explained how hurtful the comment could be (and this person works at a gym)! I hate to be cynical but I don’t know if this comment was 100% innocent, just my hunch.

  39. You are gorgeous as you are! Gena, let me tell you, I am “disabled” because of my disease (can only stretch), and I look the same as I did when I was a collegiate runner. Your diet will keep you healthy and looking gorgeous. I have a sweet tooth, and I still look the same. Eat what you want! You know your body!

    Hope you feel better!

    • Thanks for such a loving comment, Maria, but I think you may have misread the post a little! I’m not concerned about what I eat, nor am I questioning my routines. I was just upset that someone had felt compelled to comment upon my looks, especially since I’m not aware of any changes, and it was interesting to explore the difference between my reaction to body scrutiny now versus my reactions in the past.

      • I understand! I just wanted to remind you that your diet, lifestyle, and outlook will keep you healthy, no matter what that weight may be, through any injury or circumstance. You have found a place of balance and that is priceless!

        It is so interesting for me to be “healthier” than most, and all I can do is walk from seat to seat. Plant-based is the way to go! Not to mention it is keeping my disease from progressing! It can’t get any better than that!

        Sending you love! You are a great self-love role model.

        xoxoxo

        • I should also comment on the fact that is IS annoying when people comment, especially when you wouldn’t do it yourself! There is a quiet inadaquecy behind those statements from others. If you are comfortable with who you are, you don’t make those kinds of comments to others. That is the bottom line. Sounds like that person felt better about themselves to see that you “may have” gained weight. :-/

          You are fabulous!

  40. My friend was actually just in a siutation like this. She recently hung out with a guy she used to date and he commented that the last time he saw her she was so skinny, and now it looks like she’s gained some weight. No matter if it was meant as a compliment or just as something that popped into his head… that’s NEVER okay to say!

    It actually happenend to me too but the other way around. I just saw my old nanny who I haven’t seen since I was in college and when she saw me she said “Oh you look so good. You look so much slimmer than the last time I saw you. You were a little chubby then! Make sure to stay like you are now!”
    Um..okay?

    I think, even if our intentions are good, we should just keep thoughts about someones weight to ourselves!

  41. Great post. I could go on and on about my stories about my body image issues and my reactions to people’s comments. Bottom line, people project their insecurities on others, whether they are insecure about being over weight or under weight, they project. Clearly no one has ever stood up to them, like you did. People who don’t know need a reaction like the one you gave, to make them realize that words are powerful! Even though you wish you would have reacted less ‘harshly’ I think it was appropriate.

  42. Great post. I don’t know if I would have been able to muster up a comment so articulate and on-point in the heat of the moment like you did. Good for you.

    I think body commentary in either direction is competely uncalled for- either “you’re looking big” or “you’re looking tiny.” For most people (minus your receptionist), saying someone looks larger is a no-no. However, it seems as though the vast majority of people feel that it’s okay to say someone is looking small. In my eyes, they’re equally inappropriate. There was a time in my life when I was considerably thinner than I am now and people always felt free to comment on how “tiny” I was. Those comments never failed to make me feel extremely uncomfortable and I wish my younger self had had the confidence to talk back. Often a properly-intoned “excuse me?” with raised eyebrows is enough to make the person re-consider their comment… but sometimes it is indeed necessary to call in the big guns like you did.

  43. Catherine: “To me my running a marathon was the ultimate reflection of how I was nourishing my body because I simply could not do it without good solid meals and I made a point to make sure I was taking in enough of everything.” Wow, that’s really beautiful. You go girl!

    Gena: What an awesome cool/calm attitude you have! And way to go speaking up for the next person.

  44. This post really hit home for me today. I spent last weekend visiting my family, and my family is VERY fixated on body commentary. As soon as I see a family member, they always say “gosh, you look GREAT!” As someone who has been very affected by comments of this sort in the past, I have to do everything I can to avoid participating in these conversations. I don’t participate or encourage them these days.

    My lack of willingness to offer up these body commentary-esque comments to anyone these days actually led to a disagreement and hard feelings between myself and my mother. She recently went on a DIET (which also led to a disagreement between us), and she proceeded to become bend out of shape when I didn’t offer her the standard “Wow! You look great, look at all of the weight you’ve lost!” comment that she has been receiving for the past few months. I don’t subscribe to valuing people based upon their weight or how they look, and I didn’t think it necessary to feed into that aspect of my mother’s weight loss. Rather, I focused on the benefits that she was feeling physically, and asked about how things had changed for her in that aspect.

    People are generally very fixated on physical appearance, and weight is one of the main principles of looking “good”. Depending upon each individual person’s idea of what “good” looks like, we tend to comment (or not) on these features. I am guilty of doing this myself, but I try to focus on the non-physical aspects in my own life and in encouraging others.

    I’m sure that Gina meant no harm (as you said), but this is yet another example to me personally of something that continues to aggravate me in my daily life. The number of “fitness professionals” who are completely out of touch with the fact that many people have (or have had) issues with eating and body image. I listen to the trainers at my gym harp on clients all the time about their bodies and what they’re eating. It’s really disheartening that so many people who other people look to for advise are so completely out of touch with the real issues at hand, and are so insensitive to these issues.

  45. Wow! Great post Gena! Not sure if I`ve ever commented before, but I LOVE your blog! I think you handled the situation very well, and I am so glad you are strong enough to let it roll off your back. I don`t know if I would be, as I am still struggling myself with restricting. I was a dancer and grew up in a world from a young age where I just took in all the comments- even the ones that were said to others. I didn`t feel empowered enough to say anything. Even now, at 20, I`m not sure if I went back there I would be able to speak up. Because of my own struggles, I am SO careful about what I say to others or about others. You`re right- people are insightful and THEY know if there is a change in their body. It is not my place to say anything. There is a lot of competition between girls, and I think a lot of what is said is malicious. We need to learn that we get enough of that from the media!! We should all help each other out and celebrate our bodies!!

  46. This is a really great post Gena. I particularly liked that you took the time to explain why the comment was unwelcome to you and how others may not appreciate similar comments without losing your temper.

    When I’m training for a marathon I tend to gain weight in the form of muscle, but you can definitely see a difference in my build because I’m naturally thin. Unfortunately many people like to jump on this and comment freely in not-so-wonderful ways. I generally just explain that I’m working out a lot and you need a strong body to run 26.2 miles, but after the comments always kind of bother me despite the truth in what I said due to a history of disordered eating. To me my running a marathon was the ultimate reflection of how I was nourishing my body because I simply could not do it without good solid meals and I made a point to make sure I was taking in enough of everything. I never thought to explain to people why their comments were unwelcome regardless of the intention. You’ve definitely inspired me to stand up for myself and prevent future comments without getting angry or upset. Thanks!!

  47. Hi Gena,

    Thanks for bringing up this subject. I resent the fact that it’s always open season on women’s bodies, though I’ve found that as I grow more and more confident in myself, comments about my appearance – both good and bad – tend to make very little impression upon me. That’s not to say that I haven’t experienced my share of ego-shattering comments (and, like everyone woman, I can recite them verbatim and list person, time, and place), but just that I think that growth in other areas of life – personal, professional, psychological – can really help.

    But I really wanted to share some strategies for dealing with that pesky hip injury! As a distance runner, I’ve had my fair share of nagging hip pains, and regular ice, self-massage (with a tennis ball or foam roller) and visits to a chiropractor for active release therapy really helped. Also, if you have access to a pool, I highly recommend pool running! It feels a little ridiculous at first, what with the flotation vest and all, but you can get in a killer workout without causing any stress to your tendons and joints. I was confined to the pool for an entire summer, and I grew to love it. When I returned to land running, I was actually in better shape than when I left. So, give it a try if you have a chance!

    Thanks again for your post and discussion!

  48. This comment reminds me SO much of one I got from my sister in college, coincidentally, after I’d spent a semester studying on the stairmaster: “Your thighs look . . . thick.” She doesn’t even remember saying it now, though I found it one of the rudest things anyone had ever said to me!
    It’s the worst when you feel like you’re living in constant scrutiny of those around you, whether it’s family members, friends, coworkers, or people at the gym. A few years ago I lost around 10 lbs while training for a running event, and a male coworker noticed and said something to me in the elevator about it, which made me so uncomfortable that I overate for weeks until I put the weight back on. In retrospect, I really wish I’d politely but firmly cut off the conversation, the way you did!!!

  49. Its never ceases to amaze me how unaware people can actually be. I have a friend who has been struggling to lose her last few pounds. In the last year, 2 people have asked her if she was pregnant. She does not even look like it!! Thats whats amazing about it, the only difference is that she used to be very slim and now has a few extra pounds so people see the slight difference and would actually say that. I feel awful for her, it has hurt her so much. I have been very tempted to call these people and tell them in not so many kind words what you told the girl at the gym. People need to be more aware of what they say! Think before you speak!

  50. Thanks for this post. This will help me in the future when I’m faced with these comments. They always make me condemn myself for not working hard enough. Your words really help 🙂

  51. Great perspective Gina. This is such a touchy subject. I’ve always been smaller than most of my family and I remember so many moments that some family member said something along the lines of “oh you are looking healthy.” obviously they meant it as a compliment but in my mind at the time healthy = fat. it lead to many bad eating and exercise habits that took my many years to overcome.

  52. Very interesting posts/comments. I can’t believe what that lady said to you, but things like that have happened to me too many times to count. Weighing in at a healthy 108-112 lbs at 5.2 my tennis coach last year decided right in front of the whole team (ironically, while I was the ONLY one eating) at practice to say I was anorexic and had a problem that might stop me from being #1 singles. Umm..EXCUSE ME?!?! then she decided to pinch my tanktop and say, see this was tighter on you last season! In my head I was thinking “Yes, yes it was but then you decided to make me run a half-marathon, so you didn’t have to do your ‘life goal’ alone, in which I understandably lost 4 lbs. ugh.

  53. I love this post. One of the things that I’m most afraid of is my inability to defend myself. As though I secretly believe that my appearance doesn’t deserve defending. This is why I live in fear of someone saying something critical about my body to me. It’s ridiculous. It’s unnecessary. It’s the reason I started blogging.

    And it’s so encouraging to read about the evolution of your confidence!

  54. Sigh. Body commentary is just one of the most uncomfortable things for me ever, whether it’s the giving or the receiving of it. When I lost my post-grad fluff a couple years ago, the reaction from my parents and sister made me squirm – they were telling me I was getting skinny, I’d better not lose any more weight…all this despite the fact that I know for sure I was never, ever at an unhealthy weight. But yeah I think when someone is perceived as OBVIOUSLY thin, it’s like a free pass to say anything to her because surely she knows she’s thin too and must be very self-satisfied about it for that matter so let’s just reel her in, shall we?

    And on the other side of the coin, there have been times when I’ve heard via my mom that my obese sister has lost some weight, so then when I see her next I feel obligated to comment in an encouraging way…but then what to say? Especially when I wouldn’t have known she’d lost weight if Mom hadn’t told me? Anyway, I can’t pretend to have handled either type of case especially well, and considering that at the end of the day, I think my family would prefer to just brush it all under the rug anyway, it’s hard to want to press the point.

  55. i think you made a great point that people just shouldn’t be talking about other people’s bodies. i think some think since weight is such a taboo subject they can discuss whatever they’d like. i dont think its brought up that this kind of talk can hurt people and put them on a dangerous slope.

    I also love that you give real tips. I usually try to keep things positive if i get compliments. to “you look really healthy” i reply something like “yes thank you i FEEL really healthy,” etc..

  56. Hi Gena, this is such an interesting post because to a woman who grew up in Asia, I see a huge difference between cultural norms between the East and the West. In Hong Kong where I grew up, it is absolutely normal and dare I go as far as to say “appropriate” for strangers, family members, friends etc. to comment explicitly about the size of somebody else. As a tall and bigger than normal Asian growing up there, I’ve been the source of a lot of negative attention and hurtful comments whether or not they come from somebody I know. While in the US, people frown upon those who make insensitive comments about other peoples appearances, in the East, it is common for a stranger to call you a nickname like “fat girl” or “pork chops” without anyone else even batting an eyelash. There is an immensely powerful “skinny” culture and pressure in Asia, and it really is awful. It promotes self-loathing behavior and extreme dieting. I myself went from being an overweight teenager to an underweight one in high school in order to not feel victimized. I moved to the US 6 years ago and sadly, I saw it as an escape. As much as I appreciate not having to have my guard up to defend how I look all the time, I feel that there is much more silent judgement of others’ bodies here in the US. Yes, it’s better that you don’t hear it, but in many ways, the thick skin i built up in Asia is thinning. Every time I go back to visit, i prepare myself for the critical comments I know will come. In the end, I know that it shouldn’t matter what other people say. YOU need to be the one confident enough about your own body to stand up for yourself. YOU need to know inside what your priorities are. If health comes before your need to satisfy other people or vice versa. So I’m thankful for this post and for your teaching all your readers, no matter what culture they come from, no matter how they look, that it is your right to stand up for yourself and to set boundaries for other (mostly ignorant, not malicious) people. 🙂 Have a wonderful Tuesday!!

  57. Gena, you handled the situation beautifully. Your take away lessons are valuable and for that reason, although uncomfortable, the experience has provided an opportunity for personal growth. Sharing this expereicne has allowed so many others for reflect on thier experiences and grow as well. Thank you for the opportunity to consider my own similar expereinces and how I might have reacted differently.

  58. Great timing as per usual, Gena! I’m going home tonight and my family are always making uncalled for, and unhelpful body comments. I lost about 20 pounds a couple years ago and have been having medical issues that make it nearly impossible to gain weight (though I am doing everything I can to do that!) and I am really nervous about what people are going to say. I will be in a strapless bridesmaid dress that highlights my skinniness, too. Now, I will know what to say. You reacted much better than most people would have and I really admire the fact that you didn’t just leave it but told her why it is not acceptable. That takes balls!

  59. Hi Gena,

    Your post really resonate with me. To make a long story short, I’m part of the natrually very thin persons. People don’t realize that for someone trying to gain weight, hearing “you’re sooo tiny” can hurt. In fact, all those comments made me afraid that people might think I suffer from an eating disorder. So to avoid that, I was always making sure everybody knows how much I was eating sweets, fries, donuts and cake. I thought that it would keep people’s mouth shut. It didn’t, nor that it did make me gain weight. It was just screwing my energy, and my health.

    Hopefully, I managed to get over that. I now eat healthier than ever, and don’t mind what people might think. Of course, I still hear the “tiny” comments. But I know I’m healthy, and I know that for them, their comments are rather a compliment than a critique. I often simply answer “Yeah, I know”, or when it starts to bother me, I add:” Some people try to loose weight, me, I’ve spent many years trying to gain some. Nothing works,so I gave up and learned to accept comments like that”. And like the girl at your gym, they always give me a torrent of apologies!

  60. Great post. Yesterday I was considering something similar – I am a thin girl, always have been, but last year I put on some weight. No one really noticed except for me, and if I would comment on me gaining weight, people would say, “But you’re not fat.” I know. I didn’t say I was. I said I gained weight. I’m not sure why my perception of my body is less valid to others because I am thin, but somehow it’s not acceptable for me to comment on?
    My perception of my body has changed over time – I used to be a little skinny girl with big, disproportionate boobs, until recently I started filling out in the hip area. I try not to make this into a huge deal because that’s what happens as you grow as a woman, but sometimes … sometimes it’s difficult.
    I’ve never opened my mouth to comment on someone’s weight loss or weight gain initially. The man who raised me was morbidly obese and I once witnessed him completely chew out a man who commented that his weight was unhealthy. While that was true – and he passed away literally a week after this incident from massive cardiac arrest – what I learned is, people have this imprinted perception of themselves, and strangers coming in to share their opinion is not only unwelcome, it can be entirely offensive. I comment, only if someone says to me, “Oh, I lost ____ pounds!” Also, I’m not the most perceptive person when it comes to the people around me and their fluctuating body sizes – I see the person that I know, not necessarily their size. I mean, it took me two years to figure out that my baby brother had grown taller than me, even though he has been for quite some time.

    I’m going to have to share this post. Thanks for the food for thought, Gena, as always.

  61. Ugh…I KNOW exactly how you feel, in more ways than one…I also have had nagging hip injuries, including hip flexor strain, hip tendonitis, and abductor issues…I thought rest and ice would help, but it continued for a month, while i tried all I could do myself, so I wouldn’t have to go to the doctor…In the end, I did find out that it wasn’t a hip fracture, and am now in PT. I wish I had considered PT sooner. It has made a WORLD of difference, Gina! Turns out my hips are SUPER weak and it was just a matter of time…it may have also been the cause of some of my IT band and knee problems. While I’m glad to be able to do ANY exercise at this point..For months I caould not run, cycle, do the elliptical, and very little weights. Needless to say, I kept eating like I was exercising regularly (not adjusting my portions, and admittedly, eating emotionally because I was so down) and gained some weight. I am very sensitive about my body and it has definitely worsened lately. My clothes don’t fit well and it makes me not want to go out. I have commented in frustration about my weight gain and people don’t argue. I want to believe that I am loved and cared for beyond my appearance, but the pity I see in the eyes of people just about makes me come undone. Aside from the way I look, I am most sad about the fitness I have lost and the opportunities (aka races and marathons) that I’ve had to bow out of, due to the injuries. People that I once enjoyed running with or working out with don’t talk to me much anymore…I am fighting my way back, trying to be careful and smart about working out as I recover. But it definitely has caused me to evaluate some of my eating habits, friendships,and thoughts about exercise…

  62. you can’t control other people’s behavior. you can chide them for saying what they say, but ultimately, the only effective strategy is to learn to ignore it. as my dear, nurturing mother would say, “don’t be so sensitive!”

    • You definitely can’t control other peoples’ behavior, but you can let employees of an institution know when their behavior is potentially upsetting to patrons. It wasn’t chiding so much as it was facilitating awareness.

  63. Wow– your response to this was perfect and thoughtful. I would have just clammed up and gone home and cried, and thought about how I WISHED I’d said what you actually said. Good for you for staying calm in the moment and saying what you wanted to say. And you’re right– she might not have been trying to be malicious, but it was still very thoughtless. That would have upset me very much.

    Great post. Thank you for sharing!

  64. Wow, your reaction was amazing! Something I would never have the guts to say, but so perfectly said. When people comment on my appearance, it always makes me very uneasy. I find it difficult to be “noticed” especially when its in the negative (like my grandma’s famous “oh…you’re not running anymore are you) but sometimes even in the positive, when its someone that I don’t know well (why are THEY looking at me so closely). You’re right, these attachments are deep seeded and you just never know how someone will react. As such, its made me very cautious about making any kind of comments for fear of making someone uncomfortable. Negative comments make me feel very unstable, and usually start chain of negative reactions, unfortunately. Your anecdote gives me hope though!!!

    PS, also struggling with a (different) hip injury so I hear you on the pain and struggles. Hang in there and hope you heal up soon.

  65. A post I will no doubt be sending to every woman I know.

    just recently a friend said, “are you pregnant?” and my initial response was “ohmigod no! Did I put on weight??” turns out my friend had noticed I was GLOWING and that’s why she inquired. Oops.

    I was counseling a friend recently, who due to her size, is often criticized— by strangers! These people don’t know her, her struggles, that she has already lost 100lbs and continues to lose more. They just see what they see and judge her for it; then speak out about it. How is this socially acceptable?! On the reverse end, I’ve been called anorexic, bulimic, and a host of other nasties by my obese and overweight family members. It can and does go both ways — but regardless of intent, commenting on someone’s appearance is rude. and inappropriate.

  66. Wow, what a great topic. I think I would of punched the girl in the face..lol! I get this a lot going on and off of steroids. I find it very rude and inconsiderate, especially since it comes from those who know I have dealt with an eating disorder in the past. Before crohn’s I was my “normal” weight for years. Then I got sick, was underweight, and then went up and down because of steroids. I know I will lose those 20-30 steroid pounds once I go off and feel better, but I still always feel like people are looking at me like “oh she gained weight” EVEN when they know about the steroids. It is a very hard situation and I don’t find it to be anyone’s business. I am with you, telling someone they’ve “put on a few” is just wrong. Most of the time WE KNOW!!! LOL!

  67. i probably would’ve taken that as a compliment (the leg/weight gain comment) as we all know it’s not that easy for high-raw vegans to add noticeable muscle mass. Instead we all tend to lean out even more – I’d love to have someone tell me my legs looked bigger…but then again i’m a guy 😉

  68. Thank you Gena. It’s comforting to note that someone out there understands the pain of commentary, especially that “you look so healthy!” bit. A single phrase by family members set me back so far so many times. Something as simple as “Continue what your doing!” had me sobbing myself to sleep. And I could never voice how their words hurt because I knew they wouldn’t understand, would be confused and concerned. Thank you for offering your story. It helps tremendously. Hopefully we can all attain a place where the words “roll off our backs,” as you are.

  69. Great post Gena and I love the way you handled this! Though I am not sure I would have had the guts to say what you said. Frank people tend to make me lose my confidence but I am working on it.
    For most of my entire adult life, every time I’ve come home people have said to me “Wow! You’ ve lost weight!”. They might think it’s a nice thing to say but with the years I have come to wonder how fat people remember me. I have not lost any significant amount weight. Ever.
    People’s comments have a great impact on the way I feel about my body. Thinking back, I started hating my arms the day my best friend said I had fat arms. I was 15 years old and I guess my arms were not scarily fat but that’s what she said and that’s how I see them now.

  70. I freely give positive comments to others if I feel so inclined. I never hesitate to mention if someone looks particularly good one day in a certain outfit. But I would never, ever mention anything that could be interpretted as a negative.

    If someone made that comment to me, I don’t think it would bother me too much at this point in my life. It would have bothered me before though. I’ve lost 80 pounds and have been maintaining at a healthy weight for months now. People have asked me if I’ve gained weight back (I haven’t) and I’ve chalked that up to them questioning about the maintenance struggle so many face, not that they see my body as growing larger. A lot of people just don’t convey their messages as good as they could.

  71. Thank you Gena for another great blog posting on such an important issue. I have actually had to come to terms with the whole people commenting on my body thing. I recently lost 50 pounds (I really needed to-not an anorexia situation) and the volume of comments that I get on an almost daily basis is huge. I have always been really uncomfortable with people saying anything about the way I look, be it good or bad. I mean, is that what is important about me? Wow, would I get really hurt.

    So when I embarked on yet another round of weight loss, I was determined to come to grips with this situation. I worked really hard to overcome my own uncomfortableness with compliments about the way that I look. I practice saying “Thank you, I FEEL great!” now instead of shying away and getting angry about feeling objectified. Because ultimately it is about ME. This is MY test. It is up to me to choose how to feel, act and respond to an appearance comment, be it good or bad. We cannot control other people, so we have to work to be solid in our own thoughts, because unfortunately these comments are not going away.

  72. You addressed this issue so well, Gena. I have recently realized how any comment on my appearance affects me and how much my appearance has been focused on throughout my life (in a good or bad way), so I can only assume it’s the same for most girls!

    Thanks for writing posts like these. XO

  73. So insightful, as always. I was actually contemplating writing a post along these lines the other day (but now I don’t have to). It struck me that day that I distinctly remember every single comment anyone ever made about my body over the last twenty years of my life. Is that not ridiculous? But I agree, it just isn’t something that EVER, EVER should be discussed, should health concerns not be an issue. My girls don’t know what a scale is or what the word “fat” means. I just told Gigi yesterday that we do NOT talk about other people’s bodies (she said Lulu had a big tummy). PERIOD.

    I’m glad you were able to do something positive with the comment. I think your legs are very leggy. 🙂

  74. I think she was dealing you a compliment that got lost in cultural translation… but she should know much better in her job! I would love a little more lean muscle.
    I haven’t had too many comments about my body, but the comments I have had have stuck with me for life. I remember when I was dieting in high school and went to the doctor with my mom. The doctor asked (the quite overweight) me whether I knew I had lost 10 pounds. My mom jumped in and said, “Oh, we don’t pay attention to weight.. she’s been swimming!” Or something to that effect. Her intention, as always, was to not make me feel bad about myself or pay attention to appearance or numbers. That’s how I was raised. But I cried that night, because all year I had been hating my body and trying to lose weight, and I was very familiar with each of those 10 pounds, and they motivated me to swim harder.
    Later in high school I became anorexic and I would not have fully believed it if not for the comments I received. I remember my elementary high school teacher running in to me and with a look of shock and horror saying something like omg, you are so thin, you need to eat… you used to be such a butter ball! I was simultaneously hurt and proud… right there she said what no one had ever said to my face, that I had been a butter ball. And yet she reinforced my anorexia with that comment. It was either anorexia or a butter ball… so I thought.
    I’m not sure what I’m trying to say, except that sometimes comments are important- don’t assume weight is a big issue, but don’t assume it isn’t. If you are close to someone, a gentle query and honest opinion could help. And a well-placed comment (the others were worded much, much better) could save someone’s life.
    But for tiny changes in a healthy body, random comments are intrusive, I agree.

  75. Aw, you always hit on so many good points.

    Yeah, I’m not at that point yet where body comments just roll off. This time last year I probably would have flipped. Not so now, but it definitely would bother me.

    I think you make such a great point about asserting yourself. That’s the key–there’s no worse poison than bottling things up and letting them fester. I’m working on that myself. You handeled the situation perfectly!

  76. This is AWESOME Gena! So much great advice here, I loved it. I’m really glad that you warned the woman who made that comment that she shouldn’t say things like that to people she doesn’t know. Someone not as strong as you, or in a weak place, could have really taken that comment the wrong way and been really hurt by it. It could have been dangerous! I’m really sorry that happened to you, but I’m glad that this beautiful post came out of it – and I’m proud to be included! Thank you.

    I’ve said before that I’ve been REALLY lucky and never dealt with body issues before. But that doesn’t mean that people’s comments don’t sting at all. When I was 14/15 I left Saudi Arabia and spent a year in boarding school in Massachussets. I had to leave and return home after a year because I do NOT handle the cold well! 🙂

    When I first arrived at school (it was an all girls very awesome place that really really REALLY cared about us kids) the school counselor called me into her office to sort of get a handle on why I was so skinny. I have been 5’9 since I crawled out of the womb, basically, and back then I maybe weighed 105lbs. I was SKINNY. But I ate like a horse, seriously, anything you put in front of me did not stand a chance. But I remained scrawny, no hips, no curves, no fat to speak of. She realized that I was okay and I went about my way.

    Well, over that year I FINALLY grew hips and breasts and a butt and filled out. I was elated and overjoyed. I could finally fill out dresses and wear more than a training bra. I was still very slender, but I had womanly curves and I LOVED them.

    Well, when I went home on vacation the first thing my mom did was stare at me in horror and sit me down to say that while this amount of weight gain was okay, I really should never gain anymore.

    Ugghghg.

    Talk about awful. I had been so proud and happy and LOVING my new vavavavoom figure, and now I wondered if I just looked fat.

    Luckily, I saw her comment for the bullshit that it was and ignored her. Over the years I’ve filled out even more, as a child should, and I couldn’t be happier with my strong, slender, and curvy frame. But just remembering her comment brings back those old feelings of anger and sadness.

    Thanks for this post, Gena. I love your posts like this, they really touch straight to my heart. You are an amazing woman and we are all lucky to know you!

    • Thanks, my dear friend. I’m SO happy that you kept loving your curves (which is to say, you learned to love a NORMAL body), and that you are who you are today! A woman, that is, who loves to take good care of herself.

  77. wow, you handled that so well! as someone often subject to observations about my weight, i’m totally inspired, so thank you for this post.

    i think it’s partly a cultural thing, as other people have said. my family is mexican and my grandma always complains about how thin my mom is and tells me i have filled out (even if i haven’t) as a compliment. to most of my family it’s also actually a really good thing if you gain weight, particularly if you’re on the thin side. when my small-framed sister gained the freshman 20, they were ecstatic. go figure.

  78. love this, and can relate all too well. after my first year of university (wherein i gained the freshman 15) i went to my hometown in korea for three months to work as an intern student teacher. comments about my body were springing from EVERYWHERE… not only as greetings from my grandma, aunt, and dad, all of whom i love, but also from clothing merchants i stopped by to haggle with. it really didn’t help that seoul can be a very superficial city, where mothers regularly “gift” their teenage daughters plastic surgery and where women get plastic surgery as part of their scheme to get a good job. the part of the city i lived for three months was a neighbourhood full of young rich people, swanky bars and restaurants, and upscale clothing stores… it seemed that every single young woman in the nearest subway station weighed 90 pounds or less and looked like models in fancy clothing, clutching their brand name bags.

    in retrospect, i think i focussed on these comments about my body far too much, and after that summer, in the fall semester, i started to develop an eating disorder. surprise surprise! thanks, motherland. it wasnt purely just the comments that led to the ED, but it definitely planted the seed.

  79. Hi Gena,
    Thanks for such a great post. I found your response to her very empowering. As a college student, I know that a lot of my girl friends (and myself) are sensitive and perceptive when it comes to the way other people make remarks about our bodies. I would have never thought to nip those kinds of statements in the bud, so thank you for such an encouraging post. In the past few years I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends and I even view positive feedback on the way we look as somewhat hurtful, especially when it’s the first thing someone will say. It’d be nice to hear someone say something positive about our growth as people, rather than our bodies, so thanks for a different, empowering way to view this kind of scenario! Have a good day and thanks for writing such wonderful blog posts!

    • Speak up, Alex! I definitely did NOT at your age. In fact, I think I contributed to the problem by constantly whining to my patient friends about the way I looked.

  80. This one you knocked out of the park girl. Strikes such a nerve.

    I got shacked into the confines of anorexia and worked my butt off to get back to healthy over the past 2 years. I’ve struggled every single day since but look “healthy” now. T- 1 month before my wedding, my dad waits until our entire family is sitting down for a once every six month dinner together and stages an intervention with me to lose 15 lbs. He was embarrassed by my appearance and ashamed that I’m back to my “high school weight” of 120lbs.
    It was like taking an alcoholic into a bar and handing them a drink. I was staring in the face of the disorder all over again.

    I had the a choice to make: accept the extremely harsh blow my father just dealt me and crumble back into the straight jacket I lived in with anorexia, or, fight it with all my might and take everything I learned over the past 2 years and challenge his shallow perspectives and my own views of my body.

    It was the ultimate test and I’m so proud of myself because I chose to fight in a big way. The one thing I learned from this experience is that I am determined to never let outsiders thoughts and words sink into my soul so I have nothing left of my own strength to stay afloat.

    There is so much more to us than a shell that our souls happens to reside in.

    • Lindsay,

      That is a staggeringly awful experience. I know what it is to have a close family member offer up really undue and unkind body criticism, I think it’s shattering. Thank goodness you emerged with a sense of focus on your health. You should be proud!

      Gena

  81. oh, and I have a hip injury too, and I hope you get better soon! They thought mine was muscular/tendon related for nearly a year before they figured out I have an extra bit of bone there (FAI syndrome: http://www.hipfai.com/). Make sure that, if it doesn’t get better quickly, you ask them to do a CT scan. It sucks to get exposed to radiation, but it sucks even more when it’s a different problem then you’ve been treated for. I know you don’t talk much about fitness and injuries and such on your blog, but keep us posted!

  82. This post made me tear up. I usually deal with unwanted body commentary by masking how I really feel with a smile and shrug but I’ve never spoken up about how those comments had made me feel. I think you are terrific for letting the girl know your boundaries and for your own personal progress.

    It still makes me uncomfortable when I think about some of the comments made toward me in the past, even though some were meant to be compliments. Anyways thanks for a fantastic and thought provoking post.

    -Lin

  83. I am really impressed by the way you dealt with that situation! In spite of myself, I probably would have fretted like crazy (though I can say that it wouldn’t cause me to restrict again – which is most certainly progress!). I think your tips were great. I know for certain that people’s perceptions are off – both in the weight gain and weight loss department….and even with the latter, I get quite upset with people. I know people see “Oh, you’ve lost weight!” as a compliment, but I think the same principle applies – scrutinising someone’s body does not make them feel good. And even if it does temporarily, it can easily fuel an obsession.

  84. I loveddd this post because you gave more constructive advice than just “remember, you ARE beautiful…yadda yadda.” I think it’s important to tell people when they say something that doesn’t sit well with you (as long as it’s polite and given the right circumstances…like you said)!

    People have told me everything from “You look like a stick” to “Ohh, you’ve got some meat on you” followed by pinching. Yeah, not acceptable.

  85. What a great post. I’m inspired by the way you were able to graciously turn a potentially offensive comment into a way to show how much you’ve grown over the years. You are clearly living a healthy and active life, so there is no need for anyone to comment on any minor changes in your body that may or may not even exist!

    I can definitely take a lesson from you in not getting offended. A few people that I know feel that it’s allright to make comments on my weight every time I see them. Even though I’ve been maintaining the same (healthy, smack in the middle of “normal” BMI) weight for close to 2 years now, I still get people that ask me if I’ve lost more weight probably once every month or so. Usually it’s in a sort of condemning tone too, implying that I am too thin, rather than as a compliment.

    It’s always really uncomfortable for me to tell them that no, my weight hasn’t changed. How do you answer that question anyways? I always find myself awkwardly stumbling for excuses, like “I have been working out”, “I’m training for a marathon,” or “I might have lost fat and gained muscle”… Why should we even have to make excuses for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and along with that, weight, anyways?

  86. Once again, an amazing and thoughtful post.
    First off, I absolutely must commend you on how well you handled the situation. While I do think I’m now at a stage where such a comment wouldn’t have sent me into a tail-spin, but I probably would have just awkwardly side-stepped the question and tried to forget it. Way to go on establishing a boundary with a spirit of understanding and kindness!
    Second of all, I completely agree with what you said. It’s sort of like a “Congrats, when’s the due date?” comment when it hasn’t been 100% established that a woman is pregnant. You never know what someone is going through, you don’t know what their fitness goals are, you don’t know what their healthy weight is, you don’t know if they’re injured, and most importantly, YOU DON’T KNOW THEIR BODY! While “sharing” fitness and food ideas (when solicited) is something I enjoy, getting that personal is generally not a good idea. Even if someone responds well on the outside, you don’t know their mentality!

  87. Wow. Is all I can say. I think you handled yourself and her amazingly well. That said, I wouldn’t go overboard trying to “make sure she’s ok”. I think that’s the woman/caretaker role in us…trying to make sure someone else is ok and to smooth any “misunderstandings”. I am the queen of this, putting other’s feelings ahead of my own but have gotten better at letting their be some I don’t know, dead air, or lack of a better word. Gina has to realize exactly as you said, those remarks are so loaded, for all the reasons you alluded to.

    As for me..It’s paradoxical b/c I am training for a fitness show which is in less than 3 weeks! and have had pics up on my blog of my progress, in a sports bra and shorts. I wouldnt put them up unless I thought I looked relatively decent and no one’s told me I am too big, but I have gotten a few not-friendly you’re too skinny comments. Well, hello, that’s why I am eating and lifting weight…I am trying to add muscle but some people are genetically tall and thin. I’m one of them.

    Anyway though yes, people make comments on our appearances all the time and on my blog, I expect it. In real life, if someone told me something like that, like what you just had, well, I would be hurt and have no idea how i would react on the spot.

    Novel comment but you handled yourself WAY better than I’m sure I could have, being put on the (very uncomfortable) spot like that.

    And take care of your injuries…I didnt know. I am so sorry Gena!

    xoxo

  88. I’ve definitely dealt with these issues…. last year a coworker told me she liked my “big legs” and it sent me into a bit of a tizzy.

    The coworker is African American and later assured me that in her culture it was a compliment, and I assured HER that to many women, it was not exactly a flattering statement. It’s hard to brush those kinds of comments off (like you did), but I’m slowly learning how to do that without getting too offended!

  89. I very much agree with you Gena–never comment on others physical structure.I can understand very much as I was criticized a lot of times since my childhood about my structure and my walk.I am a small structured person but not thin not thick .Medium built….I am coming to know recently that the way I walk or stand is all because I have 2 curvatures in my back,which the doctor says that it was something I had it since I was a kid.What can I do for something that is naturally occured and can’t be altered?I used to take all the criticisms,never answer back and felt bad for years.Even now I am sometimes still the same but better than before.Now I try to speak up for myself.After reading your post I understand that I should try to speak out when needed instead of feeling bad about it.
    Thank you.

  90. When I moved to NC, I started dating my boyfriend, who happens to be black. I think that the African-American culture, and the South in general, tends to prefer thicker women. I still remember the day that he called me after I had just seen him to let me know that my butt looked really big that day. I had to tell him that wasn’t necessarily a compliment to a white girl.. but over time, I realize that when he makes comments like that, he genuinely means them as compliments, and in a way I appreciate that he likes my body as is.. he is the first boyfriend who has truly made me feel really sexy with my 15 extra pounds. Now, I have never had an eating disorder so I can imagine that a comment like this could potentially be a disaster, but all I am saying is that I think you handled it well, and I appreciate that you looked into the reasons she would say this instead of taking it at face value. I think you handled it really well 🙂

    • omg I can totally relate, my BF is Cuban and ever since we have been together he tells me what a big butt I have. The first few times I was like are you serious?! but I finally realized that it’s just his way of saying its round and he likes it, what can ya do? It’s hard when he is just trying to tell me how much he likes my body the way it is to take too much offense!

      • Ha, I just had this happen too (white guy though). I was like “I don’t think there are that many white girls who would take that as a compliment.” (And I DON’T have that big a butt!) Then I worried that it was an overly racially charged thing to say. It was a mini whirlwind of selfconsciousness on all fronts. I think that the only thing to do is to be pleased that someone thinks you’re really hot, if you’re not particularly triggered by the comment or anything.

        • I’m a white girl and I’ve only ever datedwhite dudes and they have all loved my big butt. I have lots of body image issues, but I have never had a problem with my butt/hips because I have totally internalized that their size is good! When friends complain about their big butts, it takes me a moment to understand that they are actually concerned and unhappy, not joking around.

  91. Not to be annoying, but I first wanted to point out I think you meant to say lemondade out of lemons, not the other way around.
    Second, I’ve gone back and forth between the US and the Philippines all my life, and in the Philippines it’s very common for people to say things like,
    “My, your face is so round!”
    “You’re looking chunky”
    etc
    I used to find it so offensive, but now I’ve learned to sort of shrug it off…it is harsh though and never makes me feel good 🙁

  92. It may be a cultural thing. My Brazilian housekeeper comments on my weight quite frequently. When it’s up, or when she perceives it’s up (a good thing in her mind), she thinks it’s because I have a new boyfriend (Voce esta engordando! Esta namorando?). When she thinks I’m losing weight, she wonders what’s wrong (Voce esta emagrecendo! Esta triste?). Anyway, she clearly feels at liberty to comment on her employer’s weight, and you know, it just never occurred to me to do anything other than shrug it off.

    But Elizete’s a case apart. It’s otherwise been my observation that people feel more at liberty to comment on a thin person’s weight gain (or loss) than a heavier person’s. It’s like if I (a skinny person) gain five pounds it’s open season, but if someone else gains twenty, it’s hush hush except perhaps among very close friends. People pretend not to notice. I did actually gain some weight several years ago while I was on an SSRI for almost a year and I was a good ten lbs heavier than usual for several months. Everyone from my hairdresser to my colleagues at work to family members felt perfectly in their right to let me know they’d noticed the weight gain. And I’m absolutely sure they wouldn’t have done this if that weight gain didn’t still leave me safely in the waif category. People aren’t that rude, in general. Why they feel a certain prerogative where thin people are concerned is a mystery. Good for you for speaking up.

  93. Gena, this post comes at an eerily perfect time. I just returned from the mall where I had an awful encounter myself; it was definitely unwanted commentary on my looks, but not in the weight-sense. I’m Muslim and wear a headscarf. I was standing at the elevator with my two toddler (ages 4 and 2). They were arguing over whose turn it was to push the “down” button, and I was waiting until they came to an agreement. Suddenly, a lady marched up from behind me and slammed the button, then walked into the elevator. My kids were stunned, and I rolled the stroller in, assuming she was in a hurry. While in the elevator, she turned to me and said, “You know, you have to *push* the button for the doors to open.”

    I couldn’t believe what she said! I stood there, my mouth open, shocked at her comment. I have no idea what she was thinking–she seriously thought she was helping me with some kind of new information. I wear the hijab, fine. That doesn’t make me a moron. It doesn’t automatically mean I’m fresh off the boat (I’ve lived in SoCal all my life).

    I stammered some explanation/joke about my kids liking to push the buttons outside and inside the elevator, and she followed that up with another “smarty” comment: “Yes, but they can’t push the alarm button, this one over here.”

    I seriously don’t know whether to feel insulted or feel sorry for her ignorance. Either way, it’s moments like this one that stay with me for a while, despite my insistence that SHE was the one at fault.

    • It sounds like you either assumed that she didn’t mind waiting around for your kids, or you weren’t paying any attention to whether other people were waiting or not.

      If that was the case, I would have been annoyed, and it wouldn’t have had anything to do with what you were wearing.

      • I would say that a person that was waiting could politely make it clear that they would like to use the elevator by asking, instead of rudely cutting ahead, slamming the button, and pushing their way onto the elevator and then making snotty remarks about it. Then there would be no need to get annoyed about anything.

        Manners are multi-cultural, and mothers with very young children in a mall usually have their full attention taken up by them, rather than people around them. It only takes a second to say “excuse me”.

        I do agree that that little episode could very well have had nothing to do with the headscarf, but rather the pushy lady’s own lack of manners.

        (sorry for the late response!)

        (also, bravo on speaking up about the legs comment!)

    • Oooh, I am so sorry you and your children had to experience that! I can totally relate!! I am a foreigner and although I’ve lived here for 6+ years, I still speak with a pretty thick, Slavic accent. I’ve had so many encounters similar to the one you described..the nice lady at the post office explaining to me in great detail how to put a stamp on a letter or the cashier at the grocery store double and triple checking if I gave him the correct change. Sometimes I think I’m just paranoid or overly-sensitive to this, but I’ve felt many times that the moment people hear my accent, they start talking slower and louder to me. I am not insulted or anything, sometimes I just feel like I am perceived as less knowledgeable or trustworthy because of it. It kind of makes me want to tell them that my IQ is still in triple digits, but I figure that’s something they’ll have to find out on their own 🙂

    • My god, that is outrageous. She’s lucky you didn’t rip her a new one. I probably would have!

      Good for you for putting the episode into immediate perspective. I’m so happy that my post resonates!!!

  94. i really appreciated this post! i totally agree with everything you said, and i think that body commentary in general propagates the idea that our self-worth is based on how we look. growing up, my mother always told me that if i wanted to say something nice to someone, i shouldn’t tell them that they look nice (not that they don’t, and not that you shouldn’t tell people they look nice) but to say something that would be encouraging of a personality trat, in attempt to emphasize that the reason why i appreciated that person was not because of how they looked because of who they are as a person. so i think it is really great that you wrote this post because i think it is sooo important for women (and everyone in general) to realize that we are more than the shapes and sizes of our bodies… when people comment on our outward appearances, not only can it be damaging and make us focus our attentions on our outward appearances, but it reduces people to “surfaces” rather than individuals of substance.

    • That’s really great, Natalie! I always fondly remember my mom doing something similar while I was growing up. Whenever anyone would compliment my appearance (“My, what a pretty girl!” or “Wow, such big blue eyes!” – stuff like that), she’d respond with, “Yes, and she’s so smart, too!” or “Thank you, and she’s also a really [nice/creative/thoughtful/etc.] person.” Looking back on that, I’m kind of awestruck by how genius that was. (That doesn’t mean I never struggled with looks or body image issues because boy, did I… But I think it really helped me, and probably still helps to this day, realize that my self worth is not based on appearance.)

  95. The remark about your legs was way out of line, and your response was great! I had anorexia for ten years and people would make comments about my weight or ask intrusive questions that really upset me. Just one comment can trigger an eating disorder or cause a relapse. People would say “you look healthy” after I had gained a little weight and I would drop it again because I knew that someone had noticed my weight gain. Of course, they meant it as encouragement, but I didn’t take it that way.

  96. I am half-Indian so I can relate to this more than you know! In Indian culture people just say whatever is on their mind…my uncle has told me that it was a good thing I got the brains because my sister got all the looks…way to make me feel great!

    I’ve learned to brush the comments off because what else can you do?

  97. well congrats on the muscle gain, lol, but seriously, you handled that so well. It was thoughtful of you to gently correct her because like you said she really might not realize and you have possibly saved someone else who could not handle a comment as well from a lot of pain.

  98. thank you for that beautiful post. I really take to heart the advice u gave about speaking up. I pictured myself in that situation and i dont think i could’ve handled it as well as u do. Ive struggled with my body image a lot growing up and it has spiraled out of control in the past years and even as i am regaining control, i know that a comment like that would have definitely put me off. i think ur response was very mature and showed ur strength. It honestly does shock me how some ppl do not understand the severity and impact of their words. ive always been shocked at family members when they say things but even more crazy to me is how mere acquaintances find it very natural to say things about ur body. ive had coworkers and people ive only talked to in passing say things to me about my body changes and ask me a ton of questions and some are so prodding that they wont take a simple meek reply but continue to poke and prod. I dont know when we’ve turned into a society that is so open about judging other peoples bodies. I guess judging might not be the correct term since some like Gina arent necessarily saying it in a crude way. I often wonder if only people who have truly struggled with weight understand the impact of words while those who have never had a problem or simply do not care about their weight, therefore do not see it as an issue to talk to others about weight. Sigh ive gone on a tangent but i just wanted to say that this post really hit close to home and Im very grateful for ur words both to Gina and to all of us! Thanks!

  99. Great post Gena.

    I find your perspective really interesting because it is a bit different than mine, and makes me think about my own point of view…

  100. Great post, Gena. I actually was planning on writing something at some point about something on the other end of the spectrum that I am sure you must get all the time too — when people make a big deal about how “tiny” I am. It makes me uncomfortable and also makes me think people assume I don’t struggle with weight/body image, when really I do just as much as anyone else… I wish the comments that aren’t compliments were kept to oneself.

    • Yes, or if someone lost a few pounds (I’m not talking Biggest Loser weigh ins) and people compliment the heck out of them it can make them feel like they were a gross beast to begin with. I say MYOB unless asked or unless you know the person has been trying to gain or lose weight.

        • I think the problem for some people (me included) is that if someone notices that you lost a small amount of weight, you suddenly feel like they must have been paying way more attention to your body than you thought, and by complimenting you on it you feel like the way you looked before is being indirectly negatively judged, and you are afraid that if you gain it back then it will be also noticed and your body will be thought of less positively than when you lost the weight.

          This is hard for me because I really do like the way I look a lot but I get tripped up when I feel like my looks are open for public judgment (even when it isn’t intended to be negative, it feels invasive).

          • I agree: I don’t like being reminded how closely other people are paying attention to my weight. I really applaud the original post: how definitive and polite a response to that situation.

            In my family visits are always marked by tons of praise for anyone who’s lost weight due to any circumstances (for example, depression => skipping meals => weight loss => praise), and there is serious shame associated with gaining anything back (my young cousin opted out of thanksgiving with the family because she was mortified by regaining a small portion of the weight she had lost).

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