Experts, including psychologists who specialize in body image, agree — making comments on someone’s appearance can be harmful, even if you think you have good intentions.
Since you may not know what someone is going through, making comments about a person’s body, whether it’s the size, shape, or just about anything else, is not only inappropriate but also can be triggering, Rachel Goldman, a licensed psychologist based in NYC and Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told BuzzFeed News.
“Unfortunately we don’t always see what people are struggling with. Like Ariana Grande, she wasn’t sharing that she was on antidepressants and eating unhealthy, nor should she have to, but people just assumed she was in a healthy place solely on her appearance,” Goldman said. “Further, Grande is a public figure, and although it may seem like her entire life is on display, it is not. She too has feelings, emotions, struggles, and it’s important that people remember that.”
Other celebrities, including actor and singer Selena Gomez, have also discussed body-shaming comments that have been made about their appearance. Gomez, who has spoken about having bipolar disorder and the autoimmune condition lupus, and has had a kidney transplant, discussed her experience in detail in a TikTok Live.
“When I’m off of [medication(s)], I tend to kind of lose weight,” Gomez said. “I just wanted to say and encourage anyone out there who feels any sort of shame for exactly what they’re going through and nobody knows the real story.” (Immune system–suppressing medications are well known for causing weight gain as a side effect.)
People who have questions and concerns about Grande and Gomez may comment on their bodies, thinking they have the best of intentions. However, it’s better to keep any kind of comments on people’s bodies to yourself, experts told BuzzFeed News. In some cases, it can have a negative mental health impact or even trigger disordered eating.
We asked experts who specialize in body image about the potential damage that can be caused by comments, and what you could say instead.
Comments and body image issues
Body image refers to how you feel and think about your body, said Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and nutritionist based in New York City.
Even positive comments might emphasize the importance of how someone looks, which is called appearance orientation.
Research suggests that social comparison, even to one’s own body, can be associated with body dissatisfaction.
“Negative comments can lead them to feel even more negative about themselves, possibly causing them to engage in unhealthy behaviors,” Gans said. “Even positive comments can be damaging because they may feel that they were not good enough before.”
People on social platforms were quick to add that comments were coming from a place of concern. However, comments of concern were being made through comparisons of Grande’s body throughout the years. Bodies do change over time, including fluctuations in weight and body composition, especially as we age.
“Even if a comment comes from a good place, one should stay quiet. You never know what a person is going through,” Gans said. “Most importantly a person should listen, and only offer support if asked.”
Weight-related comments can actually encourage disordered eating behaviors and be triggering, Goldman told BuzzFeed News.
“If someone is struggling and/or participating in unhealthy behaviors to be at that weight, and they get comments like ‘you look so good,’ this can actually reinforce the negative or unhealthy behavior,” Goldman said. “Further, someone could internalize this and now question ‘what was wrong with me before,’ which also impacts someone’s body image, self-worth, self-esteem, which could also reinforce and lead to additional unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.”
Here’s what you can comment instead
“There is a way to show support and concern without commenting on one’s body, weight, or shape,” Goldman said. “I always encourage people to pause and think about the words they are going to use, before they use them. Words matter and words can impact someone’s mental health.”
Model Bella Hadid, who has previously talked about comments about her appearance and body image issues in a Vogue interview, posted an Instagram post highlighting some compliments that are not appearance oriented. In her caption, she wrote, “There is so much more to you than the eyes can see…”