Have you heard about the "Weight? No comment!"?
Inspired by the American "Fat Talk Free® Week" (1), this campaign is an initiative of ÉquiLibre, an organization whose mission is to prevent and reduce weight and body image problems in the population through actions that encourage and facilitate the development of a positive body image and the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits (2).
Every year, in November, the week " Le poids? The goal of this week is to make the Quebec population aware of the omnipresence and the negative consequences of comments about weight.
The omnipresence of comments on weight
In this society of appearance, where physical appearance dominates our lives, it is common to talk about weight, whether it is our own or that of others. We should not think that these comments are innocent and without impact, because in any case, they participate in the construction of unrealistic ideals of beauty.
It has been known for a long time that the media, in a general way, conveys these ideals, among others through a weak representation of body diversity as well as retouched images.
Social media also contributes significantly to the body image problems of society. Just think of all the selfies, sorted, filtered, retouched and published on social networks, bombarded with "likes" and "hearts", followed by a multitude of comments on appearance. Moreover, the comments are far from always being compliments, there are many verbal attacks on social networks, where overweight people, particularly stigmatized, are frequently victims of aggressive messages (3).
However, commenting on someone's appearance, especially their weight, negatively or even positively for that matter, can have a negative impact on self-esteem. We don't realize how a comment that seems harmless to us can have a negative impact on a person's well-being.
Why does a nutritionist talk about body image? Because we know that lower self-esteem is associated with unhealthy eating behaviours and even eating disorders.
First of all, there are the comments we make about our own bodies: these are the most frequent, the most critical and, above all, the most harmful to our well-being. Whether they are said out loud to our loved ones or remain in our heads, this negative talk can lead to a deterioration in self-esteem and an increase in unhealthy behaviours (e.g., isolating oneself, avoiding certain social activities that involve eating or revealing one's body, camouflaging one's body or parts of one's body with loose clothing, weighing oneself frequently, overdoing sports, dieting, counting calories, restricting oneself, having food compulsions, etc.).
Especially in children
Like many things in life, everything starts in childhood. We must be particularly careful about what we say to children: a comment about their weight, our weight or someone else's weight can leave a deep impression on them and create ideas that will stay with them for a long time.
In an American study of 4746 adolescents, harassment about body weight was consistently associated with low body satisfaction, low self-esteem, high depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts, even after body weight control (4).
A tendency to develop eating disorders has been observed in youth who receive hurtful comments about their weight, whether from family, friends or peers, and these behaviours persist even years after the petty teasing (5).
However, even when the intentions behind the comments are not bad, there can be negative repercussions.
For example, congratulating someone on their weight loss can have a negative impact on body image.
If the weight loss was voluntary, encouraging the weight loss implies that the person was not adequate with the extra pounds and can lead to a fear of regaining weight.
If the weight loss was unintentional, or worse, if depression, eating disorders or other illnesses caused the weight loss, this "compliment" sends the message that the person looks better when they are not well.
The intentions are obviously not bad, but they do reflect a mindset that is focused on image, not well-being.
The solution? Simply stop talking about weight.
The idea is not to make weight a taboo subject, it is clear that our society has a weight problem. However, focusing on weight, stigmatizing individuals or glorifying thinness is not only useless, but also counterproductive and contributes to the problem. The goal is to learn to talk differently about the body, and to do so in a benevolent manner. It is possible to compliment our loved ones on aspects other than their weight or their appearance.
Regardless of weight, shape or appearance, our bodies allow us to accomplish great things, to feel positive emotions and to live pleasant moments, it is time to appreciate it.
To learn more, I invite you to visit www.lepoidssanscommentaire.ca.
And if you want to improve your eating behaviors in relation to your body image, don't hesitate to consult a nutritionist.
Anahite Afshar, Dt.P, M.Sc
1. Tri Delta: https://www.ucitridelta.org/fat-talk-free-week
2. EquiLibre: http://www.equilibre.ca/
3. Yongwoog et al. Weight Stigma Goes Viral on the Internet: Systematic Assessment of YouTube Comments Attacking Overweight Men and Women. Interact J Med Res. 2018 Jan-Jun; 7(1): e6.
4. Eisenberg et al. Associations of Weight-Based Teasing and Emotional Well-Being Among Adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2003. 157:733-738
5. Eisenberg et al. Associations between hurtful weight-related comments by family and significant others and the development of disordered eating behaviors in young adults. Behav Med. 2012 October; 35(5): 500-508. doi:10.1007/s10865-011-9378-9.
6. Neumark-Sztainer et al. Family weight talk and dieting: How much do they matter for body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors in adolescent girls? J Adolesc Health. 2010 September; 47(3): 270-276. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.02.001.