Content Warning: discussions around weight and appearance
Every holiday season, I sit through everyone’s ‘well-meaning’ comments and assumptions about my appearance, food habits and exercise patterns. The holiday season is associated with meeting loved ones after an extended period of time – similar to the pandemic, really – and thus, there is an instinct to comment on one’s appearance, comparing the present self to the past self.
I understand this instinct, I really do, but it’s more harmful than you think it is.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that we are unable to see each other physically and pixels on a screen really do not do one justice. Pandemic weight gain is a common phenomenon, so I don’t need you to point out how my weight and my physical appearance has changed.
Commenting on any aspect of physical appearance may be mentally and emotionally damaging since body image is inherently linked to mental health, but weight especially tends to be a sore spot for many. We realize for ourselves how we look, what we want to change and our insecurities, and we would like none of them pointed out and discussed.
When you don’t know something, isn’t the best strategy to avoid the topic and anything linked to it? The same strategy should be applied when you go to comment on someone’s appearance. You never know the effect your unsolicited comment could have and how it will be received – it could be emotionally damaging, anxiety-inducing or simply ignored.
Your remarks place the focus on my looks, rather than my thoughts, opinions and real personality. In this way, they inhibit close relationships from developing because really why would I choose to be close to someone who constantly harps on my appearance?
Indian households have a tendency to bring up weight and food habits regularly. There are cultural and generational factors at play that go beyond us. You’ve grown up in a different time, so you think such efforts display how much you love and care for me.
I don’t know how to approach you, but believe me, any comment about how much I eat or how skinny I look hurts.
Boundaries are so difficult to set but I want you to stop commenting on my appearance all the time. Maybe, finally having this conversation with you would make you see my perspective.
We all love the food we eat during the holiday season.
It doesn’t mean every conversation has to be related to food and my appearance.
I try to cut off any conversation related to food and weight because they may be triggering to me or others in the family.
I found some brilliant ways to reply to that person who just won’t stop:
“You’re too skinny, eat more!”
“No, thanks. I know what’s best for my body. I’ll take more food later if I’m hungry.”
“You know, you should really lose some weight.”
“Aunty, I actually have six-pack abs. I just love them so much I protect them with a layer of fat.”
“A recent study has found that people carrying a little extra weight live longer than the ones who point it out.”
“I thought you were losing weight, what happened? How come you’re eating so much?”
“My winter fat is gone, don’t worry. Now I just have spring rolls.”
I know I may appear rude or blunt, but cutting off such conversations, changing the topic or walking away from the discussion are the only ways I can protect myself and prioritize my mental health.
They may be linked; weight is invariably a factor in determining health but there are so many other factors that you never seem to care about. Health goes beyond physical appearance to intrinsic variables like genetics, sleeping pattern, physical activity etc.
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity:” World Health Organization (WHO)
How come you never seem to care about how I’m doing mentally? I will always prioritize my mental health, before how I look physically.
My weight fluctuates all the time depending on my stress levels, exercise patterns and more. But, as long as I am healthy and happy, does the number on the scale really matter that much?
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The focus on weight may not achieve the results the well-meaning comments (comments meant to be hurtful are excluded here) were hoping for either. More often than not, these remarks may lead to short-term changes in diet and lifestyle that cannot be sustained, in order to fit in. Weight focus may result in repeated cycles of weight gain and loss, preoccupation with food and weight and serve as a distraction from personal and professional goals.
Compliments are equally damaging as criticisms. You never know the real reasons behind someone’s change in weight and appearance. Weight changes may be associated with illness, stress or disordered eating; compliments appear to be praising the lifestyle changes that are associated with the weight change and serve as an encouragement to continue in that situation.
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Please be mindful of the effects your words may have on others. Don’t comment on someone else’s appearance just as you would prefer if they do not comment on yours.
Lots of love,
Someone who just wants to enjoy the holiday season.
Note: The author is part of the Sept-Oct ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program.