It’s a wonderful thing, offering someone a compliment. You may genuinely appreciate something about a friend or loved one and want to make them feel good. But even with good intent, mentioning someone’s body or appearance can bring up difficult feelings. For someone in recovery from or who is actively struggling with an eating disorder, everyday compliments or comments on someone’s body can hit differently.
“You look great today!’
‘Wow, have you lost weight?’
‘Have you been working out?’
Or even, “You look so healthy lately.’
Imagine saying these to someone who is struggling to eat due to ARFID, is in the middle of a relapse with bulimia, or starting to deal with their severe disordered eating. They read differently now. This kind of positive reinforcement strengthens the eating disorder, and makes the person feel like they are succeeding and that they should keep doing what they’re doing, no matter how unhealthy.
And if someone is actively working on recovery, they probably don’t want their physical appearance or any body changes commented on, even if you feel it’s a positive thing.
Complimenting someone’s appearance is a way of reinforcing that how they look is what’s important about them. If you stop for a moment, you can think of so many other things that are more important than the body or appearance of your loved ones. Comment on style and taste, not the body in the clothes. Mention how happy someone looks, not their weight changes. Bring up the way people make you feel, not how you interpret their health.
Used well, compliments how the power to make people happy and brighten their day. Compliments on bodies and looks are overused in our appearance-obsessed culture, but the most meaningful ones highlight something special from within the person they’re given to. Next time you want to give a compliment, think about what you really value, and offer something new.
We asked the ANAD community for some of their ideas, and please tell us yours!
“I always feel better after talking to you.”
“You make me feel like I can be myself around you.”
“You’re a great listener.”
“I’m proud to be your friend.”
“I like spending time with you.”
“Look at how strong you are.”
“That was hard and you didn’t give up.”
“I’m so proud of how you handled that.”
“I love to hang out with you”
“Being around you makes me happy”
“You have a kind heart”
“I feel safe with you”
“Your humbleness is admirable’
“It’s always fun spending time with you.”
“You are great at using colors.”
“Thank you for being you.”
“You make incredible art/food/clothing/music.”
“You’re an amazing parent.”
“The confidence I see in you inspires me.”
“I’ve always respected your kindness.”