7 Things You Should NEVER Say to a Skinny Person
There are many comments, both well-intentioned and not to much, that skinny people find offensive. To make sure you're not body shaming the thin people in your life, avoid these statemens and questions.
Even though we know it's impolite to make remarks about someone’s weight or eating habits, we all slip up from time to time. While there are a number of things you should never say to someone who’s overweight, there are also some remarks that people who are skinny find really offensive — no matter how complimentary you may have meant your comments to be.
“We would likely hesitate to make physical comments to someone living in a larger-size body,” says certified eating disorder specialist Kelsey M. Latimer, Ph.D., CEDS-S, an assistant director at Center for Discovery. “That would probably feel inappropriate or invasive, but we comment on thinness with ease in our daily culture.” With that in mind, read on to discover the 10 things you should never say to someone who has a naturally thin frame.
1. “I wish I had your body”
Therapist Rachel Gersten, LMHC, CHC, co-creator of Viva Wellness, explains that you have no idea what a person is going through and why their body looks the way it does. Even though you might really want to look like someone else, “maybe that person wishes they didn’t have their body, or maybe they’re experiencing a health issue, which is why their weight is what it is,” she says. “Skinny is not everyone’s ideal, and it can be hurtful if it’s treated as such.”
“Commenting on anyone’s body is a huge boundary violation,” says Eliza Boquin, M.A., LMFT, founder of The Relationship & Sexual Wellness Center.
2. “You have no reason to complain”
One of the most harmful things you can say to a skinny person is that they have no legitimate reason to possess the desire to look different than how they do now. “Being skinny is not the epitome of all that is good and pure in this world, and there are still plenty of skinny people who feel the need to change for the better and who want to voice their aspirations, physically and mentally,” says health and wellness expert Caleb Backe. Meeting someone’s genuine body concerns with dismissal is not only rude, it is also very hurtful.
3. “You’re basically anorexic”
It should go without saying that using a serious medical condition so flippantly can be very damaging to someone’s mental health. But comments like these get made all the time, according to eating disorder specialist Dr. Kelsey Latimer.
“For a person with an eating disorder, hearing a comment like that can elicit confusing and contradictory feelings,” she explains. “On the one hand, it may be hurtful to the person themselves who may be fearful of being noticed. But it could unintentionally flare the disorder further.” Whether or not the person actually has a disorder, making body-focused comments like these are often done so with the intention of cutting the person down, socially isolating them and objectifying them.
4. “What’s your secret?”
Talking about thinness as if it’s an underground club can make someone feel guilty, uncomfortable or embarrassed instead. “Increasing our awareness to the weight our words hold is imperative,” Dr. Latimer says. “We have no idea at the end of the day what someone is going through. It’s important to remember that words are powerful, and our intentions can be very different than our impact when we are commenting on others’ bodies.” And don't say you "hate" them for being skinny even as a joke.
“It may be unintentional, but when someone tells you that they hate you because of your height and weight or that they are jealous of your body and face or that they feel insecure around you, it causes negative feelings toward the self,” says certified wellness coach Morgan Sheets. “Especially if you’re a really caring person, you can internalize those comments and other people’s feelings of feeling bad and then turn it around and make yourself feel responsible for them.”
5. “Eat something — you’re skin and bones!”
This is the classic war cry of mothers everywhere, though the precise wording varies. “Telling someone who is skinny they need to eat may seem very beneficial, but there are times when it is not physical sustenance that this person requires,” says health and wellness expert Caleb Backe. “Skinny does not always equal healthy, nor does it always equal starving or malnourished. There is a huge spectrum of people and conditions there.” If you’re really worried about someone, engage with them in a real conversation, Backe says. Don’t make accusations or comments about their figure.
If the person you’re singling out has eating or body issues, your comments will only prove how under scrutiny her body is, says eating disorder specialist Fiorella DiCarlo, RD, CDN. “On a more personal friendship level, it may still cause friction by comparing, and the thin person may feel pressure to perform or justify their eating behavior,” she adds.
6. “Must be nice…”
This comment is usually made in the sprit of how great it must be to wear whatever you want and not have to worry about if it makes you look fat, says professional counselor Heidi McBain, M.A., LMFT, LPC, RPT. But it’s never good to assume that someone is completely happy with their body — no matter what size they are. “These types of statements say much more about the person saying them and how they feel about themselves than the person who is actually receiving them, but they are hurtful all the same,” McBain explains.
7. “Real women have curves”
“Being skinny is kind of a double-edged sword because you’re both hated and envied for your body,” says wellness coach Morgan Sheets. People tend to make negative comments like this one to make themselves feel better about their own figures by putting down those of skinny people. But making a sweeping judgment like this — that basically excludes someone from their own gender — makes the recipient feel unaccepted and can even trigger body issues.
So what should you say? How about just a simple, "you look great" — or better yet, compliment them on their personality instead. For example their kindness, or their sense of humor. It will probably be a nice surprise for your friend and much appreciated!
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever judged someone for their thinness? Have you ever received comments like these? Why is body shaming so prevalent these days?