10 Things NOT To Say to Someone About Their Appearance

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and the theme this year is “It’s Time to Talk About It.” Eating disorders are highly secretive in nature, and this year survivors, their families, professionals, and EVERYONE are encouraged to talk about them and remove some of the stigma and secrecy attached.x

One way to “talk about it” is to openly discuss boundaries with friends and loved ones. While many of us love to hear physical compliments, because eating disorders often become so wrapped up with being satisfied with one’s appearance, even positive compliments can trigger negative thoughts in people with eating disorders, and at times people without them. If physical compliments are disrupting your self-esteem or recovery, you should not be afraid to communicate this with other people.

In case you’re stuck on what to say to a friend besides a physical compliment, here are 10 things you can say instead of complimenting someone on their physical appearance:

  1. Instead of, “You look like you’ve lost weight!” Try, “You look so healthy!”***
  2. Instead of, “You have such a great smile,” Try, “You look so happy.”
  3. Instead of, “That outfit fits you perfectly,” Try, “I love your sense of style!”
  4. Instead of, “You’re so toned/muscular, Try, “It’s great you make time to work out!”
  5. Instead of, “Your skin is flawless,” Try, “You literally look like you’re glowing!”
  6. Instead of, “I love your long hair,” Try, “I love your haircut/The way you do your hair!”
  7. Instead of, “You’re so pretty!” Try, “I really admire how kind you are.”
  8. Instead of, “You’re so short it’s so cute!” Try, “I’m so impressed with how hard you work!”
  9. Instead of, “Your nails look so nice!” Try, “It’s great you made time for yourself to get your nails done, I know you really needed that.”
  10. Instead of giving compliments based on looks, height, weight, etc. compliment someone on their accomplishments, personality, and values.

Some compliments on physical appearance can be slightly altered to be more personal (for example: #3) and sometimes it can be more meaningful to compliment someone on their personality traits and forego a physical compliment altogether (for example: #7). There’s nothing wrong with telling a friend how beautiful they are, but it is important to mix in praise for their personality traits, values, and non-physical characteristics as well.

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***For people who struggle with eating disorders, weight gain often makes them look healthier, but they don’t hear it as a compliment. Instead, they hear it as they’ve gained a noticeable amount of weight, which can be very triggering. Be mindful of who you say this to because it will affect people differently.

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If you think you or a friend may be struggling with disordered eating, go to https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ for information on help and support for yourself or a loved one.

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