This weekend we had a two-hour chat about language. We used a lot of different words to describe the times we have been on the receiving end of appearance-related "compliments" that feel good in the moment we take them in, but actually aren't so good for us the longer we hold onto them.
We are two women with tons of body image baggage. We know how hard it is to avoid engaging in body talk--especially when those conversations seem to be common ground for so many women (and increasingly more men). Enter Vocab Rehab, our new regular feature aimed at detoxing some of the most typical body conversations. We hope you'll add your comments and send us your suggestions for future Vocab Rehab words and phrases. Here's our first pick:
The phrase: "You look great! Did you lose weight?"
What you're trying to say: In our diet-saturated culture, commenting that someone's frame looks more slender and svelte is widely accepted as the ultimate compliment. If you throw this one in someone's direction, you're usually trying to make her/him feel good.
What might be heard: You can just never be 100 percent sure what is inside a person's heart, body, and mind when s/he loses weight. Though not always, weight loss can be linked to physical or emotional problems. You might be talking to someone who is secretly caught up in an unhealthy obsession. By drawing attention to size, you could be inadvertently adding fuel to a dangerous fire. What that person hears is a loud and unrelenting: "I am more beautiful and loved when I'm thinner."
Where it goes: If there's "look who's thinner!" buzz in a room, diet war stories spread fast. Before you know it, everyone's talking about weight. And the more people get into the convo, the greater the chances that one or more of them struggles with disordered eating. In fact, those odds are pretty good.
What you could say instead: We don't know about you, but we're pretty excited about this historic Presidential race. We'd much rather talk about the future of our country at happy hour than compare the size of our jeans. This is not to say that there isn't a time or place for fashion and beauty talk. But we keep our compliments in the realm of "You're glowing!" (translation: "Something amazing must be happening in your life.") and "I love your style." (translation: "There's something special about you that's really working right now.").