Why you should stop complimenting people for being 'tiny'

Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

Returning to school after summer break meant the return of classes and new lockers, but for me it also meant heading back to basketball practice. I can't say I remember most games or practices, but certain memories still stick in my mind — and some don't even have to do with basketball at all. Like the time I was sitting on the gym floor one day before practice, lacing up my shoes, when an assistant coach on the boy's team came over to me. "Did you lose weight this summer?" he asked. "Were you trying to?" I was 15.

My teenage years, like many people's, were a time when my appearance occupied my thoughts more than almost anything else. The idea of being thinner or smaller was always appealing to me then, no matter what size I was. Given this, the idea of someone — anyone — thinking I looked smaller should have been appealing to me, but when this coach asked me that question, I remember feeling hot with an immediate wave of embarrassment. "How big had I been last year? Did I not look OK then? Maybe I should have worked out more."

The real answer to his question was that I had spent most of the summer playing competitive basketball, working out for three or four hours a day, four days a week. I hadn't really had time to focus on weight loss at all, but I guess it had happened. Suddenly, though, I was feeling like maybe I should have been more focused on it. If this person, a grown adult, had recognized that I was smaller, then obviously he recognized I was bigger before. I had room to improve, clearly, and I still had room to improve. It would be another decade before I finally learned to be content as is.


But if you ever find yourself in a group of women, one of the things you might notice immediately is how quickly the conversation can turn from, well, just about anything to a full discussion on everyone's bodies. Comments like, "Oh my gosh, you look so tiny!" are peppered into conversation frequently, and the expected response is almost always, "Thank you." If you're like me, and being tiny is a physical impossibility, it's hard to interpret these kind of compliments as anything but a failure on your part. It's equally hard not to overanalyze body-focused comments — especially if you have a history of disordered eating, body dysmorphia, or a combination of all of the above.

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Dr. Kevin Gilliland is a licensed clinical psychologist and Executive Director of Innovation 360, an outpatient counseling service. Dr. Gilliland tells me that commenting on someone else's body is "more personal and private than most people imagine."

"Why take the risk of commenting on something that's incredibly personal and has a high likelihood of being taken the wrong way?" Dr. Gilliland says. "Whether it's height, weight, or some physical aspect, we humans often have strong thoughts (sometimes irrational) or insecurities that someone can't imagine."

In a society that praises thin bodies and often penalizes and demeans bigger bodies, the inherent assumption can sometimes be that if someone lost weight, it's because they wanted to. Even if they didn't aim to, the assumption is often that the weight loss is a pleasant surprise anyway. But the truth, as Dr. Gilliland tells me, is often much more complicated than that.

"What are some of the other reasons people lose weight? Cancer treatment, autoimmune disorder, Multiple Sclerosis, eating disorder, stressed due to working and caring for elderly parents, depression – to name a few," Dr. Gilliland says. "We don't know why people lose weight and assume it's for a good reason. It may be or it may not be. How can you tell? You can't."

I hadn't been trying to lose weight that summer when I was 15, but one comment spiraled me into thinking that even when I thought my body was OK, turns out it would still be better if I lost weight. That one comment also made me think long and hard before I commented on other people's bodies going forward, and made me hyperaware of body-focused compliments that people would make around me. When friends would compliment another friend in our group by saying something like, "Skinny mini!" I immediately thought about what it meant that I wasn't skinny. Because if being skinny is good, then logic follows that not being skinny is quite clearly bad. I don't blame people for these types of comments, though. It's ingrained in our culture that these types of compliments are, well, compliments. And it's a hard habit to break. Luckily, though, there are shifts happening.

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Nutrition exercise specialist, N.A.S.M. Certified Personal Trainer, and author Liz Josefsberg tells me there are so many other things that you can compliment your friends on these days than weight — and that it's probably a good idea to stick to those.

"I advise people [to] stick to complimenting [others] for the things they do well, work well done, or things they have accomplished," Josefsberg, who is a nutrition expert for The Vitamin Shoppe, tells me. "Body image and the journey that each person is on with their own body is highly personal."

The assumption that every person, and especially every woman, simply wants to be skinny more than anything else is slowly dying out. And the less we all compliment and comment on other people's bodies, the faster that's going to go away. And the faster that goes away, the better we'll all feel about ourselves.

"... women don't lose weight for others opinions as much anymore," Josefsberg tells me. "They feel good at all different sizes as long as they are healthy. And I think that is exactly how it should be."

Culture

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture