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."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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