As a society, we place an inordinate amount of attention on people’s physical appearance and how they present themselves to the world. When someone loses weight, people rush to make comments about their new body size and shape, whether in person or on social media. While these comments may be made with the best of intentions, the message that is being sent is that the size of our body is directly related to our happiness, or even our worthiness as a person.

Most recently, this issue was highlighted by Hollywood actor Jonah Hill, who asked his 3.2 million Instagram followers to stop commenting on his body “…good or bad I want to politely let you know it’s not helpful and doesn’t feel good,” he said.

Walden’s AVP Rebekah Doweyko raises this issue when she explores body image with her patients. She points out that often the first thing we say to people when we have not seen them in a while is “you look great” or a similar comment about someone’s physical appearance. She suggests that a more healthy approach would be to talk about a person’s value or interests in life. By making a small adjustment in language, for example saying “it’s great to see you,” you take away the unnecessary emphasis on appearance. A further example provided by Doweyko is if you see a picture of someone enjoying a hobby or activity, use phrases such as “you look so happy doing that,” or “I wish I could be there with you!”

Weight Change May Indicate a Deeper Issue

Another problem with commenting on someone’s size is that there are a number of underlying reasons that can explain someone’s weight change. For example, mental health illnesses such as depression or eating disorders can lead to both weight gains and losses, as well as physical illnesses such as cancer and Crohn’s disease. Therefore when we choose to reference a change in someone’s body size, we may unknowingly be triggering harmful experiences or beliefs.

Jonah Hill took a brave step in sharing his concerns on Instagram. All too often, society teaches men that having body issues is not ‘masculine’ or acceptable. The reality is that males are increasingly susceptible to eating disorders. A recent study found that 25% of those diagnosed with an ED are male. Therefore society needs to also move away from commenting on male bodies, including muscle gain and physique changes.

As mental health issues, including eating disorders continue to rise, there needs to be a paradigm shift in how we value ourselves and others. Instead of congratulating someone on their body size, let’s focus instead on their true worth, such as their values, passions, and contributions to society. This will help to create a kinder, more authentic society.