Experts, including body image psychologists, agree that commenting on someone’s appearance can be harmful, even if you think you have good intentions.
Since you may not know what someone is going through, commenting on a person’s body, whether its size, shape, or pretty much anything else, is no only inappropriate, but can also be triggering, Rachel Goldman, a New York-based licensed psychologist and assistant clinical professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told BuzzFeed News.
“Unfortunately, we don’t always see what people are struggling with. Like Ariana Grande, she didn’t say she took antidepressants and ate unhealthily, and that she shouldn’t have, but people assumed she was healthy just on her looks,” Goldman said. “Also, Grande is a public figure, and while it might seem like her whole life is on display, it’s not. She too has feelings, emotions, struggles, and it’s important for people to remember that.
Other celebrities, including actress and singer Selena Gomez, have also discussed the shameful comments about their looks. Gomez, who has spoken about bipolar disorder and the autoimmune disease lupus, and who underwent a kidney transplant, discussed his experience in detail in a live TikTok.
“When I’m out of [medication(s)], I tend to lose weight,” Gomez said. “I just wanted to say and encourage everyone who feels some kind of shame for what exactly they’re going through and nobody knows the real story.” (Drugs that suppress the immune system are well known to cause weight gain as a side effect.)
People who have questions and concerns about Grande and Gomez can comment on their bodies, believing they have the best intentions. However, it’s best to keep any kind of comments about people’s bodies to yourself, experts tell BuzzFeed News. In some cases, it can have a negative impact on mental health or even trigger eating disorders.
We asked body image experts about the potential harm that comments can cause and what you might say instead.
Body image feedback and issues
Body image refers to how you feel and think about your bodysaid Keri Gans, a New York-based dietitian and nutritionist.
Even positive comments can emphasize the importance of a person’s appearance, known as appearance orientation.
Research suggests that social comparisoneven towards one’s own body, can be associated with bodily dissatisfaction.
“Negative feedback can make them feel even more negative about themselves, which can lead them to engage in unhealthy behaviors,” Gans said. “Even positive feedback can be detrimental because it can feel like it wasn’t good enough before.”
People on social platforms were quick to add that the comments came from a concerning place. However, concerning comments have been made across comparisons of Grande’s body over the years. Bodies change over time, including fluctuations in weight and body compositionespecially as we age.
“Even if a comment comes from a good place, you have to be quiet. You never know what a person is going through,” Gans said. “Most importantly, a person should listen and only offer support when asked.”
Weight-related comments can actually encourage disordered eating behaviors and be triggers, Goldman told BuzzFeed News.
“If someone is struggling and/or participating in unhealthy behaviors to gain that weight, and they receive comments like ‘you look so good,’ that may actually reinforce the negative or unhealthy behavior” , Goldman said. “Also, someone might internalize this and now be thinking ‘what was wrong with me before’, which also impacts body image, self-esteem, self-esteem, which could also reinforce and lead to additional unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.”
Here’s what you can comment on instead
“There’s a way to show support and concern without commenting on your body, weight or shape,” Goldman said. “I always encourage people to pause and think about the words they are going to use before using them. Words matter and words can impact someone’s mental health.
Model Bella Hadid, who has previously opened up about comments about her appearance and body image issues in a Vogue interview, posted an Instagram post highlighting some compliments that aren’t focused on looks. In her caption, she wrote, “There’s so much more to you than meets the eye…”