This post was originally published on firstname.lastname@example.org on May 7, 2016.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature. . . For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” – 1 Samuel 16:7
During the time that I was in the midst of my eating disorder–and when my poor self image was at its peak–I got more comments on my body than ever before. You’d think that because I was purposely trying to be skinny, it would make me happy to get validation that I was small. But really, it made me feel disgusting. Many of the comments were made in a negative, concerned, awkward, or nosy way.
The comments ranged from a simple, “wow, you’re really small,” to a flat-out, “you’ve gotten so skinny! Do you have an eating disorder?!?” (A totally inappropriate thing to say while hugging someone at a party, in a room full of people).
During those months I would run into people in public, and sometimes the first thing they would mention was my body. The excitement I felt to see someone I had’t seen in a while was quickly replaced by shame, frustration, and mostly hurt.
I understand–and I understood even then–that some people may have been genuinely concerned for me. But I did not FEEL cared about when they approached it by informing me that I “disappeared” when I turned sideways. Or when they told me–in front of other people–that I was “withering away!!!!”
They didn’t know that I was fighting the most miserably intense battle of my life. My mind was a war zone. My self-esteem was more fragile than my body.
All along, I knew the truth of what I was doing…I had the Holy Spirit convicting me, and I was sometimes really fighting to overcome my disorder. But those who made the comments could’t know that. Other days I was not fighting my disorder so hard. I was fighting to make my body skinner and look pleasing for the world. So, with all of the negative remarks, I felt like I could never win!
During that period of time I questioned why people didn’t comment on my appearance before I lost so much weight. Or why people felt it was their job to do so. If they really cared for my health, I wished they would come to me privately.
So after all of that, I’ve been curious about what is truly appropriate for us to say to one-another. Is it okay for us to comment on someone else’s body at all? We never know what someone thinks about themself. We don’t know what battle they’re fighting. We don’t know how strong or fragile their confidence is. We don’t know their past with food and weight.
Our words have a huge effect on people. The comments people made still echo through my mind sometimes. I can remember exactly who said what and how I felt.
One point I want to make is that the same ideas still apply to those struggling with being overweight. Or for making positive comments on someone’s body. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight because it’s healthy for them, a nice comment might be really encouraging! But it’s still risky. What if your words mean so much to them that they take it too far? By telling them, “you look really great,” you’re implying that their external appearance matters. That there is a measure of “good and bad” bodies. They might start to crave validation from people more and more.
By all means, still tell someone they’re beautiful! It’s just a fine line we’re walking on, people. So please. Be careful with what you say about someone’s physical body. There are insecure and hurting people all around us. (I’m preaching mainly to the teenagers and young adult women). We’re all children created in God’s image. If you’re not sure what to say to someone, compliment their necklace, their shoes, or their hairstyle first! Always be kind and considerate. And most importantly, how about building up their character? It’s cliche, but, “what’s on the inside is more important than the outside.” What truly matters is our hearts, our attitudes, and our relationship with Christ. Tell others when you see them DO something impressive or impactful. Tell them why you appreciate them. Build them up for being kind, loving, funny, brave, etc…
I don’t have the exact solution. But I just don’t want anyone to feel the things I felt. To be scarred, embarrassed, or made to feel like their body is up for discussion and judgment. Let’s be careful. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”