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Emotional Wellness

The Harmful Effects of Body Compliments

At first glance, it’s normal to think that compliments are a kind and supportive act that should be encouraged. But, if you think deeper, I am sure you can recall when you gave or received a compliment that ended up offending someone. This can be even more likely to occur when the compliment is on a person’s physical appearance, body shape, or weight. It’s important to consider the harmful effects that body compliments can create. Without a clear idea of the issues and insecurities of the people around you, what seems like a friendly gesture can quickly backfire. This has the power to lower a person’s self-esteem and even potentially reinforce dangerous behavior.

Keep reading to learn more about the reasons why body compliments can end up doing more harm than good and how to avoid upsetting your friends and acquaintances.

Why Can Giving Compliments Be Harmful?

It’s no secret that many people feel insecure about their bodies. With perfect Instagram feeds and unattainable looks in the media, it’s no wonder that so many people have body insecurities.

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Body image is a massive problem in today’s society. Approximately 80% of US women don’t like how they look. With more people of all ages worrying about their weight and living through the stress of the COVID pandemic, many are likely to be facing similar issues with body image and self-acceptance.

In addition, mental health experts have become increasingly concerned about body dysmorphiaBody dysmorphia affects one in fifty people. It’s thought that the condition is magnified by the isolation brought about by the quarantine. People with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) struggle with an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in their appearance. Often, this flaw may be too minor for others to notice or sometimes imagined. For those suffering from BDD, the nature of the delusional and secretive nature of the disorder means it is hard for sufferers to understand and self-diagnose. So, the actual number of cases is likely to be much higher.

Assumptions and Unwanted Compliments

Diagnoses of mental disorders and problems with body image are often easy to overlook. Sufferers tend to do whatever they can to project a strong and confident exterior. They only let their guard down with their most trusted companions, making BDD hard to spot.

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I know this first hand as, not so long ago, I was obsessing over my long-term fitness goals and receiving compliments about how muscular my body looked. At the same time. I was going through a full-blown eating disorder. Rather than giving me pleasure, these compliments reinforced my unhealthy behavior and made my disorder spiral further out of control. Anyone who has received an unwanted compliment can attest to this; I had no idea how to respond to the compliment. The people saying these accidentally hurtful remarks—many of who were my close friends—had no idea how they had made me feel. They were utterly oblivious to the damage. With all this in mind, it is easier to understand why what may seem like a harmless body compliment could actually do more damage for those suffering from eating disorders and body image issues.

Ideas for Positive Compliments

The definition of compliment covers expressing esteem, affection, admiration, and respect. It is this idea of respect that is so important to consider when giving someone a positive compliment. This will help you avoid issues like unwanted compliments or even body shaming. You need to respect a person’s privacy and feelings, the present situation, and the context in which you know them.

Group of multiethnic women with different kind of skin posing together in studio getting body compliments.
Respect A Person’s Privacy And Feelings (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Aside from hurting those facing body image issues, the harmful effects of body compliments can occur in other ways. A person may feel unhappy if you judge them too much on their appearance rather than their personality. Your compliments could be too personal or out of place in your relationship with them, especially when it comes to colleagues in the workplace.

Your goal should be to create a comfortable and healing physical environment for the people around you. Part of this means avoiding causing stress or making people feel unhappy or awkward. Below are some tips for best compliment topics that achieve positive results. 

  • Personality: complimenting a positive personality trait, for example, kindness, loyalty, generosity, or empathy. 
  • Skills and work ethic: complimenting hard work, dedication, a job well done, or another area or skill you feel they are especially good at. 
  • Specifics to you: demonstrating the value you see in them in terms of your relationship, why they are important to you, and how they make your life better.

Final Thoughts: How Body Compliments can Impact Self-Esteem and Image 

With so many people struggling with body image issues, self-acceptance, and self-confidence, it is essential to consider the compliments you use. But you can still give compliments that will boost the receiver’s self-esteem and positively impact the world. My intention is not to get you to stop giving compliments altogether, but to encourage you to think about the type of compliments you give. 

By taking steps to understand body image issues, you can have as much awareness as possible. The bottom line is that you never know what someone else is going through. Someone can look great but feel miserable on the inside. That’s why it’s crucial to communicate with kindness first. A well-intended body compliment on body figure, weight loss, or physical appearance can do more harm than good for some people. So take a minute to reframe your compliment around a positive trait other than a person’s appearance.

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