We've talked about the kind of corporeal self-loathing that's become institutionalized in American culture, especially among women. We've promised to try to love our own bodies. (Right?) Now let's take all that a step further and think about the kinds of things we say to one another about the way we and other people look.
Here's my vote for 5 things you should never, ever say to anyone. No matter how thin or fat s/he is. No matter how much you really want to. Because not one of these comments is helpful, and some are harmful--to you if not to the other person involved.
1. You look great! While there's nothing wrong with a sincere compliment, this is typically not sincere. It's usually code, meaning either You look great, you've lost some weight! or You look great even though you're still fat! Try, instead, something specific, like I love your hair like that. Better yet, skip the comments on other people's appearance and find something more interesting to talk about.
2. I never eat X. Maybe you're a vegetarian who hasn't eaten meat in 20 years. Maybe you're allergic to chocolate. Or maybe you're caught up in the good food/bad food syndrome, where the demon du jour is carbs or fat or whatever. My advice: Keep your food tics to yourself. Better yet, get over them. Learn to love your body and respect the fuel that keeps it going.
3. I guess you got the thin genes! This comment was actually directed to my daughter by a salesperson. I was the one shopping; I'd just come out of the dressing room with an outfit on. My daughter had recently been diagnosed with anorexia and was emaciated and awful looking; she was with me that day because she was too anxious to be home alone. This salesperson managed to insult both of us with one comment. I haven't shopped in that store (which used to be one of my favorites) since.
4. Aren't you worried about your health? Translation: You should damn well be worried about your health, you fatso. Given what we know about the tenuous to nonexistent relationship between weight and health (see Sandy Szwarc's righteous columns, Paul Campos' writings, Gina Kolata's book, and other up-to-date treatments of this subject), this comment is outdated and ineffective. And just plain cruel.
5. I wish I had a little anorexia! Do I need to tell you why this is a stupid, cruel thing to say? I don't think so. You realized that the minute it came out of your mouth.
Now that you've developed your inner editor, here's one thing you can always say: I love you. Repeat as needed.