Dress Codes Trying to Desexualize Girls are Actually Sexualizing Them More

By Lexie Kite, PhD and Lindsay Kite, PhD

Church Prom Dress Code

Boys: Tie and button shirt required. No low-rider pants.

Girls: Sleeves should cover the shoulder and top of the arm. No cleavage showing. No bras or bra straps showing through sheer fabrics. No low necklines in the front or back. No open, sheer, bare lace-ups in front or back. No midriff showing with arms raised while dancing. No tight or revealing clothes of any kind. No sheer, lacey or see-through fabric in areas that should otherwise be covered. Shoulders included. Hems should be no shorter than … (and so, so much more).

Our hearts broke when we saw a flyer for a church prom with these instructions this week.We understand the desire to clearly and strictly enforce a dress code for young women who are slammed with messages telling them their value lies in their sexual appeal above all else. But dress codes like this one don’t help that cause, and might inadvertently do more harm than good. Here’s why: They inadvertently sexualize young women as a collection of inappropriate body parts, positioning them as threats to be mitigated at any cost.

Our hearts especially break when we see dress codes like this from churches and schools and organizations that truly care about girls, because they are echoing and reinforcing what our culture constantly tells girls about themselves: they exist to be looked at. They are bodies first and people second. Their bodies are sexualized threats and burdens, not gifts and instruments for their own use and experience. Churches and schools, of all institutions, should be pushing a different message from “the world” about bodies and worth. Our culture tells girls, “Your body defines you.” We should be telling girls, “You are more than a body.” We should see more than bodies in our girls and encourage them to be more by teaching them how to understand and seek their value outside of their appearance and sexual appeal. That shouldn’t be too hard. Lots of churches preach some pretty great things about the worth of souls and the source of that great love and power to help individuals.

The people who wrote the dress code above, and the people who write every dress code just like this one are well-meaning, loving, and good people. We want to help people channel those good intentions into more effective means of communicating about dress codes and modesty. Lengthy, over-the-top, ultra-specific dress codes for girls only are based in fear and anxiety about sex — especially about male sexuality and the feelings female bodies are sure to incite, not to mention the fears of the actions that will surely be provoked by those males in response to those sights. But dress codes like these don’t prevent girls from being perceived as sexual objects, they actually reinforce it. Let’s repeat that:

Dress codes like these don’t prevent girls from being perceived as sexual objects.

They reinforce it.

They take the focus off of girls as people and hyper-focus it on each of their parts that are in need of covering, thus sexualizing those parts or positioning them as inappropriate. Shoulders, knees, backs, stomachs, legs above the knee, underarms, etc., are not inherently sexy or sexual. Boys learn right alongside girls that those particular female parts are inappropriate and are, thus, sexually charged.

Dress codes are often necessary and helpful to ensure everyone is on the same page about what to wear, but they can be written from a place of love, understanding and respect, rather than from a place of fear. They can be written in such a way that doesn’t unnecessarily deconstruct girls into collections of body parts to be covered. They can reinforce personal accountability for everyone’s appropriate dress, guided by uniform instructions and — in the case of churches — the understanding that our bodies are sacred and our sexual appeal does not determine our worth. If you’re willing to be clear and thorough enough to inventory all possible dress code violations for girls, why not just be up front and clear about the fact that you’re concerned about attendees choosing attire that highlights their sex appeal too much for the setting. Instead of saying “don’t show this, this, and this,” why not just come right out and say, “We all know what our church’s dress standards are. If you don’t, let’s talk*! Please do your best to find a dress or other outfit that fits those standards. We want you to be able to focus on dancing, talking to others, and having fun — not worrying about your dress or your body.”

That whole “not worrying about your dress or your body thing” is absolutely crucial. That process of monitoring your body, thinking about what you look like to others all the time, is called self-objectification, and it was the focus of a big part of our doctoral research. Most girls and women live in a state of self-objectification because of our culture that objectifies women’s bodies. We live, and we picture ourselves living. It’s that pesky, never-ending mental task list Lindsay describes in her TEDx talk. When we have to accomplish a task while also thinking about what we look like while doing it, we’re at a major disadvantage. In a state of self-consciousness about our bodies, we perform worse on math tests, logical reasoning tests, athletic performance, and have lower sexual assertiveness (including the ability to say “no” when needed and discuss contraception). Self-objectification leads to an increase in disordered eating and cosmetic surgery procedures, low participation in leadership positions, keeps girls from raising their hands in class, and leads them to quit pursuits of math and science at greater rates. 

Even though we are critical of lots of dress codes, that doesn’t mean we think standards of modesty or any focus on clothing is bad. In fact, there is power in clothing to alleviate self-objectification. If you feel fixated on your appearance, your clothing could be part of the problem. Are you constantly pulling shirts and skirts down, yanking necklines up, adjusting things, or trying to cover certain areas while hoping to expose others? Studies on self-objectification show us that body-baring and tight clothing leads to greater states of self-objectification, body shame, body dissatisfaction, and negative mood. What this tells us (and what our own experience living in female bodies tells us is a no-brainer) is that when we wear clothing that is especially revealing or emphasizing our bodies, we become very self-aware of those parts that are most visible and potentially being looked at. We self-objectify.

Research shows a level of modesty (that may vary from person to person since modesty and comfort in clothing are subjective) can be an important tool in safe-guarding ourselves from being in a constant state of self-objectification. Teach your girls about self-objectification. Talk to them about how being fixated on your clothes and your appearance gets in the way of everything they could be doing and experiencing.

What if we prioritized how girls and women feel in their own bodies and clothing, rather than how they think they look?

What if we taught girls to be conscious and critical of the ways we’ve been taught to view and value ourselves as objects to be looked at, and to fight to see more and be more?

What if we helped girls and women consciously consider the ways their clothing affects their self-perceptions and self-consciousness rather than the way others might or might not perceive them?

What if we spoke from research and truth that empowers girls and women and encourages respect for our bodies, instead of speaking from a place of fear and anxiety that reinforces the lie that girls are sexual beings first and human beings second?

We owe it to our girls to try. 


 

Illustrations by Michelle Christensen, commissioned for Beauty Redefined.

Lexie Kite, Ph.D. and Lindsay Kite, Ph.D. are the co-directors of Beauty Redefined, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that aims to help women redefine the meaning and value of beauty in their lives through body image resilience. 

Do you need help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome self-consciousness and get on to bigger and better things? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, PhD. 

Searching for Scraps of Power, One Swimsuit Pic at a Time

By Lindsay Kite, Ph.D.

The most-liked pics of women on Instagram are the body-baring ones.
  • When lifestyle bloggers post casual swimsuit pics of themselves in front of a cool brick wall — looking off to the side, toes turned inward, hips pushed back to subtly emphasize a “thigh gap”;
  • when Instagrammers smile at the camera in their underwear, hunched just slightly to reveal skin folds, with captions celebrating body positivity;
  • when a new mom with a big following post pics of her not-quite-as-flat (but almost!) abs while claiming bravery about embracing her new post-partum body on her journey to get her body back;
  • when gym-going women post photos from the locker room, twisting themselves unnaturally to highight tiny waists with fashionably rounded backsides to show their “fitness” progress or their sad-to-glad “before and after” transformations…
…they know they’ll get maximum likes and comments. They, and most people, might even call those posts “feel-good,” #inspo, #goals, or even “empowering.” But are they? If you strip away the inspirational caption and good intentions from so many of those #bopo or #fitspo photos, are they just another pic of a woman’s body for viewers to compare, ogle, and double-tap?

In a culture that values women for our bodies more than anything else, it is no surprise that women learn to survive within that system, reaping its meager rewards. We learn to search for scraps of what sometimes feels like “power” in the form of validation, acceptance, and financial reward for granting visual and physical access to our bodies.

Just as boys and men learn to view and value women for our appearance and sexual appeal, girls and women learn to view and evaluate ourselves in the same terms, through the same outside perspective. We monitor our bodies constantly, consciously and unconsciously working to adjust our appearances to be most appealing to onlookers. This objectification hurts us. It minimizes us, it distracts us, it drains us. It always has. Only now, we’ve learned to claim it as our own. We’ve duped ourselves into thinking our body-centric system of value is self-chosen and empowering.

It’s understandable. Those scraps of “power” are almost as good as the real thing in this system, because attention and validation are bestowed upon women deemed desirable enough. Your image can sell products and charm adoring fans and attract the eyes of suitors. By granting visual and physical access to our desirable bodies, we can reap all the benefits we’ve learned are available.

Until that stops. He changes his mind. A new “look” is in. You get older. Your appearance changes. You become sick or injured. You have a baby. You run out of money.

When your empowerment is based on others’ physical appraisal of you, it can be taken away as freely as it was given. It is fleeting and fickle. Our profit-driven culture thrives off the objectification of female bodies, and while companies and industries thrive, women are losing. Objectification harms all women, since we all fall short of manufactured beauty ideals simply by being humans and not images. We all fail in a system that values only our bodies at the expense of our humanity.

Instead of fighting for more women’s bodies to be viewed as valuable, let’s fight for women to be valued as more than bodies to view. If you use social media — whether as an “influencer,” a casual Instagrammer, or just as a viewer — and if you’re interested in consciously working to step outside the system that values women for our bodies above all else, we have some tips.‪ Below are guidelines in the form of two Positive Body Image Playbooks — the first for social media content creators and the second for content consumers.

 


Positive Body Image Playbook: Social Media Literacy for Socially Conscious Content

Your posts pass the test when they:

  • Stand alone without a caption to situate it as “body positive” or “inspiring”
  • Advertise only products or services that uphold the values you hope to promote
  • Clearly state that it is a paid promotion to sell a product or service if you’re making money from it
  • Encourage people to see you (and all others) as more than a body
  • Couldn’t possibly be mistaken for harmful #fitspo, #thinspo, or plain old sexual objectification
  • Avoid disparaging – even jokingly – any body types and characteristics as “flaws” (i.e. “I’m learning to love my thunder thighs” or “I’m so embarrassed/brave to show this pic of my belly rolls”)
  • Serve as more than just a #humblebrag or a request for validation

If a post doesn’t satisfy most or all of the above criteria, consider skipping that particular post or opting for an image or message that does.

 


Positive Body Image Playbook: Social Media Literacy for Socially Conscious Consumers

Ask yourself the following questions about the content you’re viewing:

  • Does this image/account encourage me to fixate on my own or other women’s appearance?
  • Does this image/account spark body anxiety or feelings of shame?
  • Am I engaging in self-comparison as I view these images?
  • Does this account seek to profit from my insecurity by selling solutions to fix my “flaws?”
  • Are these images promoting or reinforcing distorted ideals of what bodies and faces should look like – either through digital manipulation or featuring only one body type or “look?”
  • Would men who think women are garbage and only valuable as sexual objects enjoy viewing these images?
  • Does it encourage me to see women as bodies first and foremost?

If the answer is yes to any or all of the above, consider unfollowing, unsubscribing, limiting, or otherwise avoiding this type of content.


 

In Summary

If you are interested in elevating the status of women in a culture that happily values us as objects first and foremost, be sure to look critically at your own ideas of female empowerment first. If the images you’re sharing and liking online are indistinguishable from the sexism and objectification that have always been used to devalue and disempower women, they might not be all that revolutionary.

Women are more than bodies, and when we can see more in ourselves, we can be more. We can then learn to value more in ourselves and everyone else — value that doesn’t correlate with our beauty, and value that can’t be bestowed or withdrawn by anyone else.

 


 

Illustrations by Michelle Christensen, commissioned for Beauty Redefined.

Lindsay Kite, Ph.D., is the co-director of Beauty Redefined, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that aims to help women redefine the meaning and value of beauty in their lives through body image resilience. Don’t miss her TEDx talk.

Do you need help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome self-consciousness and get on to bigger and better things? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, PhD.  

Modest is Hottest? The Revealing Truth

Modest Not Hottest ImageWomen and girls are more than just bodies. But you wouldn’t know that if you looked to media, or even sometimes well-meaning religious* rhetoric, for the truth about females. And you wouldn’t know that if you listened to the way so many of us discuss the topic of appropriate dress, or “modesty,” today. We are growing up and growing older surrounded by profit-driven media’s fixation on bodies – from “Perfect Your Parts, Perfect Your Life!” billboards to always-Photoshopped magazines and TV obsessed with judging what women wear and how much cellulite they have. In an inescapable media world that pans up and down women’s bodies and focuses so much attention on their parts, no wonder girls learn to display their bodies as something to be looked at. No wonder girls learn to survey their bodies at all times, and in all things they are wearing, and in all places they are going.

Today in many circles, issues of female “modesty” are very popular. From many religions’ focus on appropriate dress to schools having rules on how high above the knee girls’ shorts can and can’t be or how much bare shoulder is too much – modesty is a trending topic. Fashion boutiques have crazy names like “Sexy Modest” and “Modest is Hottest!” is a popular phrase endorsing full-coverage clothing. While reasons for suggesting modesty vary greatly, we at Beauty Redefined can attest that far too much emphasis is being placed on arbitrary standards that are harming females from a very young age and keeping us fixated on females as bodies alone

magazines

If you’re pro-modesty (by whatever definition that means to you), then live it and teach it as a means for empowerment and benefit to yourself, not as a service or protection for men. You are capable of much more than being looked at, and your clothing decisions can reflect that. Simultaneously, let’s make sure we’re not shaming or blaming any girl or woman for what she chooses to wear. We’re in this fight together!

From a research-driven point of view, there is power in modesty. Many cultures and religions echo that sentiment  to varying degrees — that covering up your parts is crucial to respecting bodies, which are viewed as sacred. Regardless of your spiritual orientation, an open discussion about modesty from the perspective of our research can get us somewhere much more powerful and valuable than the shallow “modest is hottest” mentality so prevalent today. Here’s the truth you can stand behind:

We are more than bodies to be looked at.  Self-objectification is an epidemic among females today, as our research can attest, and it keeps females “in their place” as bodies in need of constant preoccupation and perfection. It takes place when we internalize an outsider’s perspective of ourselves. We literally picture ourselves being looked at as we go throughout our days, and research shows it gets in the way of everything we do. Everything. When we have to accomplish a task while also thinking about what we look like while doing it, we’re at a major disadvantage.

girlsinmirrorWhen we live “to be looked at,” self-conscious of our bodies, we are left with fewer mental and physical resources to do what can really bring happiness. We perform worse on math tests, logical reasoning tests, athletic performance, have lower sexual assertiveness (including the ability to say “no” when needed), and we are left unfulfilled and unhappy. When we self-objectify, which is the norm today for little girls all the way up to older women, disordered eating and cosmetic surgery procedures increase, we stop raising our hands in class, and we quit pursuits of math and science degrees at greater rates. We experience immense body shame, anxiety and depression, and fixate on our bodies enough that we never get on to the great things we can and should be doing.** Girls and women LOSE — and so do the men all around us — when we fixate on bodies.

If modesty is a concept you subscribe to, there is great power in changing the modesty conversation from what you LOOK like to others to what you FEEL like inside.  Studies on the epidemic of self-objectification show us that “clothing represents an important contributor to the body and emotional experience of contemporary young women” because body-baring clothing leads to greater states of self-objectification, body shame, body dissatisfaction, and negative mood (the latest study of this kind was just published in May 2012’s Sex Roles academic journal)***. What this tells us (and what our own experience living in female bodies tells us is a no-brainer) is that when we wear clothing that is revealing or emphasizing our parts, we become very self-aware of those parts that are being looked at. We self-objectify and are in a near-constant state of adjusting our clothing, fixating on what we look like, and looking at other people looking at us. It’s OK to like being looked at, and even to like attention from others for our looks, but if it’s getting in the way of progress, happiness, and health — as so much research confirms that it is for many — we’ve got to move on to being more than an object to be looked at. Research shows a level of modesty can be an important tool in safe-guarding ourselves and our daughters from being in a constant state of self-objectification.

Many discussions of modesty, from diverse cultural or religious perspectives, revolve around the idea of keeping sinful and unholy female bodies and body parts from the gaze of others — particularly men. This privileges the male gaze, in a  backward sort of way, and puts females at a disadvantage for being the ones in control of what others think or feel when seeing their bodies. When we speak of modesty strictly in terms of covering our bodies from the sexual gaze of others, we are keeping the level of discourse at the shallow waters of women and girls as bodies alone.  We have very little control of what other people think when they look at us. Even in cultures where women are required to or choose to cover up a great deal, there is still an incredibly high incidence of rape and sexual violence. Covering up has no bearing on men’s ability to control themselves. If we are teaching the girls in our lives that the primary objective of modesty is to keep themselves covered so boys and men don’t think sexual thoughts about them, then we are teaching girls they are responsible for other peoples’ thoughts and they are primarily sexual objects in need of covering. (See our thoughts about the massive debate on leggings here). No girl or woman’s body is sinful, and no one should be taught that. Modesty, as an ideal, can be about so much more than shaming females into covering up.Capable of Much More bR Sticky Note

We complicate it even further when we throw in phrases like, “modest is hottest,” which again teaches that girls should dress modestly for the benefit and approval of others, and not for themselves. Modesty can be a powerful concept when we believe we are more than bodies. And when you believe that you are capable of more than looking hot, then you might dress differently than someone who perceives her value comes from her appearance, or the amount of attention she gets from men. Someone who sees herself as a capable and powerful person with a body that can help her achieve great things might act differently than someone who exists solely to look “hot.” She’ll treat her body differently and think about it differently. If you believe your power comes from your words, your unique contributions, your mind, your service, then you don’t need to seek attention and power by emphasizing your parts and minimizing yourself to your body.

We see why suggestions regarding the length of hemlines and the depth of necklines are important, because we live in a sexual world where even the youngest of girls are sexualized to an extreme degree and they are told their “sexiness” will bring them popularity, love, and happiness.  Studies show girls as young as 6 years old are sexualizing themselves because media messages show them being sexy yields rewards (a July 2012 study in Sex Roles reveals the latest). As we‘ve written about before, even girls’ TOYS and cartoon characters are sexualized to the extreme these days. But when we fixate on the inches showing we are missing the pointWhen we judge girls and women for the skin they are or are not showing, we are minimizing them to their bodies and repeating the same lies that females are only bodies in need of judgment and fixing. We are even perpetuating the shame-inducing belief that female bodies are sinful and impure, and must be covered to protect boys and men who can’t be held responsible for their thoughts or actions.

Modesty is defined differently by different cultures – even different families – and it’s time to stop shaming people into covering themselves and start teaching truths that need shouted from the rooftop: We are more than just bodies to be looked at. When we begin believing that, we begin acting like it, and female progress in every imaginable way will move forward. We will spend less money on cosmetic surgery (up 500% in the last decade with 92% of the surgeries performed on women) and every other product we need to “fix” our flaws. We will spend less time hiding and fixing and obsessing over our insecurities beneath our clothes. We will spend less time emphasizing and obsessing over our favorite parts on display in our clothes. We will perform better academically, athletically, and in our careers. We will love other women more and feel more compassion toward them because we will not be judging them as bodies. We will feel greater self-love, happiness, and power to live authentically chosen lives. We will pass along all of these powerful truths to the little girls growing up in an increasingly sexualized world.

Please pass this along. Let’s change the conversation currently steeped in the negativism of “cover yourself” to “you are capable of so much more than being looked at” and positive, powerful outcomes will follow. 

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

**For a comprehensive list of self-objectification’s many negative consequences, see the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

***Tiggemann, M. & Andrew, R. (2012). Clothes Make a Difference: The Role of Self-Objectification. Sex Roles. Vol. 66 Issue 9/10, p646

 

 

Not Picture Perfect? Bounce Back from a Body Image Blow

By Lindsay Kite, Ph.D.

1 New Notification:  [Someone] added a photo of you.

Oh wow. It’s not good. It’s so not good.

Whatever the reason — bad angle, unflattering position, weird filter, googley eye, whatever. You HATE it. We’ve all experienced this one way or another. If not after being tagged in a pic on Facebook, Instagram, or a blog, then in a school picture, family portrait, or whole album of vacation pics. It’s a yucky feeling.

After you’ve exhausted all your untag/hide-from-timeline options, what comes next? For too many of us, the embarrassment of being captured in a less-than-ideal photo isn’t easily brushed off. In a world where girls learn from childhood to monitor their appearance at all times, and where public identities are carefully crafted online at every waking moment, a picture speaks more words than ever. For some, the sight of a photo she deems unattractive is enough to spark thoughts and reactions directly related to one of our favorite (like the bad kind of favorite) subjects: body shame.

You’d think someone who has spent the last decade researching that subject would be immune to the effects of it, right? I should be unflinching and invincible in the face of bad photos of myself, right? Ugh, I wish. Let’s use my own personal example of being captured in a cringe-worthy pic to illustrate what body shame can do to a gal, and how to fight that shame with some healthier options, shall we? I’m not one to hide in a photo. I actively resist the temptation to self-objectify or hold myself back from activities (or photos) because of concern over what I look like while engaging in those activities (or being pictured in those photos). I posed for a group photo and thought nothing of it until Instagram and FB notified me of a newly uploaded photo that had an unanticipated effect: it made me feel sick. Because I hated the way I looked so much. It struck a yucky chord in my brain that told me I was disgusting and everyone on the planet was going to see the documented evidence of how disgusting I was. Sounds asinine, you say? Yeah, definitely.

This is your brain: “That’s not a great photo. Oh well.”

THIS is your brain on body shame: “This photo has captured what I really look like — not what I think I look like. Why didn’t anyone tell me I look so awful? I’m never wearing those clothes again. What made me think I should be in the front of the photo? I’m always going to be in the back now. I can’t wear my hair like that anymore. Is the gym still open so I can go run and burn off the crappy food I ate at the party?” Asinine doesn’t begin to describe it, but the “brain on body shame” doesn’t see the asinine-ness of those thoughts — it takes those thoughts and runs with them. Almost literally. On a treadmill. And not for healthy reasons. But the gym was closed, and thankfully, my education and experience as a body image researcher started to kick in pretty quickly to tell me that what I was experiencing was all too familiar and entirely conquerable.

Shame makes us want to HIDE or FIX the thing that doesn’t meet our standards. That showed up immediately for me in depressing thoughts of planning to hide in pictures, throw out clothes, and burn as many calories as I could quickly. And speak of the devil, beginning with puberty, females are TWICE as likely to experience depression as males. This is directly associated with our objectifying culture, which leads us to evaluate and control our bodies more in terms of our sexual desirability (a.k.a. self-objectification) than our desires, health, or competence. Self-objectification has been linked to way too many negative consequences: disordered eating, plans for cosmetic surgery, diminished mental and athletic performance, anxiety and depression, etc., and these occur among women of all backgrounds.

So, in an objectifying culture that teaches us from birth that we ARE our bodies and that our appearances define our worth, how does anyone survive, let alone thrive? Lexie and I dedicated our PhD research to this question and wrote dissertations on the [invigorating, exciting, incredible] results. In independent studies, Lexie and I both identified resilience research as the light at the end of the dark body shame tunnel. 

Resilience theory describes opportunities to call upon resilient traits as “disruptions,” which are experiences that shake us out of our comfort zones and allow us to change in positive or negative ways. Disruptions are occurrences that cause us to feel self-doubt, hurt, fear, or loss. They can be anything from unkind words from a stranger, to a pregnancy, an invitation to go swimming, weight loss/gain, or even the super lame inconvenience of being tagged in a photo you can’t stand. Disruptions are big and small and different for everyone, but the emotions you feel from them lead to opportunities to begin the process of changing. This post is about how to make sure the change is for the better.

In today’s world, too many of us have settled into a comfort zone that is a whirlwind of body shame and appearance anxiety. It is a “comfort” zone because it feels normal, but it certainly isn’t comfortable for those always hiding and fixing their looks as a response to body shame. We are here to assist you with WAY better options than just taking constant hits to your body image and just absorbing it and going about your lives by fixing and hiding. The first step of resiliency is to identify the disruption. Name it. Shine a light on it. Call it what it is: a crappy, painful opportunity for positive change.

Our research confirms several qualities can protect us from the harms of body-shaming disruptions, and that cultivating those qualities can even predict positive outcomes from negative situations. We can use dark, painful incidents as a springboard to healthy choices, happiness, and empowerment. That, my friends, is body image resilience. I promise that if you will work to identify disruptions in your life and use them as opportunities for growth, you can cultivate a million strategies to make those disruptions happy.  Today I’ll highlight four of my faves:

Self-compassion 

Let’s get lovey up in here. Self-compassion is all about acknowledging that suffering, failure, and inadequacies are part of the human condition, and that all people—yourself included—are worthy of compassion (Neff, 2003). There are three basic components of this strategy that have GOT to be cultivated in the midst of our objectifying culture and self-objectifying tendencies: 1. Self-Kindness: Extending kindness and understanding to oneself rather than harsh judgment and self-criticism; 2. Common Humanity: Seeing one’s experiences as part of the larger female experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating; and 3. Mindfulness: Holding one’s painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than letting them define or overwhelm you.

This strategy lifted me out of the sudden fog of anxiety that accompanied my reaction to the bad photo of myself. I remembered that everyone has had that experience. And it’s just a photo. And my self-objectifying panic slowly started to become more ridiculous. I asked myself, “What is the WORST that could happen because of this?” And my answers were ridiculous: “Someone could see me and think I looked fat and ugly.” That’s about as bad as it got. And guess what? That’s THEIR problem, not yours. And it doesn’t mean ANYTHING in real life. You can demonstrate these aspects of self-compassion by journaling and sharing your experiences with other women who undoubtedly deal with the same objectifying experiences you do. You are not alone in your disruptive experiences. Promise.

Feminist Beliefs

Don’t be scared. Feminism isn’t quite as evil as you may have been led to believe. As Amelia Richards has observed, “body image may be the pivotal third wave issue—the common struggle that mobilizes the current feminist generation” (1998).  Whether or not you consider yourself  a feminist, you may agree with much of what feminism is all about. Feminist perspectives celebrate diversity among women, provide ways to interpret the objectification of the female body, unite instead of divide women, and give us strategies for resisting oppressive ideals. My early introduction to body image research and activism can be summed up with this: “Feminism appears to be a life raft in the sea of media imagery” for women (Rubin et. al. 2004). You can read more about why feminism became my life raft here.

Research shows us awesome connections between feminist beliefs and body image.** In these studies, feminist beliefs are those that reject ideas of women’s bodies as objects constantly in need of fixing.

  • Women who had feminist beliefs experienced less shame and body dissatisfaction than women who didn’t subscribe to feminism.
  • Feminism provides women with an alternative way to interpret objectification, and offers specific strategies to resist these ideologies on a personal and societal level. 
  • One of the most important feminist strategies is maintaining a critical awareness using media literacy to resist cultural messages about women’s bodies.
  • Women need coping strategies as a buffer against self-objectification, such as decreasing self-evaluative statements (“I look fat today”), substituting self-affirming statements (“I am capable of much more than looking hot”), and cognitive reframing of objectification (“that company wants me to feel bad so I’ll buy their product!”).  

Don’t be scared. Go toward the light. These feminist studies also found that finding new ways of inhabiting our bodies is a promising and empowering approach to resisting body shame and self-objectification, which leads to our next characteristic …

Using Our Bodies as Instruments, Not Objects

When women learn to value their bodies for what they can do rather than what they look like, they improve their body image and gain a more powerful sense of control. Ideas of “feminist embodiment” that have been pinpointed in research include using our bodies to dance, play, move, and be outside the confines of being looked at. As early as grade school, research shows that girls’ activities and thoughts are more frequently disrupted than boys, and those interruptions are often related to weight and appearance. Experts suggest we can resist self-objectification by participating in non-aesthetically-focused sports (like competitive team sports) and other kinds of physical activity. Finally, STEP AWAY FROM THE MIRRORS while exercising. Research shows people who work out in front of mirrors can’t perform as well because they are consciously and subconsciously wrapped up in how they look instead of what they can do. 

So challenge yourself to be active – run a race, try out a new Zumba class, and prove to yourself that your body is powerful and useful for more than looking good. Plus, we need to set and achieve goals outside of appearance – raise your GPA, volunteer, put yourself out there. Feelings of empowerment come from achievements and they add to your sense of control. Placing higher priority on how we feel and what we do is key to shutting down body shame.

Spirituality

Spirituality is well documented as a key to resilience. Richardson (2002) says being able to flourish in the face of disruptions requires increased energy to grow, and resiliency theory states the source of that energy is a spiritual source or innate resilience (p. 313). Resilience has been called “our innate capacity for well-being” (HeavyRunner & Morris, 1997, p. 2). Many participants in our PhD studies cited some form of spirituality as a positive force that led them out of hard times relating to their bodies, whether through religious worship, meditation, or acknowledging the guidance of a higher power. When women are able to place their lives and experiences in the context of a bigger picture — one where they aren’t defined by their appearance alone — those body-related concerns lose power and shame is lessened. If you can say a prayer, read scripture, meditate, attend a worship service, or any other way to tap into your spirituality, you can access power to put body-related disruptions into a more holistic perspective. 

The second you feel shame – the specific shame YOU feel that compels you to hide a part of you or fix yourself to meet an ideal – the disruption has begun. This shame can no longer be a normal, everyday part of your life you cope with. You’ve named it. You can’t be comfortable with it any longer. It’s time to grow from it. Start that growth process by focusing on self-compassion, considering your own (or learning about) feminist beliefs, using your body as an instrument, and tapping into a spiritual source of power to remind you that you are more than just a body and you are not alone. 

Without these strategies, the experience of being so unexpectedly shaken by that less-than-ideal photo of myself could have led directly to awful options my “brain on body shame” came up with. But, as inconsequential as the experience might seem, I was able to use it as a disruption that prompted me to come up with better plans, like turning to Lexie for a pep-talk (twin bonding!) and writing this post. Painful disruptions don’t need to drag us down deeper into the pit of shame and self-objectification! 


Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

*Werner, E.E. and Smith, R.S. (1982). Vulnerable but Invincible: A Longitudinal Study of Resilient Children and Youth. New York: McGraw-Hill.

**Cash et al., 1997; Dionne et al., 1995; Rubin et al., 2004

This post was originally posted in August 2013 and updated again in May 2017.

How I’m Winning the Body-After-Baby Battle

By Lexie Kite, PhD

My amazing baby girl, Logan, turned one this week. Having been fed a lifelong diet of how humiliating “bodies after babies” are and how important it is to “get your body back” after birth, I was not thrilled about living a life with a post-baby bod. Despite my last 10 years of body image research and public activism, in the back of my mind I secretly worried that maybe all Lindsay and I know and teach through our hard work at Beauty Redefined wouldn’t hold up through the scary disruption of pregnancy and “body after baby.” What if I couldn’t honestly live what I preach?

But you know what? Our research on how to continuously attain body image resilience because of difficult things we experience in our bodies – not in spite of those things –absolutely did hold up. I am grateful to feel that I have internalized the foundations of positive body image to the point that these thought processes are second nature, and I know it is possible for anyone. This last year has been amazing. It’s been amazing because I haven’t lived my days as a “body after baby.” I’ve been a person, a woman, a director, a wife, a sister, an activist, a mom. I haven’t been a body – I’ve been so much more than a body.

My changed body hasn’t consumed my thoughts like media and peers and cultural ideals have so often taught me it should. Instead, the very dramatic experience of growing a baby (and having a c-section because she wanted to sit straight up, and having mastitis, and not producing enough milk to sustain her, and having a body that is softer than it used to be) has absolutely not caused me to hate my body or fixate upon my body, but to appreciate it even more than I could have without those hard experiences. Yes, I’m still self-conscious some of the time, and no, I’m not going to rock a bikini on Instagram (or anywhere) to prove how much I love my body. But I have survived pregnancy and childbirth and become more resilient in my feelings about my body in the face of those difficulties and changes.

I am absolutely living, breathing proof that believing you are more than a body – that learning to SEE MORE in yourself and the world’s cultural ideals and BE MORE than a body to be looked at – is an absolute game changer.

Every one of us are on a lifelong body image rollercoaster. There’s no getting off of it. Harmful beliefs and messages about women’s bodies are deeply ingrained in our culture. But the knowledge and expertise that informs all the work we do at Beauty Redefined has made that roller coaster so much less extreme and scary for me – it’s more like a bumpy ride than a life of really high highs and really low lows when it comes to how I feel about my body. I can absolutely testify that the strategies for resilience we have identified and teach consistently, and the new patterns of thinking we recommend work beautifully.

For moms, future moms, or anyone with a body on this lifelong body image rollercoaster, I want to offer a few personally proven and research-driven tips to experience the paradigm shift from “body after baby” to “more than a body after baby.” If you haven’t had a baby or aren’t planning to have a baby, insert “baby” for the life event of your choice (example: “body after surgery,” “body after breakup,” “body after cancer,” “body after weight gain/loss,” etc).

What helps:

I am not a “before” or an “after.” Our bodies are constantly changing. We age, grow, shrink, hurt, heal, and change every minute. Recognizing that I am on a lifelong journey in this body helps me be compassionate and loving toward myself. I am not a before or an after – I’m “during” and enduring a million moments in between my “before” and “after.”

My body is an instrument, not an ornament. Despite the very normal and stifling anxiety I often feel when thinking about wearing a swimsuit, I have found immense happiness by actually putting on a swimsuit and getting in the water. Repeating and living our mantra, “My body is an instrument, not an ornament,” opens up your life to the freedom of living outside the confines of being looked at. Try these tips for incorporating body positive exercise or fitness strategies that improve your health and your body image. I LOVE swimming and being in the water. We took our baby to the lake or the pool most weekends last summer when she was just tiny, and it was a transformative experience to just LIVE and prove to myself again and again that it doesn’t matter what I look like in a swimsuit. We all qualify to enjoy the world in our bodies, regardless of how we think those bodies might appear.

Bag the body talk. Maybe I’ve just trained the people in my life well, but I have been blessed to be surrounded by people who have not commented on my body – for good or bad – and that’s a great thing. My extended family and my coworkers did an incredible job of bagging the body-related comments all together and instead doing things like asking me how I feel and how my baby is. Even those intended to be positive comments (“You look so good for having just had a baby!” or “You look even better now than before!” or “I can hardly tell you had a kid!”) can cause us to fixate on our looks in new ways and start to question how we appear to others (“Did I look gross before?” “I need to keep losing weight so I can keep getting these awesome comments!”). The best thing you can do if you are getting a lot of looks-based comments or compliments is to change the conversation. Depending on how well you know the person, that can be a quick “thanks” or “I feel great too” and then diverting attention elsewhere, or you could consider saying something like, “I’m actually working on not thinking about my weight or looks so much, and focusing on more in other women too. You should try it with me! It’s harder than it seems!” or “If I can be honest, those comments about my body actually make me really self conscious and hyper-aware of my looks. Can we talk about anything else?”

Helpful Sorta “Post-Partum” Tip from Lindsay: I went to a midwife appointment with Lexie while she was pregnant and when the nurse asked me if I have any kids, I responded, “Nope, this is our first!” So yeah, this baby feels like mine. I should also note that not having any kids of my own hasn’t held me back from experiencing the pregnancy weight gain right alongside my sister. I’m honestly not sure if it was sympathy gain or an unavoidable side effect of our twin connection, but it was real. I also realized how much I love baby legs. Their little dimples and thigh rolls and chubby ankles — all the varieties and shapes are perfect and NO ONE can argue that. I love them so much I can’t even call them legs — I have to call them “leggies.” Then one day, I referred to my own legs as “my leggies.” Game-changer. It’s adorable, hilarious, endearing, and you can’t feel negatively about something you refer to in such a painfully cute way. If you love baby leggies of every shape, size and color, think of your own precious leggies on those terms and feel the love!

What doesn’t help:

Comparison is the thief of joy. Scrolling through old pictures of yourself when you were thinner, younger, more curvaceous, etc., is the kiss of death for your self-esteem. Looking at bloggers and social media starlets who have just had babies and are suddenly posting swimsuit pics and skinny jeans pics is no better for you, either. Studies and real-life experience show that comparing yourself to pictures of yourself or other women online or in real life is not going to do you any good. It’s actually proven to destroy your self-esteem and lead to loneliness, envy, anxiety, and body shame. Staring at your phone or laptop when you’re up at weird hours with a baby is inevitable, but it’s important to screen your screen time by being super aware of what and who you are viewing. Consider a short but incredibly powerful media cleanse. If you feel even a tiny bit of that yucky sinking feeling of envy or body shame when you see pictures of women online, click away. Unfollow. Hide. Block. Do whatever you have to do to be compassionate with yourself. I caught myself several times scrolling through popular fashion/lifestyle bloggers’ Instagram accounts and feeling worse about myself, and I have learned to click away. Even the most well-meaning, really nice-seeming social media influencer is making big money to sell you aspirational images that aren’t entirely real. They are perfectly lit, flatteringly posed, filtered, cropped, styled, and designed to sell an ideal. If their pictures trigger you toward self-comparison or push you to fixate on your body, it is perfectly healthy and compassionate toward yourself to unfollow. I did it, and I promise you it’ll help you tremendously.

Don’t conflate happiness with thinness. Your happiest times are not necessarily your thinnest times, and neither are mine. Life doesn’t work like that, even though happiness and thinness are ALWAYS conflated in advertising, magazines, #transformation photos, and any entertainment news show. Happiness just absolutely does not equal thinness. They are two very different things. My thinnest times have often been consumed by self-objectifying thoughts of how I appear to others and food-obsessed thoughts about how many carbs I am consuming. My happiest times have been times in my life where strict carb counting or exercising to lose weight takes a backseat to cuddling on the couch with my husband, sharing a birthday cupcake with my baby, going on walks in the park, and not letting my weight or shape consume me. Body size just can’t equate with joy, and a changing body can remind you of that truth.

“I’ll be happy when…” is a mean mindset. Any mindset that requires you to change your body before you can appreciate it or feel happy with it or shop for new clothes or take family pictures or go swimming or anything else is a mean mindset. Don’t be so harsh on yourself. You qualify to live your life happily right now! Do you believe that? It’s true. Instead of setting arbitrary goals like, “it took me nine months to grow this baby and I’m giving myself nine months to look like I did before having her” isn’t super helpful. What if you don’t hit your goal? What if you hit your goal by using unhealthy means like starving, binging, over-exercising, unsafe diet pills, etc.? Be compassionate with yourself. Set goals to do the things you want to do right now, regardless of your looks or how you think other people think you look. Want a new pair of jeans? Find a pair you love and don’t let the size hold you back. Want to go to the gym? Wear whatever you feel comfortable in and go use do your favorite exercises. Want to take family pictures? Book that photographer even though you’re scared. You qualify to be in photos with your loved ones.

You are more than a body. You are also more than a “body after baby.” You have important work to do and people to love and goodness to contribute, regardless of what toll a baby (or your twin’s baby) has taken on your body.


Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhDs, are co-directors of the Beauty Redefined foundation, founded in 2009, and identical twins with doctorates in the study of body image resilience. They travel the US speaking at universities, high schools, and conferences about how to identify objectifying ideals and overcome them to get to a more powerful, healthy place. Learn about our life-changing, research-backed online body image resilience course here. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to stay up-to-date on this and all things Beauty Redefined!

When “You Look So Skinny!” Does More Harm Than Good

By Lexie Kite, Ph.D.  (Originally posted in Feb. 2014)

POP QUIZ: If you know a girl or woman who has lost weight but you don’t know how or why she did it, what do you do?

A: Compliment, compliment, compliment! The more praise about her fab new bod, the better.

B: Don’t say anything in person, but next time you see her on Instagram or Facebook, throw down a little “You look so skinny!” on a couple pics to let her know you noticed.

C: Talk about anything else besides her looks. How much fun she is. The weather. Her job. Your lunch. That dog walking by. Anything else.

This might feel like a trick question because looks-based compliments are good, right? I mean, we live in a world where the vast majority of girls and women feel terribly about their bodies, so hearing nice things about their looks has to help, right? It turns out that is not always the case. Answers “A” and “B” might actually do more harm than good, and we just got an email from an awesome Beauty Redefined fan that is the perfect case study to help us teach why “C” is the best answer of them all:

“Last year, four months after giving birth, I began focusing on getting healthy, eating right, and exercising. Over the course of the next six months I lost a significant amount of weight and I felt good — better than I had in years and years — so I was happy. Here’s what I was not happy about: the fact that everyone I had ever met all of a sudden felt it was appropriate to comment on my physical appearance. Casual acquaintances felt like it was perfectly reasonable to start asking me about my weight and size. Family members would tell me how good I looked now, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for me from a year ago, who I had loved, but apparently everyone else was thinking could be a lot better. I have never felt so uncomfortable in my own skin in my life. I — a woman who has always felt infinitely more defined by my thoughts and humor than by a number on a scale — suddenly felt very self-conscious about everything. All of this new attention found me wanting to be sure to hide my flabby arms (because losing lots of weight leaves a lot of skin) and saggy boobs (because I’d been either pregnant and/or nursing for the last five years). And no matter how wrong I knew it was I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘If people think I look good now, they’ll really think I look good if I lose 20 more pounds.’ This sudden (undeserved) praise from others has really wreaked havoc on all of my previously held ideas of positive body image and female empowerment. I have no answers.”

But we have some answers! Let’s start with why it’s so important to STOP talking about each others’ bodies – even in what we assume are nice ways – and then we’ll get to what we can do if we’re falling into a deep pit of appearance obsession that often comes from constant focus on our bodies.

First, you have learned firsthand that it is time to stop body policing. None of us have the responsibility to comment on the look of someone else’s body – not even the “nice” sounding stuff. Not in front of their faces or behind their backs. So often we turn to appearance-based conversation first as a default, and we must reconsider this automatic small talk. This is especially true for girls and women, who grow up hearing from all sides that they are things to be looked at above all else.

Too many females suffer the debilitating consequences of eating disorders, appearance obsession, body anxiety and depression, all in the name of trying to meet unattainable beauty ideals. Did you know hospitalizations for little girls with eating disorders is up 100 percent in the last decade? Help little girls recognize they are more than their bodies by choosing to avoid discussing the look of another woman’s body in media or real life. Did you know cosmetic surgery increased 446 percent in the last decade, with 92 percent of those voluntary procedures (mostly liposuction and breast enhancement) performed on females? Help ease the ever-more-powerful temptation for painful and expensive cosmetic surgery by never talking negatively about the look of another woman’s body in media or in real life. Did you know self-objectification is leaving even the youngest of girls and the oldest of women with fewer cognitive resources available for mental and physical activities, including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills, and athletic performance?* Help stop this downward spiral of appearance obsession by changing the conversation from the look of another women’s body in media or real life to anything else. 

We must make sure our dialogue reflects what we know to be true: We are not bodies to be looked at, judged, and constantly in need of fixing. We are capable of so much more than being looked at. We owe it to our sisters to shout that truth from every rooftop.

So friends, if you know someone who has lost weight and they aren’t publicly speaking about how they did it, don’t feel the need to talk about it. Don’t automatically praise them. Don’t publicly comment on their photos with “You look so skinny!” Just don’t.

Because you don’t know if they are working out and eating healthfully or depressed, sick, or suffering with an eating disorder or resorting to other unhealthy extremes to fit an unhealthy ideal. You just don’t know. And too often, those body-policing compliments of “Oh you look so AMAZING!” are exactly the motivation someone needs to continue down an unhealthy pathway of unsafe diet pills or over-exercising or disordered eating. Even just seeing those body-based comments on someone else’s pictures online over and over again can send someone else down that dangerous pathway. Other times, a disease or other illness could be causing your friend to lose weight beyond their control and “Did you lose weight?!” is the exact wrong type of compliment they want at the moment. We can do so much better than the constant body policing.

It’s time to value the women and girls in our lives for more than their looks. Dig deep next time you want to give a compliment. If you give a looks-based compliment, pair it with a character-based compliment. Say something nice about who they are, what they do, and how much you care about them outside of how they look. When we minimize other females to just their bodies, we forget to remind them of their beautiful talents, characters, and gifts. And we can unknowingly be giving them motivation to stay in unhealthy patterns so they keep “qualifying” for looks-based compliments. We are more than bodies, so let’s make sure to remind each other of that powerful truth.

But what if, like our friend’s example, you are at the receiving end of lots of looks-based compliments? What if you’ve lost weight recently and all that body policing about how “much better you look” is keeping you focused on yourself as a body to be looked at above all else? So often, those looks-based compliments just perpetuate the belief that looks are most important in your life. Once you’re riding the high of all those compliments, you have to continuously work harder to impress people in your life to give you more compliments. If they stop complimenting you, you start to feel like you just need to work a little bit harder to earn their praise. What a worthless and selfish cycle to be stuck in! You are so much more than a body to be looked at! (Sick of us telling you that yet?) Here are three surefire strategies to use the moment you feel yourself getting sucked into the worthless pit of looks-based obsession:

Change the Conversation.

Next time the dialogue starts to revolve around your looks and you get uncomfortable, take the opportunity to teach a little lesson in a kind and thoughtful way: “There are lots more interesting things to talk about than my body! Did you know I recently went on vacation?” or “BORING! Let’s talk about you. How is work going?” or throw in some honest vulnerability: “Thanks, but I’m more comfortable talking about lots of other stuff besides my body. How was your weekend?” or “To be totally honest, I have made a resolution to compliment women for stuff other than their looks because I feel like we get stuck talking about shallow stuff like physical appearance way too often!” or tell them you just read an awesome blog post about changing the conversation on looks-based compliments and you’ve vowed to do it (then send them this link, of course!)

Set a fitness goal.

Regardless of what you look like, or what you think you look like, you can feel good about yourself, because you are not your appearance. Your weight, size, and measurements are just numbers. Positive body image is the cornerstone of our work, and it is founded in the life-changing understanding that your body is an instrument to be used and not just an object to be adorned. Prove it to yourself by setting a fitness goal that will absolutely reinforce the truth that your body is powerful and capable and you are not just a decoration for the world to look at. Run a certain distance. Swim 10 laps faster than ever. Do a certain number of crunches, push-ups, pull-ups – any fitness achievement measured in actions. You will get the reward of endorphins released into your body to boost your mood, the empowerment of accomplishing a goal, and the satisfaction of proving you are more than a pretty face. It’ll snap you out of your self-objectifying rut in no time.

Throw away your scale.

Tracy Moore at Jezebel put this so well: “Ask yourself, ‘What exactly is going to happen when I reach magical X pounds?’ Force yourself to imagine the perfect life you think the perfect weight will bring you. What does it look like? You never argue with your husband? That guy you like at work will ask you out? The beauty of working toward real confidence by actually liking yourself is that it doesn’t disappear the moment you gain weight, it is always there, and anyone worthwhile is drawn to you because of that aura, not the fact that you’re at some specific number… Plus, numbers are misleading. There is no magic number for anyone. Paying attention to some perfect goal weight, at which point you imagine yourself to no longer have problems or somehow transcend the issues you faced with 20 more pounds is a complete and utter illusion. And a waste of time. And probably really about something else.

Our fans on Facebook also weighed in with their own experiences of hearing “You’re so skinny!” and it being exactly the wrong thing they needed to hear:

  • When my mom was sick and three months later passed away, I was so stressed out and grief-stricken that I lost about 20 lbs. Everyone at work complimented me and told me to keep doing whatever I was doing because it was really working for me.
  • I had a good friend who miscarried a baby, and a few weeks later a man at church commented on her looking “thinner and better!” and she said, “Yeah, I guess…” and he goes “C’mon, you gotta look on the bright side.” I wanted to punch him in the face.
  • I complimented a regular customer on her weight loss at the store where I worked when I was in my early twenties. She responded that she had cancer. Lesson learned.
  • I got this a lot while in the throes of serious depression. Black circles under my eyes, yet people, strangers even, would announce how “healthy and fit” I’d become! Know your audience or zip it. You may think you’re paying a compliment, but you’re really reminding someone of a bad situation!
  • I had similar feelings post-surgical delivery of my twins where I wasn’t eating nearly enough to be breastfeeding and was home alone with them 10 hours a day. I couldn’t move to get myself food. “What did you do to lose the baby weight?” was a reminder of the support I didn’t have. It was hard to answer positively and politely when the things people say make you feel like crap.
  • I lost about 30 lbs after finding out about my husband’s addiction. Friends kept asking me about my “weight loss secret”. It made me sick.
  • I was working in a restaurant and my parents would come in to eat a lot. My mom was losing a lot of weight and was having trouble eating because of what we later discovered was a faulty esophogeal valve. She went through test after test and after losing about 40 lbs we were worried that it might be stomach cancer. A manager of mine saw my mom one night and commented to me how great she looked (she was skin and bone) and I started to cry and said that the weight loss may be a sign of cancer to which she replied enthusiastically “I wish I could get cancer!!!”
  • I was at my thinnest during a period of intense anxiety and OCD. Not a great way to lose weight.
  • I am naturally a very petite person, but there was a time in my life where I went through some really traumatic experiences and as a result, I lost over 25 pounds. Since I am so small in general, this was awful. My hair was falling out, I was throwing up all the time, and I was so emotionally drained. People kept saying how pretty I looked and a bunch of teenage girls told me they wished they could be as skinny as I was…. Little did they know the physical damage that comes with being that small.
  • When I was in my 20s my mom and I visited one of her friends who had pancreatic cancer. Her chance of survival was not great. The chemo was making her vomit constantly. She pointed out her belt, that her husband had needed to punch new holes because she lost weight, in a “I’m happy about that” way. I reflected on how screwed up our society is to make a dying woman happy about losing weight. In a way that experienced help me to focus more on health and rejecting society’s screwed up focus!
  • A few years ago I lost a baby in the middle of my second trimester. I became depressed and must’ve lost weight, because over the next few months several people commented approvingly on how thin I looked. The irony of being complimented on my thinness during a time when I should have been full and round with the new life growing inside of me was almost too bitter to bear and more than once brought me to tears. I never felt very comfortable commenting on people’s weight before, but this experience really cemented it for me.
  • Yup, I had a mystery illness and lost 12 pounds in two weeks. Everyone thought I looked fantastic!!  Lol.
  • Being complimented when I had lost weight because I was so unhappy and sick that I couldn’t force myself to eat was unsettling. I was asked how I did it. I replied that it wasn’t worth it.
  • I was always confident in my body, raised to value my intelligence and personality over my physical appearance. It wasn’t until I lost 20 pounds following a bad breakup that I began to understand the body insecurities that other girls my age dealt with. Having other girls tell me I ‘looked like a model!’ or that they were ‘omg sooo jealous!’ made me feel like my body before the weight loss was less attractive. I felt this urge to keep the weight off even though I felt awful and was completely unhealthy. It just goes to show how even someone with good self-esteem and body image can be brought down by ‘innocent’ comments.
  • My mum used to point to very overweight people and say “See you aren’t as big as her” and think that was a compliment. I was fit and healthy at the time so all it said was “I see u as fat.” Messed with my body image for years.
  • My father’s wife said “you’re still skinny” each time she saw me. I make a point not to comment on people’s’ appearance. I prefer to say “It’s great to see you”.
  • I received the most compliments when i lost 20 pounds, i was not well and therefore i couldn’t eat. When i started feeling better i slowly started to gain my weight back and exercising and people will criticize me on how i looked compared to when i was “beautiful.”
  • When I was in my early 20’s I was broke, depressed, and starving. I would get complimented, or, worse, I was accused of being anorexic. Thank you so much for bringing attention to this real issue, and making me realize that I was not alone.

If these comments aren’t enough to convince you that body-based comments aren’t helpful, we don’t know what is! Being conscious of our compliments is an important way to SEE MORE in ourselves and other women in our lives, so we all can BE MORE than women fixated on our bodies.


Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life. 

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