Have you lost weight?
You look really good. How much do you weigh now?
Are you a size four? Oh, uh size two, eh? You look great.
For a person with an eating disorder, these questions do not come as a compliment. No matter how much she weighs, what size pant she wears, or how skinny she looks in the mirror, it will never be enough. No matter what you say, it will never be enough. No matter how healthy she is, it will never be enough. And that is why I ask that you take a few things in consideration when commenting on a woman’s appearance:
1. Don’t assume that just because she has lost weight, it means that she is trying to lose weight.
Women lose weight for a lot of different reasons. It could be because of health or because of some sort of life change. It could be because of an illness or low self-esteem. It could be on accident or on purpose. The point is that you don’t know.
2. Don’t assume that she is comfortable with her appearance just because she is skinny.
You never know where a woman is on her journey towards self-acceptance. It is important not to focus on something that could be a source of anxiety when giving a compliment. Talk to her. Ask her what she is working towards and talk about that. Don’t focus on something as superficial as appearance.
3. Don’t center activities around food if you know that a guest may have an eating disorder.
This can be especially tough during the holidays. If someone you love is dealing with an eating disorder, make the effort to talk to them before a big event. Talk about food options and be sure that the person feels comfortable participating. Ask for suggestions on how to accommodate. Be on her side.
4. Tell her that you love her.
Seriously. It is as simple as that. Eating disorders are wrought with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Talk to your friend and tell her honestly how you feel. Be prepared to let her reflect on those words before responding and to be there when she is ready to talk.
5. Reflect on how you own actions may affect your loved one’s disorder.
Be aware of your comments, beliefs, and actions. This is not to say that you should change how you think, but to be respectful. Take a look at how you interact with a friend who has an eating disorder. Are you always talking about your personal diet plan? Are you always commenting on how skinny someone is? Are you always equating conventional beauty with happiness?
In the end, I am asking you to be there. To be available to your friend when she needs you. To be conscious of your actions and how they may impact her live.
For more on the topic, check out an amazing art project that was recently highlighted on elephantjournal.com: http://tiny.cc/igx0v. The project used Craigslist.com to recruit woman who felt comfortable reveling their weight. And, as any research project goes, so much more was reveled.