Let’s face it: America loves a good story about weight loss — and, if we’re honest, weight gain. While this has been true for decades, the internet and social media make it a lot easier to see as well as comment on people’s appearances. When it comes to our looks, a new StyleSeat survey reveals that the number one negative comment people hear (68%) is about their weight.
It’s not just weight gain, either. As it turns out, people are generally uncomfortable with others making comments about their bodies at all. Even famous people who are used to being in the public eye have started to call out fans for talking about the stars’ changing appearance — both weight gain and weight loss. As the survey results show us, these celebs reflect how most Americans feel about the way we talk about looks.
Even positive comments can be harmful
We all know the age-old expression: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. According to survey respondents, however, you might want to keep even positive comments to yourself — if they’re related to someone’s appearance. Over half of Americans (59%) say they have trouble accepting compliments about their looks.
There also seems to be a mismatch when it comes to how we talk about appearances. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) say the most common way they hear weight loss addressed is directly: “You’ve lost so much weight!” However, the way they’d prefer to have it addressed is indirectly: “You look great!” Unfortunately, that is the least common way they hear weight loss mentioned, with only 4% of respondents choosing that answer.
Weight loss versus weight gain
It should come as no surprise that weight is a sensitive topic. In fact, with over three-quarters (75%) of Americans saying they disliked comments about their weight, it is considered by far the worst appearance-related topic to mention. For women, the negative impact can be even more powerful — and upsetting. Nearly half of female respondents (47%) say if they gain any weight, they’re afraid people will ask them if they’re pregnant.
With all the concern about weight, you might assume that it’s acceptable or even beneficial to comment on someone’s weight loss. Well, what if that person has a chronic illness that is making them lose weight? What if it’s related to overwhelming amounts of stress, anxiety, or depression? Similarly, weight gain can actually be a good thing if it’s a sign that a sick person is returning to normal.
Whether we’re talking about weight gain or weight loss, the survey also shows that some words are worse than others. “Fat” (71%), “chunky” (47%), and “chubby” (43%) are the most offensive when referring to someone who looks overweight. On the flip side, much fewer people find the terms “curvy” (5%), “full-figured” (8%), and “voluptuous” (11%) bothersome.
When it comes to describing someone who looks underweight, Americans feel that “lanky” (39%), “skinny” (24%), and “delicate” (22%) are the worst words to choose. The best choices include “slim (5%), “lean” (6%), and “slender” (7%).
Social media’s impact on body image
While social media has made it easier than ever before to connect with each other, many people recognize it as a hotbed of negativity — especially when it comes to looks. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of survey respondents think there are more negative comments about appearance on social media than positive ones.
This can have a huge impact on body image and how you see yourself. In fact, nearly half (48%) of Americans say they feel less confident about their appearance after scrolling on social media. What’s more, evidence suggests that weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy are rising in popularity in part because of social media. Celebrities show off their weight loss, influencers sing the drug’s praises, and fans ask doctors for the “magic pill.”
All of that can send a powerful (and potentially harmful) message from society: You need to lose weight. Whether intentionally or accidentally, the message gets amplified by those who continue to share their opinions on the way people look, both online and in person.
There is so much more to a person than their appearance
While it’s rare these days to reach a consensus on just about anything, a whopping 88% of respondents agreed that we need to be more careful with our language when talking about people’s looks. Ask yourself if you really need to comment, and then think before you speak. Choose your words and communication style carefully, aiming at indirect compliments rather than directly talking about someone’s body.
Better yet, give compliments that have nothing to do with looks. You can make someone’s day by telling them how smart, funny, or kind they are without the complicated emotions that come along with commenting on their appearance.