• Wed, May 18 2011

Hunger Games: Why Is “You Look Thin” The Go-To Compliment For All Women?

In the comments section of Jennifer’s post about being a size zero, she mentioned all the compliments she got when she was starving herself and asked why skinniness is the go-to thing to compliment on women. While she was crying every day and missing out on some really great parts of life, strangers were complimenting her lean physique. She was, understandably, confused. She is now, understandably, glad to be done with all of that.

This rang very true for me, but for a different reason. You see, I have not been starving myself. In fact, I’ve gained about ten pounds in the past year or so, and I’m okay with that. I like my body the way it is. And yet, people I encounter at parties often tell me I look thinner, ask if I’ve lost weight, etc. What gives?

As much as I’d like to think my excellent bone structure has everyone fooled (“my entire body hangs off this bone structure, sweetie“), I think there’s something else going on here. For whatever reason, “you look thin” has become the default, generic way in Western culture to flatter a woman, even if it’s completely hollow and inaccurate. That is because people think thinness is inherently sexy, good, and desirable, while fatness is bad, lazy, and disgusting. Words that should be simple descriptors of appearance, no different from short, tall, or curly-haired, have become insanely loaded with implied character judgments.

There’s a potential argument to be made that “thin” is a de-sexualized term, while complimenting me on my ample cleavage or shapely buttocks might be considered rude. (I have to admit, a straight man commenting on my tits would get the stink eye, but then again, a straight man I don’t know very well commenting on any aspect of my body probably would.) But why are thin bodies so de-sexualized? It all goes back to those loaded associations. “You look skinny” means you’re classy, demure, and high fashion, while “capital knockers” means you should be in pornos.

Don’t get me wrong; I love compliments, and think women in general need to get better at taking them. I know that they’re given with good intentions, and I appreciate that. But even if someone is quite thin, she’s probably sick of hearing about it. Try coming up with something a little more personal: her rad style, maybe, or the cute dimples that form in her face when she smiles. You could even try complimenting someone on her brain! (Crazy, I know.) You’ll be surprised how psyched your compliment-ees will be.

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  • andrea dunlop

    Good post. I’m always weirded out when people try to complement me be calling me skinny because it’s just inaccurate. I’m a 5’9 broad shouldered athlete with boobs and butt. I’ll take fit or even slim but ‘skinny’ just…no.

  • Kelly

    Totally agree! I have a cousin who constantly greets me with “You are SO SKINNY!” when I have not lost an ounce. And I’m not exactly skin and bones over here. I know she’s just trying to generically compliment me but losing weight is not really my goal (OK I’d like to lose the 5 or so pounds I gained by doing absolutely nothing this winter, but I have no desire to drastically alter my figure), so I a) don’t believe the compliment in the first place because we both know she’s lying and b) don’t even appreciate entertaining the idea because it’s not what I’m going for. I’d much rather a compliment on something I actually have going on or even a nice, generic, “you look great!”

  • Meghan

    UGH! Someone I didn’t even recognize asked me the other day if I had lost weight! It was awful, I was shocked (I forgot that I actually HAD lost weight) and to make matters worse she kept shoving her foot further into her mouth by saying I was “DEFINITELY much heavier the last time she saw me, or maybe I was just wearing lots of layers of clothing?” I felt kinda bad for the girl when I realized she was trying to be nice or suck up to me but COME ON!

    Girls KNOW that the go-to is HAIR! “Your hair is so shiny! Did you get it cut? Who does your highlights? Oh are those NATURAL! I always wanted curly/straight hair like YOURS!” DUH.

  • Kat

    I don’t feel thin but I get told all the time I am. I’m 5’8, a size 6, and 135 pounds, but I get told pretty frequently I should model. Or eat a sandwich.

  • Talia

    I happen to be short and slender or “normal” as far as weight goes, but I do have a bedonk and I have a full chest. People are always grabbing and commenting on my chest, which makes me uncomfortable because I think that when they see me, all they see is “sex”. It shouldn’t be that way.

    And I do try to go out of my way to compliment the way peoples clothes flatter their figure, or pick something more specific than “you look skinny” as a compliment.

  • Jaclyn

    “loaded with implied character judgments”. YES. THIS! I’ve always been overweight and I’ve definitely had people make assumptions about my eating habits and activity levels. I won’t order a salad at a restaurant because I feel like everyone is going to assume I’m dieting and hate my body. On the other side of that, if I’m eating fast food, I also always feel judged about what I order. Like if I’m going through the drive-thru and picking up something on the way home for myself and my husband, I feel like people are thinking everything I’m ordering is for me. I hate the judgments more than anything!

  • Marco

    Body Image is another thing that Women and men fight with all the time. Here in Connecticut, its time for women to walk into the local dept stores to have little tiny bikinis shoved in their face. Many women hate it.
    I personally don’t use the “look thin” comment unless I know for sure that something has been going on and this woman has really lost weight. I’ve had my foot in my mouth before. (Oh when is the baby due? Oh you had the kid a year ago??? Thats nice!!).
    We should all be happy with the sizes of our bodys. Should some people make a healthy choice to loose a few pounds? YES, but for looks? No!

  • Charlie

    For me it’s hard to understand what constitute skinny, or what is normal for we are all so different in our appearance. We decide what size works for us. Correct fit that works for you. The media and copmanies want us to feed into this perfect image because they make millions from getting us to belive it. As for people who comment on your size, need tobe brought up to date this is a new date and there are so many other issues that are more important to talk about. Lets but this weight thing to bed. There are some great issues in the news these days. Who’s cheating, the wars ……….

  • Topf

    I’ve experienced the same. I moved to Austria for an internship. For practical reasons, I didnt bring my measuring devices with me. All I had to determine if I looked good was my mirror. So I spent some months in Austria and drove back home (to Germany) to spend a weekend. When I got there, several people told me I was thinner. I knew I had been eating more but I didnt care because I looked good. But I wondered… maybe I did get thinner and the difference in food quality made me lose weight? I dunno. When I got back to Austria I decided to somehow measure myself. Voilà, my hip measured 4 cm more and my waist 2. So I did gain weight. Why were people telling me I was thinner? My guess? Having a few more pounds on me seems to fit me better.

  • Steph

    This happens to me occasionally as well, and it really doesn’t make me feel any better about myself. I’m naturally on the thinner side, and most of the time, people tell me that I need to eat more, or that I could stand to gain a few pounds. If people wanted to compliment me, compliment me on what I’m wearing! I much prefer that to my weight (which isn’t anyone’s business but my own).

  • Nikki

    I want to know what brand that undies set the model above has on….it’s beautiful…loll!

    • Jamie Peck

      I will try to find out for you. Because I like them, too.

    • Kelly

      They are by Curvy Kate

  • Kristen

    This article to me was completely pointless. Just so you know, being told you look thin is surely a hell of a lot better than people thinking you look pregnant when you are not!

    Also, I don’t think people can compliment your brain if they just met you. I already know I am smart, I don’t need a compliment for the obvious. Besides, there are a lot of women out there who have no brain to compliment, lol!