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.