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What NOT to say to a “skinny” person

forgive, scripture, Jesus take the pen

“You’re so skinny!” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that statement directed towards me in the past eight years I’d have a very flush bank account.

Unintentional weight loss was at the genesis of my health saga. I dropped thirty pounds in less than three months and unsolicited commentary from friends, family and complete strangers soon followed. In response to questioning and (oftentimes callous) comments I used to freeze up. Being accused of anorexia or some kind of eating disorder hurt me. I could barely swallow let alone talk, thanks to the lump in my throat. To cope I’d crumble internally and cry externally once the offending commentator was out of earshot.

It has taken a long time (I’m a slow learner) but God has faithfully been teaching me how to handle low weight comments and questions. I’m learning that it is better to extend forgiveness to those who know not what they do and say rather then hold a grudge or be hurt by their words. It is far better to give grace and educate instead.

By opening up in honesty about my diagnosis and health struggles I’ve discovered that most people have no idea that weight loss can be a symptom of Lyme disease. In fact, most people don’t seem to realize that low weight can be a symptom of a whole host of chronic illnesses. The fact of the matter is low weight does not necessarily mean a person is not eating or that they have an eating disorder. Low weight can be a debilitating symptom of chronic disease… Like it is for me.

In an effort to educate with love and grace I have compiled my top three comments that should not be made to someone who is visibly underweight. Although these comments are specifically directed towards low weight the principle behind them applies to all chronic illness. We should all treat each other with love and grace, in sickness or in health.

So, without further ado, the top three comments you should never make to a person who is obviously under weight. And one tip on what to say….

 

1.     Don’t say, “You look like a Holocaust victim.”

Yes, it’s true, I have been on the receiving end of this comment.

It should go without saying that this statement should never be made to anyone, ever. 11 million innocent Jews were killed in the Holocaust at the hands of evil. Telling someone they look like they have been or are in a concentration camp is not only rude it is callous and disrespectful to the immense suffering of millions.

2.     Don’t say, “I wish I were as skinny as you.”

No, actually you don’t. I can’t sit for long periods of time because my butt has no cushion. My feet have lost all the fat on them causing the bones to rub against my shoes, producing constant pain. Because of my low weight I have an extremely low blood pressure, low body temperature, infertility and hair loss.

I could go on but you get the point… Be careful what you wish for. And don’t wish to be as skinny as me.

3.     Don’t say, “You should eat more.”

If only you knew how much and how often I eat then you might change your tune. Unintentional low weight cannot be remedied by drinking more milkshakes, as a doctor once suggested. The food type and amount is not the issue. The problem is the body’s ability to metabolize, digest and use the food. For eight years my body has not been utilizing food leading to blood sugar drops, gallbladder troubles and inescapable stomach pain. If eating more could solve my problems I would have been healed long ago.

4.     Do stay quite about the obvious ailment.

Let me be clear. I do not mean that the underweight person should be treated as if they do not exist. Being treated as invisible can be hurtful, too. Simply treat the underweight person like you would a normal or overweight person. Do not treat the individual as if they were an alien with a mental problem. Treat them like a precious individual with a heart and feelings. Treated every person, regardless of weight, with the dignity and respect you would like to be treated with.

So, in other words say, “Good morning!” and not, “You’re so skinny!” Or say, “How are you this bright and sunny afternoon?” instead of, “You should eat a Big Mac.”

 

For those who have been on the receiving end of callous comments regarding a physical condition or weight I urge you to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” Responding in anger only perpetuates the hurt and does not help you heal. Opportunities to enlighten and educate can be missed when we allow rude comments to build walls and burn bridges.

Instead, let us respond like Christ and turn the other cheek. Instead of lashing out, crying or storming off in anger (all of which I have done), choose to extend forgiveness and show mercy. Even if the person making the comment never asks for forgiveness – which they most likely never will – give it anyways. Extend the grace that has been given to you.

 

At every weight and in every physical condition may the encouragement from Ephesians 4:29 guide our speech and heart in every conversation: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

 

7 replies
  1. Nicole Starbuck
    Nicole Starbuck says:

    Love this! Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of comments, and I know how it feels. Thanks for offering some words of wisdom on how to handle these kinds of situations with love and grace.

    Reply
    • Steph
      Steph says:

      Nicole, thank you for your feedback. Being underweight can be so isolating but by opening up and being honest about the struggle I am always encouraged and reminded that we are never alone! Not only is Christ with us but He has given us a community to support each other along the way.

      Reply
      • Nicole Starbuck
        Nicole Starbuck says:

        So true! It takes a certain degree of transparency (and therefore humanity) to open up about these kinds of things, and therefore BE REAL. People are so scared to talk about what’s uncomfortable or unfamiliar, but by engaging in those conversations, we break those taboos and open people up to new possibilities.

        Reply
        • Stephanie
          Stephanie says:

          For years I tried not to talk about my illness. I didn’t want to be be real because I was too busy wanting to escape my illness. It has taken me years to figure out that being sick is not a curse. It is a blessing to unite with Christ in His suffering and opens so many doors to share the good news of His amazing grace.

          Reply
          • Nicole Starbuck
            Nicole Starbuck says:

            I wish more people had that mindset. I know anytime I’m going through a difficult time, I’m reminded that I’m being prepared for greatness. My most recent post was about how people use illness (in this case, mental illness) as an excuse to remain a victim and not push ourselves to grow. It sounds like you and I have a similar mindset, and I think you might enjoy it: https://becomingbabycorn.com/mental-illness-is-a-lie/

          • Stephanie
            Stephanie says:

            Your post is right on! Labeling illness is a trap that can end up perpetuating the problem. often serves as a distraction from the real enemy. When I become focused on the disease I always feel defeated. The enemy loves to distract and deceive with illness, doesn’t he? Your post reminded me that I must actively turn my eyes back to Jesus, the Healer, and claim the victory of His overcoming life.
            “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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