In recent years, the phrase “We do not comment on other people's bodies” has made its rounds - and for good reason.
It challenges the norm of making unsolicited comments about someone's weight, size, or shape.
in our well-intentioned efforts we have yet again taken it too far - where no comments on any bodies in any situation for any reason are acceptable.
Avoiding any mention of bodies, in any context, mirrors the problematic stance of “I do not see colour". It is usually sincerely well-meaning, but condescending and dismissive.
To never talk or acknowledge bodies is to ignore that bodies are indeed part of us.
Not to mention that for those of us who WORK WITH BODIES is downright impossible (and yet many coaches try, tripping all over themselves, because “we do not comment on people's bodies”).
I finally met the strength coach who has been writing my workouts for the last few years in person. His name is Will. You can say hi here. We met at a barbell gym for a friendly two-hour lifting session.
One of the things he said: “Looks good!” when watching me do dumbbell presses on a bench. He was absolutely commenting on my body - on how my body was moving through space, on how my body was performing a prescribed movement, on how my body was able to maintain stability and form.
That's… his job as a coach.
If I am watching you do a squat and giving you feedback, I am both commenting on your body and even… judging what your body is doing.
I am judging the way your body is moving in space, compared to a certain standard - based on tradition (e..g ashtanga yoga) or expertise or efficiency (minimizing bar path in a clean).
What is not part of the comment is the moral judgment.
Your squat is never “bad”.
It might be inefficient.
It might be lacking depth.
It might be hurting your knees.
But it's not “good” or “bad”.
What we want to move away from is not comments about people's bodies, but rather, it's the comments about people's bodies that come with an explicit or implicit suggestion that some bodies are somehow better than others.
“You look great! Have you lost weight?”
We want to move away from that.
And at the same time… imagine how strange and callous it would be, if my best friend loses 50 pounds in the four months that I have not seen her, and … I say nothing.
It's a fine line between “I am paying careful attention to your body” and “are you even paying attention?”.
“Your hair looks good!”, my friend says. “I loved the blonde, too. Every time I see you, your hair looks different, and I love it!”.
It's an acknowledgement.
"I see you!”
“I notice you!”
“You are changing, your body is changing, the way you look is changing, and I love you.”
Do I have a pre-established relationship with this person?
From a stranger at the gym (um, please no)? or from a close friend in response to a gym selfie?
Do I have full context for what I am commenting on?
"Look at your arms!”
You know they have been really working on their upper body strength, and now their shoulders are looking more muscular!
Do I have implicit or explicit consent from them?
See the “nice butt!” example. Close friend - yes, close friend who has previously asked you to not comment on their body - no.
Unsure about any of these? It might be best to refrain from commenting.
We CAN comment on people's bodies, and do so intentionally, respectfully and carefully. It's about the context, the relationship and the presence or absence of consent.
We live in bodies.
People we love live In bodies.
Bodies are an inextricable part of us.
And, as my long-time mentor and friend Krista Scott-Dixon says:
“Nobody is sad to hear "You're looking jacked and swole".