Body Commentary & Thin-Praising
You know what is a tough topic to discuss? Body commentary.
It seems that the majority of the time, women are only talked about in terms of their appearance. Even articles which make really fantastic points about female athletes still refer to them in terms of appearance. And more and more, female athletes are discussing what it means to have a body that is constantly critiqued.
Take this quote from an article about female elite tennis players that has been making the rounds:
"For many, perceived ideal feminine body type can seem at odds with the best physique for tennis success. Andrea Petkovic, a German ranked 14th, said she particularly loathed seeing pictures of herself hitting two-handed backhands, when her arm muscles appear the most bulging. “I just feel unfeminine,” she said. “I don’t know — it’s probably that I’m self-conscious about what people might say. It’s stupid, but it’s insecurities that every woman has, I think. I definitely have them and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I would love to be a confident player that is proud of her body. Women, when we grow up we’ve been judged more, our physicality is judged more, and it makes us self-conscious.”
I think the key part of this quote is the fact that this woman says that she feels uncomfortable because of what people might say, the comments that will be made, the judgments that will be had - as if these things are certainties. That is absolutely heartbreaking and enraging all at the same time. The heartbreaking part of it all is that these types of comments aren’t just made about highly visible athletes or celebrities - they happen to “normal” people every single day. There are lots of consequences associated with undergoing a physical change ranging from health changes to things like feeling more confident. But one of the things that is rarely discussed or thought of is the fact that when you change, people’s perception and reaction to you can change.
And sometimes those reactions can catch you off guard. For myself, as someone who is fairly introverted and pretty much just keeps to myself, I have found myself struggling with commentary or comments made by others about my appearance. I suppose my difficulty in writing this post comes from the fact that it almost seems strange to have negative feelings with things that seem complimentary. Now, most people are incredibly nice and it is usually have good intentions - but it still feels...uncomfortable? odd? strangely contradictory?
The majority of these comments come in the form of “thin-praising” or commenting on a person’s physique due to their smallness/thinness/leanness. The impact body commentary can have is easy to recognize this behavior when people are being negative. When people say things like “She looks bad” “Don’t get too muscular” or “Women who look this way are gross”, it is easy to call out body commentary. But what happens when people continually comment on your body but comment positively with things like “You look so good!”, “You are so small!”, or “You are so lean”?
Sometimes, the comments aren't so nice and those are easier to identify (i.e. "you need to eat"). And while it's easy to imagine this problem only existing in the realm of non-lifters to lifters , etc. it exists plenty within the lady lifting community. People will make comments about lower weight/lighter weight class female athletes that imply that they are a) not serious or legitimate in some way b) must be vain and have other "negative" personality characteristics or c) are walking fitspo. The idea that someone's body, the thing they walk around with everyday, could be considered "triggering fitspo" to others....it's hard to even find words to describe how tragic that is. The fact that the sheer existence of someone else's leanness could impact others in such a negative way is a little shocking, to say the least.
Again, thin praising is a little more tricky to discuss and identify because it seems like simple compliments. But the fact remains that a person is being reduced to their physical attributes. Does this make it better? worst? the same? as more traditional “negative” body commentary? Having been on the receiving ends of both kinds of commentary, I don't think so. In fact, I feel that I encounter waaaay more body commentary as someone who is lighter now than I did when I was 30lbs heavier.
Regardless, I think that people should be viewed and valued for more than than their body parts...whatever those may look like.,