The Harms of Commenting on Someone’s Appearance

Teenagers are already impressionable and kowtow to their own insecurities; while compliments or comments about one’s figure may stem from good intentions, they almost always translate into what a teenager should continue to do or not do.

There is no doubt that trends, be it hair-dos, clothing, or “ideal” body types, spread like wildfire throughout the progression of generations and are even recycled for their “vintage” or “old-world” appeal. However, it is those unattainable trends, such as specific and “ideal” body types, that beat to the rhythm of a harsh and demoralizing drum. Teenagers across the globe have grown accustomed to these body-specific idealisms and even invest their own self-worth in their ability to sculpt themselves into the desired physique promoted on social media platforms, television, or even as described in novels. More often than not, the “ideal body type” that these teenagers attempt to mold their figures into is predicated on unattainable and harmful practices that jeopardize the physical and mental health of those influenced. Other factors such as appearance-based commentary, be it well or ill-intended, deep-root themselves in those same health detriments and reinforce the idea that appeasing the expectations of those around you, or even perpetuating a harmful practice that may push you towards the desired figure, is the end goal. This commentary, be it complimentary or in terms of encouragement, almost always indicates that there is something teenagers must tweak about themselves in order to achieve or emulate the relevant standard. For males, it may be that they need to build muscle in certain areas to assume a more “masculine” shape/figure; for females, it may be that they need to chisel a few inches off of their waist to assume an “hourglass figure”; for non-white people, it may be that they need to emulate the features of a “fair-skinned” individual in order to appease what was likely a colonizer-constructed beauty standard; for non-gender conforming individuals, the pressure to “stick to one side or the other” may very well encourage them to dual with their own identification. Remarks in regard to outward appearance almost always imply the need to abide by what is promoted as a “trend” or what is deemed “favorable” in the present day; hence, it is imperative we steer away from commenting on someone’s appearance, regardless of whether that voiced opinion has positive or negative intentions. 

Why can’t we simply re-assume the attributes of an infant: open-hearted, non-judgmental, innocent, and most importantly, blind to the appearance-markers that have harmed so many young adults in the present day? These infants, self-determined, and eager to explore what the world has in store, will soon mature, like the rest of us, and come to find that their eagerness, self-determination, and uniqueness is often dispelled in the “real world.” That revelation will encourage the common majority to abide by the critique of others; afterall, what is a human determination that isn’t backed by validation or positive commentary--otherwise known as praise? I recall making this same sour realization at the age of twelve; at the peak of my impressionability, I began to shed baby-fat around my face and hips, as one young woman does when entering puberty. Initially, I was virtually blind to this change, but unbeknown to my pre-teen self, remarks made by family members would open an entire portal of awareness that would consume my psyche and figure. “Are you sure you don’t want a cookie,” turned into “are you sure that cookie won’t hinder your progress?”; “what size dress are you” turned into “what size are you trying to get down to?”; “You look nice today” turned into “keep it up so you look even better tomorrow.”  Impressionable, vulnerable, and uncertain of how to handle these comments, I found myself conforming; I gave into the vultures and savages — stringing the meat off of my bones while picking away at my psyche, leaving only the remnants of what was once an innocent twelve-year-old girl — some of which were family members, who tried to influence me to “keep up” my “effort.” The funny part is, I wasn’t trying to look a certain way, nor was I attempting to “shed a few pounds”; it had happened naturally. After the matter, however, when commentary was made about my perpetuation of this “shedding weight,” I began to spiral both mentally and physically. The natural maturation that provoked praise translated into a tug of war between what I wanted for myself and what others wanted for me; I was shaped by that “encouragement” for merely a year, and the only fuel that I was allowing my body was applauds and compliments that had to do with how beautiful I looked now that I had fulfilled their suggestions. 

While my experience was not encouraged by a specific depiction or societal implementation, the comments my family members made were deep-rooted in their own idea of “proper beauty.” After all, their generation likely conformed to a similar beauty standard that simply developed throughout the years. Social media platforms and other mediums have instilled this standard throughout society, establishing a causal relationship between newfound trends and newfound commentary; the praise, or conversely critique, I received was subconsciously molded by mediums surrounding the commentator(s) — the ideas did not stem from original thought, rather a tradition or ideal influenced by the media. 

Commenting on someone else's appearance and the hams of doing so is not limited to body-nitpicking; there are other instances, be it commenting on hair or other parts of the outward appearance, that reinforce this same idea that one must appease the commentator and “morph” themselves into the specific standard. For instance, according to Refinery29’s These 10 Black Women Want You To Stop Commenting On Their Hairstyles At Work, author Ludmila Lieva states that there is a “natural hair movement in the present day” that features Black women “embracing their natural hair textures, which often means routinely switching up their aesthetics and using protective styles, like wigs, twists, and braids.” Unfortunately, Ludmila contends, “this also means dealing with an influx of unwanted commentary from other people in the office.” Although not specified, this commentary likely ties into race, and how “exotic” or “different” these hairdos may appear relative to what is deemed the common “beauty standard” for hair, with long, straight locks being the common medium. This hits the toxicity of commenting on outward appearance right on the head; whether it be racially motivated, trend-based, or even a simple compliment, the recipient of the comment may feel the need to abide by whatever the comment suggested, tweaked, or emphasized in regard to their physical features or attributes.

Thus, we must work together not only to stop the circulation of unattainable beauty standards, but to prevent those standards from sewing a singular velvet glove which an individual must slip into in order to receive “praise” or desired validation. We must also accept and consider the way in which one chooses to present themselves. Comments are not always needed, and whether it is a reflection of self-insecurity, a “guiding” or “helping hand,” or a “tip for improvement,” there is absolutely no reason to project those thoughts onto someone else.  There is no benefit to the large amount of teenagers — of multicultural descent, part of the LGBTQIA+ community, or simply and vulnerably growing into their own skin — falling subject to the causal relationship between trends and comments, and plunging themselves into the downward spiral of attempting to fulfill a trend or appease a comment.

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