Nice to see you

I don't get out much, but the other night, I met some fellow writers to discuss a manuscript I'm working on (fiction, and nothing to do with eating disorders). I gussied myself up a bit - something I rarely do in our small town where I work from home and have few business or fancy social occasions at which to put on airs.

Interestingly, these days when I brush my hair and wear a dress it is out of town and at an eating disorder event.

All this is preface to say that I was completely flummoxed by the words "You look great!"

In the ED world it rarely happens. Yes, people dress their best and clean their ears, but commenting on appearance is, just, well, not done. Who has the heart to: the over-valuing of appearance sounds too much like the mental illness which brings us together. But it is also taboo and tasteless in that community. And rightly so.

I believe our society's fixation on appearance is utterly wrongheaded and poisonous (my parents are civil rights activists, after all - I was raised to look deeper than appearance). I do NOT believe this stuff causes eating disorders (though it can trigger dieting, which does), but it is clear it delays diagnosis and stalls recovery when the eating disorder's craziness is hard to distinguish from the rest of our silliness.

But it was interesting to observe my own extreme discomfort at each person I met going on and on about my "looking great" because I wasn't dressed to pick up hay at the feed store. I was awkward, really awkward, and I said stupid things and I'm sure I seemed quite rude not to just reciprocate "Oh, you, too!" Because I simply don't do that any more.

I just wanted to get on to other topics. "HOW are you?" "What's up with you these days?" "How're the kids?"

Ironically, I must report that one of my reactions was to comment on someone's arm cast - which if I want to be entirely consistent is an aspect of appearance so why comment on it? Habit, trying to be sociable, deflecting attention... I'm a hypocrite.

Getting free of that appearance stuff has been lovely. It didn't happen overnight, naturally, but I'd not realized how very far I've drifted from the mainstream. How unnatural it is to me now to do that whole "you look great; I'm a mess" dance. As if I've been living in another culture and come home for a visit to discover how bizarre my family's habits really are.

I didn't go on a consciousness-raising rampage, though it was tempting. I just appreciated how far I've come. And how far we all have to go.


  1. I can relate to that.
    I just say "Thanks"....and "How're your kids, what are they doing..."
    Half the time I think they're just pleased to see you and are not aware of the harrowing journey of an ed where such comments can be soul destroying.

  2. We do live in an appearance driven society. I think this especially applies to girls and women. The saddest thing about it all is that I truly believe many people who comment on the appearance of others mean no harm and are very well-meaning and kind-hearted. It's just been instilled in them that a compliment equals a positive remark about one's appearance.

    I've found that when I stopped commenting on people's appearances, my friends were apt to think I wasn't noticing their fit figures/new haircuts/tans/etc. I notice, yes, but the outward appearance is simply not as important to me as what each individual has to offer. I've learned this. I do continue to give compliments (not silly ones, but actual truthful ones) about people's clothing. I admit that I like fashion (even though it's not an entirely healthy industry) and when I see a pretty shirt or a lovely skirt, I do compliment the person on choosing something that expresses their personality. It's appearance, yes, but it also very unique to the individual and clothes can be fun.

    Anyway, here I've gone off on a tangent. My point of this comment was to say that I liked this post...and I'm glad you were able to realize how far you've come. It is very enlightening sometimes to be thrown into a particular situation once we've grown inwardly in some respect.

    Thanks. :)

    Much love,

  3. You've made me think this one through.

    On the one hand, when I see my friends again, especially after an extended period, they look beautiful in my eyes no matter what they are wearing. Sometimes, my response is to say that they "look great" - but what I think I'm really feeling is that it is so good to see them -- a decidedly different feeling. I think I'll try saying that, instead, although it may feel scary to wear my heart on my sleeve: "I've missed you and it's great to be together again" is a more genuine and more accurate response, I think.

  4. Hmm - I have issues with "You look great ... have you lost weight?" or "You look so THIN in that" or (longtime personal fav) "You look different, you look good!" and other things that seem like back-handed complements. Or imply that you need to look a certain way in order to be good-looking. Goodness knows, I try to remember that good manners (and mindful living) require we assume the best of people's intentions, no matter how awkward or rotten their actions are, and behave accordingly. And complimenting someone in a social interaction is one of the most basic of civilites. Unfortunately, if you're just being introduced, or have just entered the room "My, you're so insightful!" will seem a little weird.
    "You look great", well, under the circumstances, is about as innocuous as one can get. After all, you got gussied up TO look great! And it doesn't assume that you need to be thin, or dressed in something slimming, or that it's even about some outside refernce at all.

    I guess, maybe I'm saying that there can be a happy medium between the overly appearance oriented, and ignoring appearance altogether. Maybe it's being mindful of the many forms that beauty takes. If I see a friend wearing his/her fav outfit looking happy and relaxed, or perhaps fired-up and inspired, or focussed and proud, well, to me, they look GREAT!

  5. I think all of you are right. And I know no one means harm with these statements.

    It is interesting, though, how freeing it is to consciously lose these statements. It also helps me not THINK that much about them and frees me up for other things. And I think less about what *I* look like.

    It isn't an all or nothing thing, clearly. More a matter of emphasis.

  6. I think people say things automatically without even thinking as a greeting.

    "How are you?" (Do they really want an answer? Often not).

    It's an ice breaker, a social filler more often than not.


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