Monday 06 July 2020

“How are you? Here’s an insult”

A discussion this week on the popular FB page The Salott turned to one of those issues which really annoy me: people who feel they have the right to comment about other people’s weight (either because they are too fat or too thin) to their face.  It turned out that I was not the only one to relate to this post initiated by one of the Salott members, because from the flurry of comments and “likes” which ensued it was clear the topic had struck a raw nerve.

As everyone started recounting their encounters with what can only be described as downright rude remarks of the arrogant kind, I came up with the following observations:

1. Most agreed that this kind of “hi, here’s an insult” kind of over-familiarity does not seem to occur in other countries (except for one incident described by a woman with Sicilian in-laws, so maybe it’s a Mediterranean thing).   It does seem to originate a lot from family members but can even be dished out by mere acquaintances, like your neighborhood shopkeeper who for some reason feels that seeing you on a daily basis gives them carte blanche to pass derogatory remarks about your looks.

2. The person handing out these unsolicited statements about your body weight is completely brazen and blunt about it, as if they have the right (nay, the duty) to tell you something which you already know. (What? I gained weight? When did that happen? I could swear I was fine yesterday.)

3. The sheer callousness mixed with undisguised glee with which they decide to state the obvious, is usually followed by unasked for advice and then a macabre supplementary question: “You are sooooo thin! Too thin, if you ask me!  Skin and bones! Are you sick?”

There are so many things wrong with this kind of ghoulish interrogation that I do not need to go into them.  Suffice to say that someone who is happy that they have deliberately lost a dramatic amount of weight does not now want to be badgered for that as well.  And what kind of insensitive, cold-blooded person would even broach the subject of illness?

4. It is sheer good manners and the refusal to be equally cruel which has often prevented me from retorting back with a similar comment on the other person’s looks. For example, how would they feel if I pointed out that they have a beaked nose? Or that they have stretch marks? Or that they really should do something about their acne or wonky teeth or lank, greasy hair?  That would be an awful thing to say right? You just don’t go around pointing out what is “wrong” with people like that. So it baffles me why comments about the very touchy issue of weight are so commonplace and almost “acceptable”.  Women have a hard enough time with accepting their self-image as it is without “well-meaning” relatives or acquaintances rubbing salt into the wound.  And yes sure, people talk behind others’ back all the time about this one or that one’s weight, but I’m a firm believer in “what you do not know, does not hurt you.”

5. There is a common thread in all this. I have no doubt that the person who pounces with such vulture-like intensity on other people’s weight to their face is deeply unhappy and does it to make themselves feel better about their own shortcomings.  I have yet to meet a woman who is 100% content with the way she looks and this could be the reason why so many resort to puncturing the self-esteem of others.   They must be getting some measure of schadenfreude satisfaction out of it to see your crestfallen face, otherwise why bother?

All I can say is that the first time it happened to me I was a teenager. After a few months of succumbing to the deliciousness of freshly baked Maltese bread, I inevitably put on a few kilos. A smirking relative thought I needed to be told what my mirror and clothes were already telling me.  I was so shocked and completely taken aback by this deliberately hurtful comment, I could not find an adequate answer, and spent days dwelling on it, in typical teenage angst and mortification.  Why would someone do that? To this day I can still remember how much that comment stung and wounded.  Thankfully, over the years (and as someone who still occasionally succumbs to the lure of freshly baked bread) I have developed a thicker skin and have learned to come up with a suitable comeback, such as “well, what can you do? We cannot all look as perfect as you”.

That usually silences people up, or at least makes them gulp and look slightly shamefaced.  Sometimes, ironically enough, they even beat back a hasty retreat and start babbling about their own flaws, which tells you all you need to know right there. So if you are one of these people who feel strangely compelled by this  irresistible urge to pass some cutting remark intentioned to stick the knife in….stop, just stop.  Take a deep breath and take a long, hard look in the mirror.

And next time you are tempted to comment about someone’s weight, it would be wise to remember that hackneyed but very true old adage: if you cannot say something nice, please, just don’t say anything at all.




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