It's something we do almost without thinking, but how about we just... don't?
Last night, Gogglebox and I’m A Celebrity alum Scarlett Moffatt appeared on Love Island Aftersun in what was supposed to be a pleasant gig chatting about the summer’s biggest TV show.
Scarlett is probably the personification of joy and fun, but she spent the rest of the night ‘crying her eyes out’ after seeing nasty tweets from viewers about her weight and clothing:
I’m honestly ashamed of some people on here. Hard to pretend I’m ok and be a good role model to others about how it’s ok to just you when the comments from grown adults on here have resulted in me crying my eyes out! I hope you’re very proud of yourselves
— Scarlett Moffatt (@ScarlettMoffatt) July 29, 2018
How could your heart not go out to her, a young woman just trying to do her job? How could you expect anyone to put themselves out there when that’s what awaits them?
Listen. I’m not here to pretend I’ve never criticised someone’s appearance. It is the easiest thing to do, a regular fixture of casual chit-chat between friends and families. You’re watching The X Factor and your dad makes some sort of comment about a female contestant being a ‘big lady’. You’re having lunch with an old friend and they mention someone from school who has ‘let themselves go’.
And it feels like Irish people in particular have honed this sneaky way of criticising people’s bodies – a cushioned blow, but a blow nonetheless. We’re awful fond of saying “That top does nothing for her”, when what we really mean is “This person too fat/skinny/otherwise unattractive to me to be wearing what they’re wearing or doing what they’re doing”. It took me a while to realise that my problem wasn’t always with the item of clothing really, it was with the body wearing it. And that’s not cute conversation fodder – it’s toxic. Every time I say something like that, I’m reinforcing the idea that there’s only one right way to look.
Recently I decided to just stop. I wish it was as easy as saying that, but it’s kind of difficult unlearning the habit of a lifetime. I still find myself saying that someone’s top does nothing for her or getting judge-y about someone’s cosmetic procedures without even thinking about it. And every time, it feels more and more pointless. To quote one Jonathan Van Ness: Who gave me the right?
That’s not to imply that I’ll never say anything about appearances ever again – I live for (non-bitchy) red carpet roundups, complimenting people is wonderful, and I’m never going to like those see-through lacy bellbottoms the female Love Island cast adore so much (really, what’s going on there?). But I’m going to try not to use people’s looks or weight as casual conversation fodder any more. And I’m going to ignore or outright ask people to stop when they try to do it around me.
A good rule of thumb when you have something negative to say about someone’s appearance is this: If the person can fix something in five minutes – lipstick on their teeth, wayward hair, dress that needs to be pulled up – tell them about it. If it’s something they’ve no real control over – acne, weight, scars, cellulite, hair length, lip fillers gone wonky, whatever – say nothing.
Obviously, this applies more to real life situations (and I’d hope you’d be a nice enough person that it wouldn’t even occur to you to say “YOU’VE GOT SPOTS” to someone in real life OR via Instagram comments), but it’s worth considering at other times too. Other people’s bodies are none of your business – even if they’re on your TV or your Instagram feed, which seems to be a radical notion to some of us. “They shouldn’t be on my TV or Instagram feed if they don’t want me to tell them their top does nothing for them,” I can hear people saying already. But who said that’s something we have to do? Who says we can’t change that right now? I’m sounding like the ‘I wish I could bake a cake made out of rainbows and smiles’ gal from Mean Girls right now, but we could all just shut up and let people live. It would do us the world of good.