Before Commenting on Someone's Appearance, Learn This Therapist's "5-Second Rule"

Therapist Dr. Desta, PhD, MS, known as @my_destanation on TikTok, recently posted a video about a principle called the "five-second rule" — and no, it doesn't have to do with dropping food on the floor. "The five-second rule is that we should only comment on another person's appearance if and only if they can change it in five seconds or less . . . and if you want to comment on something that someone cannot change in five seconds or less, keep the comment to yourself," Dr. Desta says in a TikTok video.

The idea of this five-second rule is something that her mom told her growing up. "Do not comment on someone's appearance if they cannot change it easily," Dr. Desta tells POPSUGAR. This includes comments about someone's weight, teeth, scars, stretch marks, and pimples, says TikTok user @jjones451 in another video uploaded about the five-second rule.

As "an individual who inhabits a larger body," Dr. Desta tells POPSUGAR the reason she posted this video to TikTok was because she's had so many people comment on things that she physically can't change or things she doesn't want to change. "I remember how small these comments on my body made me feel; I felt embarrassed and ashamed," she says. "I hated when others would make these comments and try to excuse their bad behavior because they had 'good intentions.'" But good intentions or not, it didn't matter. "What matters is the impact of you making another person feel like sh*t," she says.

So if you feel the need to comment on someone's appearance, make sure they can change it in five seconds or less. We're talking a bug in their hair, their fly is down, a poppy seed is stuck in their teeth, or they forgot to remove a price tag from their clothes. And as a reminder, here are things you cannot change in five seconds or less that should not be commented on:

  • Weight/body type
  • Height
  • Age
  • Skin/scars/acne/stretch marks
  • Facial or body hair
  • Nose/lips/eyebrows/face structure
  • Teeth

Quoting shame researcher and storyteller Brené Brown, Dr. Desta says, "We judge people in areas where we're vulnerable to shame." If you find yourself making evaluative judgments or comments on someone's appearance, Dr. Desta recommends you take a minute to self-reflect on how you feel about that aspect of yourself. She says to remember: "You are enough just as you are; you are worthy solely because you exist. You don't have to make others feel small as a way to uplift yourself out of your own shame spiral."