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21 'Comebacks' to Use If Someone Says, 'But You Don't Look Sick...'

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Living with an invisible illness can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be nice to keep your health issues private, only sharing them with others when you’re comfortable doing so. But on the other hand, many people hold the misconception that you must “look” sick in order to be sick – which can lead to unfair judgments and false accusations.

Some of the most common phrases people with invisible illness hear are “You don’t look sick…” and “But you look fine!” Although these comments are usually not ill-intentioned, they can still be frustrating, hurtful and isolating because they demonstrate a lack of understanding about chronic illness.

Knowing how to respond in these situations can be tricky. In some cases, the comment may provide an opportunity to educate the person about the realities of invisible illness. Other times, you may not feel comfortable going into detail – maybe you don’t know the person that well, or are just dealing with too many symptoms to feel up to launching into an explanation – and that’s OK, too.

However you decide to respond, it may be helpful to have a few lines prepared ahead of time so you’re not caught off-guard. We asked our Mighty community to share their favorite responses or “comebacks” to people saying, “But you don’t look sick!” that can help correct, inform or “shut down” any judgment. Let us know how you respond to this statement in the comments below.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

  1. “‘I wish my insides matched my outsides!’ I try not to respond with something snarky. Ninety-nine percent of the time people think they’re giving a compliment when they say how good we look. Being chronically, invisibly ill is something you don’t get until you get it so I try to extend the same understanding I need from others.” – Ashley S.
  2. “‘Thanks. But I would rather look worse and feel better.’” – Larissa F.
  3. “‘Well, that’s why we don’t judge books by their covers…’ (You never know what’s happening on the inside.)” – Sara W.
  4. “‘Well thanks, I bought my ‘look fine’ mask at the doctor’s office, but he still hasn’t cured my chronic pain! What do I pay him for??” – Camara B.
  5. Momentary blank stare whilst accepting continued conversation isn’t worth the expenditure of valuable energy. No ‘comeback.’ Move on.” – Dion M.
  6. I told a guy I had Lyme disease. He said, ‘But you look so good!’ I pointed to my rosy cheek and said, ‘Lyme causes a face rash. It gives me a healthy glow while the infection is killing me.’” – Elsie G.
  7. “‘I know, but I’ve been sick for so long I know how to look ‘chronic illness chic’… you should have seen me before I was sick!” – Gwendolyn C.
  8.  “‘Tell me how a disabled person is meant to look?’” – Jade W.
  9. I’ve always wished I had the courage to reply, ‘So do you, isn’t it amazing what we can hide.’ But I know they’re just trying to be encouraging, so I just say thank you.” – P Jean O.
  10. “‘Did you want to look at my colonoscopy report? Or how about an MRI?’” – Tyler S.
  11. “‘Yes, but that’s why it’s called an invisible disability.’” – Lucy W.
  12. “‘If I looked how I feel on the inside then you would probably scream/faint/vomit/call me an ambulance.’” – Kelly W.
  13. It makes me uncomfortable. I just say, ‘I have good days and bad. Today’s a good day.’ Or, ‘I just take it day by day.’” – Maria B.
  14. “‘I’m extra good looking on the outside to balance out how ugly the insides work.’” – Tami M.
  15. “‘Yeah, it only took two to three hours, a lot of sweat and pain and three pounds of makeup to get ready. Thanks.’” – Jen M.
  16. Sometimes no comeback is the best comeback! Not everyone/everything deserves our time/energy.” – Heather M.
  17. “‘If I looked the way I felt, I’d scare your children.’” – Elsie G.
  18. “‘Oh thank goodness you told me that, I must be totally cured now!’” – Janelle F.
  19. I told my pain management doctor I was in a lot of pain. He said, ‘Well, you look good.’ I replied, ‘Makeup can fool you!’ He’s never forgotten my response. He now says, ‘I know you say your makeup covers quite a bit but you really look like you are doing well today.’ He really is fantastic! It’s funny how he knows he will get in trouble by associating how I look with how I feel!” – Danielle M. 
  20. “‘Oh sorry, I forgot to wear my ‘I’m sick and in pain’ shirt today.’” – Maria K.
  21. “‘Long live painkillers, huh?’” – Nana K.
Originally published: March 29, 2018
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