It happened in the space of one week. The woman in my workout class said, “You’ve lost weight” — emphasis on the “you’ve.” “You,” said the yoga teacher with a happy smile, “You’re shrinking.” The male friend: “You look amazing! You look like if you turned sideways you’d disappear.”
You would think I’d be happy, right? I’m a woman, and I’m supposed to want to be skinny, right? Well it’s precisely because I am a woman and I’m supposed to want to be skinny that I don’t like hearing “you’ve lost weight” in an adoring tone. Lest you think me ungrateful, I came to this conclusion some years ago after realizing that being “skinny” probably wasn’t something that was going to happen for me, not without starving myself and missing out on too much fun stuff. A funny thing happened when I stopped fighting my body and hating it because it didn’t look like someone else’s, and started focusing on being healthy and strong, and acknowledging that that’s always going to be a work-in-progress. I was finally able to stay relatively the same size – and feel pretty good about it, too. That’s when I started to notice how many times people commented on my frame, even when I hadn’t lost weight at all. So here, from someone whose been there many, many times, is why we need new compliments.
The silence is deafening
I realized this years ago when I lost 30 pounds (13.5 kilograms), eating up compliments even as I counted calories and obsessed over the scale. They stopped coming though, when I was unable to maintain the full weight loss, as so often happens. As my weight fluctuations leveled out, I was able to turn someone’s non-compliment into a negative comment. “They didn’t say anything,” I caught myself thinking. “They must think I’m fat again.” The brain doesn’t make much sense when it kicks up these sorts of nasty, senseless thoughts, and you have to be pretty strong to combat them. That trio of comments in the first paragraph of this piece, above? They were all made about a month ago. No one has said anything like that since, which has me wondering what they think, then kicking myself for even thinking about external validation, then planning a diet, then pledging moderation – you get the picture.
Skinny does not equal better
But to a person who has struggled with his or her weight, that’s the message you are sending. When you compliment someone enthusiastically on losing weight, you are suggesting that they are more acceptable at a smaller size. For people who have struggled with their weight for years – and with the self-shaming thoughts and negative self-esteem that go along with that struggle – this is not a good thing. People treat their bodies in all sorts of unhealthy ways, and get thinner because of it. Let’s stop the reinforcement.
You are giving yourself away
People who make a really big deal about weight loss, I’ve realized, are usually unhappy with their own bodies or unhealthily interested in the size of others. This isn’t always true, of course. But next time you feel so strongly about the way someone has altered their appearance, why not ask yourself why it’s got your attention. Are you putting undue pressure on yourself to look a certain way? Sometimes simply noticing why we make the comments we do can lead to a little self-awareness, which can lead to a little more self-love. And that is a very good thing. Why do I know this? Because when I was in my twenties and my weight was seesawing all over the place – and I was literally hating myself for it – I would have been the first person to make a very big deal about someone else’s physique.
It could be something serious
People lose weight for all sorts of unhealthy reasons. Maybe they are in the middle of a raging battle with bulimia or maybe they are worried sick about their failing marriage. You have no idea what is behind the weight loss. Two years ago I dropped a fast and easy 20 pounds (9 kilograms), and the compliments rolled in like wildfire. Inside I was dying, though, as my heart was broken and betrayed. But all I could do was smile wanly, feeling oddly pleased at the validation while sinking even further into despair. Apparently feeling at my worst was when people saw me at my best – and how confusing is that?
You are judging
You may not mean it this way, but to a person who has lost weight, and more than once, a compliment about their figure can signal a previous judgement. I once heard “you’ve lost a ton of weight” and never forgot the person who said it, and spent more time than I’d like to admit pondering at what point she’d seen me and determined that I had something approaching a “ton” of weight to lose. And I find whenever I am harshly judging others, even nicely, it’s usually because I’m not accepting and approving of myself. This is a damaging, vicious cycle.
You can do better. And, it’s almost 2019.
Wellness is the goal now – not a number on the scale, some magazine’s idea of the ideal figure, external validation as a means of feeling good about ourselves and certainly not judgement. Why not praise a healthy glow, or that new muscle you spot, or just tell someone they are looking really healthy and you’d like a little of what they are having? In some way or another, we are all fighting the same battle to feel good about ourselves, so let’s show up for each other, shall we? It will be good for all of us, I promise. The Dubai-based author Laura Holland, nutritionist and author of the powerful Your Beautiful Body: A Guide to Eating and Loving Your Body Light, summed up her intention with this book on a recent Instagram post. “I share how important it is that we look at our body, and other people’s bodies, through kind eyes, and with love, not judgement. This is vital for our healing, individual and collective.”
Featured photo Unsplash.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.