The long reach of weight loss compliments
It seems that nearly every time after we reunite with someone after a long time, someone always throws out a compliment like this:
“You look like you’ve lost so much weight! You look fantastic!”
As if there’s no other reason you could look fantastic. As if your appearance is the most important thing about you. As if you looked heinous before. As if losing weight is always a good thing.
Explaining that last one to people isn’t always easy because the dominant cultural message is that weight loss is good, and the more weight you lose, the better. That this isn’t always the case is enough to blow some people’s puny little minds. Worst of all, this type of thinking and compliment is so reflexive that often people don’t even think it through before they say it.
Thirdly, by telling a person that their weight loss makes them look better, you set them up for a fall if they gain some weight back. I recently got into a Facebook debate with a woman who commented on my friend Viv’s selfie: “While you’ve always been stunning, I want to congratulate you on your shrinkage – you’ve gone from a 10 to a 10+.”
Leaving aside rating a woman’s attractiveness out of 10 (which we shouldn’t leave aside because gross, but I only have so many words), by specifically indicating that my friend looks better skinnier, the commenter is saying that if she gains any weight back she’ll be back to a boring old 10!
The second was that I’ve been going through the same experience quoted above.
A number of years ago, I hit an unusually high weight for me, due to the combination of medications that led to severe binge eating. The medications were necessary, if somewhat temporary. While I was at this high weight, I had an internship that was actually quite interesting. I enjoyed my co-workers and learned a lot.
About two years later, I had relapsed massively. I lost a Royal Shit TonTM of weight in a short period of time, and had begun a final downward spiral that would end very, very badly. My co-workers didn’t know about my eating disorder. It wasn’t relevant, and despite the fact that I blog under my real name, I try to keep the ED stuff somewhat separate from professional stuff.
In the midst of this relapse, I ran into a former co-worker at a conference, and the first thing she said was (yep, you guessed it), “Carrie, you’ve lost so much weight! You look fantastic!”
Now, however, I’m within shouting distance of that weight. Not super duper close, but close enough. Close enough that, when I saw my weight recently* all I could think of was that comment and how I must look horrible now that I’ve gained a lot of that weight back.
I’m far enough along in my recovery that it didn’t seriously derail my day, but it continues to itch at the back of my mind. It’s that subtle association between losing weight and looking good. So gaining weight means…what, I look hideous? Rationally, I know it’s bullshit. Rationally, I know I look fine.
But still. There’s that doubt, that culturally-instilled sense of guilt and shame at having gained weight.
There’s also a small part of me that misses the compliments about my size. I haven’t heard them in a very long time and although I’m not vain and generally don’t care much about my appearance, I do kind of miss it. The compliments made me feel special, even if I knew it was a stupid, superficial special.
So here’s the thing. The next time you reunite with a friend, don’t mention their weight. Compliment them on their eye shadow, their taste in music, the sparkle in their eyes, but zip it about weight. You never know if it could come back to haunt them.
*The nurse weighed me blind just fine, but thought nothing of handing me a paper with my weight on it. *headdesk*