I’m in a place where I normally feel safe, welcomed, and loved. The next thing I know, someone is looking me up and down saying “Did you lose a ton of weight? You look amazing!”
A pang starts in my chest and spreads to the rest of my body. “No,” I answer sheepishly. I know that I don’t have the guts to call her out or to tell her how painful and how toxic that “compliment” is. I know that it’s going to ruin my day. The truth is that I have lost weight, but I don’t want to engage with her bullshit.
You may be wondering “Why would that be a bad compliment?!” but if you’re on the body positivity train, you know exactly why.
Weight is a touchy subject. Most people are either working toward weight loss and/or hating the weight that they’re at. It’s a radical idea that not every person cares about weight. The fact that some people are indifferent to weight repulses many people. Well, I don’t care. Weight doesn’t matter to me for the most part. I’m not trying to lose it. If it happens, it’s my body doing its natural thing. It isn’t a result of me dieting or trying to lose it.
This is just one experience, but many other experiences show that weight-related compliments are problematic. Here are just a few of them:
What if I lost weight because I can’t stop purging my food? All of my times throwing up have taken pounds off of my body. Would you still compliment me then? Is my weight loss still stellar and beautiful?
How about if my mom was diagnosed with cancer and I haven’t been able to eat much because I’ve been sick over it? What if I was on the family member cancer diet (true story)? How would you feel about my weight loss then?
What if I’ve had the flu? I’ve been puking my brains out for over a week and it’s made me lose weight. Gee, thanks for the compliment. I worked really hard at it.
Lastly, what if I just don’t fucking care about weight, but I’m sensitive to the topic? What if I have disordered eating and you’re touching on a topic that brings me great pain? I’m not alone in this matter—A UNC Study of Medicine found that 75% of American women “endorse some unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies.” You don’t have to have an eating disorder to be disordered around eating.
These situations are more common than you may realize. If you knew what someone was dealing with, would you still make these kinds of comments to them? Since you don’t know what they’re going through, you shouldn’t make these potentially hurtful remarks.
Long-Term Weight Loss Doesn’t Work
Our society has a damaging obsession with weight loss. You might be thinking, “but what if I know they’re trying to lose weight and I want to praise their success?” In my opinion, there are better ways to support a friend than by endorsing their involvement in diet culture.
Weight is not a reliable indicator of health. Lower weights do not mean better health. According to the Association For Size Diversity And Health, “Weight and BMI are poor predictors of disease and longevity. The bulk of epidemiological evidence suggests that five pounds ‘underweight’ is more dangerous than 75 pounds ‘overweight.” In addition to this,“Multiple studies are suggesting that a focus on weight as a health criterion is often misdirected and harmful.”
I can’t emphasize it enough: a lower weight does not = health.
This is a tough angle for a lot of people to swallow on an already loaded topic. We’ve been taught that thinner is always better and that weight loss can happen if you just try hard enough. Lauren Marie Fleming, a fat positive queen touches upon this on her blog:
“In Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight – and What We Can Do About It, author Harriet Brown cites statistics that show over 45 million Americans will go on a diet at some point each year. All but 5% of them will gain the weight back in a year, and all but 3% of them will gain the weight back plus some extra in three years.”
Those are pretty stark statistics. Long-term weight loss is a mirage. It isn’t a reality for most of us. This is why I don’t compliment others if they’re actively trying to lose weight.
What Does The Compliment Say About Me?
You are making some assumptions when you compliment me on weight loss. There’s the insinuation that I was less-than when I was heavier and I’m better now. If I look absolutely amazing now, what does that say about how I looked before? Fat is bad, so of course, you think I didn’t look as good before.
Then, there’s the suggestion that I’d be less-than if I gained the weight back… that I wouldn’t look amazing if I weighed as much as I did before. As a result, complimenting my weight loss can contribute to making me feel as if I’m a failure when I inevitably gain the weight back.
If you’re looking for another way to compliment me you could say anything along the lines of “you’re so smart, Ginelle,” “you’re a great friend,” or "you’re great with creativity.” These would be much better than a harmful comment about my body.
So, whether it’s because you don’t know the origins of my weight loss, you don’t want to give a back-handed compliment, or you don’t want to feed into diet culture—please save your compliments for something that isn’t so loaded.