The nicest neighbor in the world asked me a question last night. Poor guy was trying to be kind and I didn’t respond as kindly as I could have, because he just happened to ask a question about something I have been thinking a lot about for, oh, I don’t know, I guess the past 30 years.
He simply said, “I know all women love to hear this question, but have you lost weight?”
There is a good chance that you have one of two reactions to reading that question. One reaction might be: “That’s nice that he noticed something positive about you. Why would you not respond kindly back?” Which I understand this thought; really, I do.
Another reaction might be more like the one I had which was, “Do all women love to hear that question? Is weight lost always a measure of good? Should it always be considered something that is well-received?”
I believe that he was trying to tell me that IF I had been trying to reach a goal of weight loss, that it was noticed and he was happy for me. It’s not like there aren’t millions of magazine and website articles telling us why we should have weight loss as a goal and how to attain it. Add to that the billions of dollars made on the hopes of losing weight. Luckily we have social media to remind us that we can be accepted just as we are and that silly before-and-afters will not make you more popular or valuable. Oh wait, just kidding, I got that backwards. Want to have more followers and become an influencer? Lose weight, post bikini pics, and tell others how they can do it, too. Cha-CHING!
The weight loss comments didn’t begin years ago with nice neighbors. (Well, I don’t know, maybe they did. Maybe some neighboring caveman was like, “Oh, hey, I know it’s a famine around here and everyone is dying, but DANG GIRL, you are looking good with those bottom ribs exposed.”)
It won’t end with one woman’s words on your computer. (But, hey, maybe if you share it, then we can all become a bit more aware that we should try to change.)
I have had too many people I love become victims to the idea of THIN. The positive verbal reinforcements are enough to propel them to further weight loss. “You are getting so skinny!” “Have you lost weight?” “What diet are you on and how can I get on it?” Here’s the rub: none of those statements are in any way a compliment. Read them again. If you said them to a dog, are you saying that the dog is obedient, kind, or even handsome? Nope. Just stating that the size may have changed.
So why is a size change given so much value? How do we know that the person we are “complimenting” for changing size isn’t, in fact, ill, or terrified, or stressed, or hurting, or needing those words so badly that they will do unhealthy things to hear them?
I gained a lot of weight AFTER my fourth child. Yes, I gained weight when I was pregnant, but I gained more of it when I got mysteriously ill after he was born. For six years I have been trying to navigate a mysterious illness and added weight gain. For all intents and purposes, those who I live around now don't know what I look like at my "normal weight" since we moved here seven years ago while I was pregnant. To them, I am becoming a different person. To me, I am figuring things out and going back to a more normal-for-me size. Still not “thin enough” to make the big influencer bucks, probably never will be. Plus, I am in my late 30s, so that ship has sailed, anyway.
The hardest part about gaining weight for me was realizing how often people talk about others who have “lost weight and look good now” and that I hadn’t been the recipient of a physical compliment in quite a while. I realized how much I had craved it and felt validated by the way I looked—and more specifically, on an acceptable size. My sisters mentioned that they had similar feelings and I asked them to do me a favor: if I were to lose weight, please don’t compliment me.
Don’t compliment me for pounds.
You wouldn’t compliment me for gaining weight. Even if I really wanted to. You wouldn’t compliment me for growing my hair out, even though I have been trying to grow it out for four years. Well, now that you know that, you might compliment me for sticking to a hair-growing goal, but chances are you’d feel funny about it. Because it is silly. Who cares? It’s a personal decision and it doesn’t have any merit on who I am as a person or what I am trying to do as a mother, wife, professional, neighbor, or friend. It’s just FREAKING HAIR! But, it does look good, thanks for noticing. I really like my hairstylist. Let me know if you want her number.
Compliment me for being bold. Compliment me for trying something new. Compliment me for writing something that makes me anxious to share. Compliment me for my purple eyeliner, even, because at least that is something we can share and exchange and I know that you’re looking me in the eyes. Compliment my dinner or the fact that my basement is vacuumed because you know how much I hate vacuuming (and that I finally hired someone to help me do it). Compliment my shoes, because they are really cute and I can tell you where you can get some and now we have a shared experience. Compliment my kids… I can’t take credit, but it’s great to hear that you see them as positively as I see them.
Compliment ME, not my body. Not for pounds lost.
Here is what I hear when you say all the “compliments” associated with lost weight. “You didn’t look good before.” “I was worried that you were fat.” “I notice your fluctuations and won’t say anything when you gain it back, but I will notice.” “Your face looks better with less fat.” “You are becoming more valuable.”
The trouble is, we hate walking on eggshells, especially when we want to be kind and pay someone a compliment. I’m not suggesting we don’t give compliments, but let’s not be lazy with them. Give someone a good, old-fashioned compliment. Tell someone they are wickedly funny or have an engaging personality. Tell them that their hair reminds you of the sunset and their fingernails shine like justice (name that song!). Tell someone that their smile makes you want to smile and their laugh makes you want to laugh.
My son’s first-grade teacher told me just yesterday that anyone who has the opportunity to be my son’s friend is very lucky. Now THAT is a compliment. Worth the mysterious illness and weight gain for that kid and the person he is becoming to merit such a compliment.
Lazy compliments are centered on pounds. And they aren’t even REAL compliments. Don’t be lazy.
By the way, you are a really good reader. And you seem sincerely funny and kind, too!