We Really Need to Stop Complimenting People on Weight Loss
Lots of women (and probably men, too) know what you are: what do you mean? You look so good! "Anytime some has commented on my weight loss, I want to cringe. Even sitting here on my couch thinking about it, I feel vaguely icky. And to be clear, I'm a straight size person-my body, pretty much conforms to our culture, expectations for women's bodies. But in my 20 years as a registered dietitian, I've seen how comments about weight have even more powerfully affected my clients, many of whom have come to me because they are considered “overweight” and want to lose some, or because they want a better relationship with food. For many of my clients, “compliments” about weight can have a intense and complicated effects on people who are already dealing with their bodies being appraised and judged (and stigmatized).
I appreciate that people may be trying to pay each other a compliment, but I really do not think that comments on anyone's weight, whatever they may be, are complimentary, even when they are intended to be, for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, it's just intrusive.
I do not like the feeling of being measured on the size of my body, relative to the size of my body at an earlier time. all paying such close attention to each other's bodies? It all comes down to the fact that the size of my body does not matter. day where I do not feel like thinking about the way my body looks right now. nscious when it seems like other people are looking at me appraisingly. Maybe I just freaking out that. But it's not just those things, and I do not think it's just me. There are other great reasons for not commenting on someone's weight.
It just reinforces some honestly pretty crappy cultural norms and values.
Whenever we are compliment people for being thinner or smaller, we're rubber stamping a standard of beauty that places people in terms of attractiveness and worth. This in and of itself makes it a habit to quit. Weight loss is not inherently good or bad, and being a thinner, it should not be synonymous with "better." Oh, and by the way, I know it's hard to believe, but some people are actually happy with their weight, no matter what it is. Really!
Sidenote: It does not even work out that well as a compliment.
If you're telling me I look great when I'm thinner, I can only assume that you think I didn 't look great until now, or that if I gain weight, I will not look great again. So, let's say you give me this compliment on my weight loss, then I gain weight. I assume, you'd say nothing, and then secretly, how much bigger (i.e. worse) I look? See what I mean? Crappy compliment.
Even when we know that someone's weight loss is intentional, it's still not our place to comment on their bodies.
Look, I get it; some people are actively trying to lose weight, and if you know about them, it's only nice and polite to compliment them, right? Here's the thing though. First of all, see my first point about how commenting on bodies is intrusive. Beyond that though, even when people are dieting, their weight can be up and down through gains and losses. So, a compliment about their size can set them up to feel like they've failed, or maybe for embarrassment, if they put weight on again. It's like when someone insults your boyfriend, and then you get back together with them. Awkward.
It can trigger some pretty big issues.
For someone with food and/or chronic dieting issues, weight compliments can be loaded. Let me explain.
If someone has a history of disordered eating-and often, you will not know about a person-a comment about weight loss. If you say, "You look great, you've lost weight!", "They may perceive it as encouragement to lose more weight, because in their mind, more is better." As someone who used to have issues with food and eating, when someone would comment on my weight loss, I'd feel a deep sense of panic. What if I gain weight? This is actually how I thought when I was in the midst of struggling with food and eating, and I'd guess that I'm not alone.
You don't know what's really happening with someone.
I can’t write this piece without commenting on the fact that of course, there are situations where a person may lose weight unintentionally from something traumatic or even just unintended—disordered eating, illness, extreme stress—you just never know. I remember someone telling me that they once complimented a person on their weight loss, and then found out that that person had cancer. Not cool.
As far as I'm concerned, there is not a situation when commenting on someone's body size makes sense.
Weight and our relations to our bodies are such a personal things, and the potential for harm. "If you want to pay a compliment, tell them what is good. Choose from compliments that people are truly important. Let's turn the focus away from peoples' bodies, and on to what we love about them. Those are compliments that are always well-received.