Have you ever had someone tell you “Did you lose weight? You look so good!” and get that immediate hit of dopamine? You feel amazing and beautiful and proud. But, then it sinks in. Wait, do I not look good if I’m heavier? If you’re telling me I look great now, I can only assume that you didn’t think I looked great heavier.
Discussing weight loss is like the holidays’ version of small talk. No, I don’t want to talk about the weather or my weight. Compliments about weight (whether loss or gain) can have intense negative effects on people, especially if you are in recovery from an eating disorder or struggle with disordered eating.
Our relationship with our bodies is just that: Ours. It is quite literally no one else’s business what you weigh. No one needs to be paying that much attention to another person’s body. The potential for harm is much greater than the possible benefit.
As someone who has had weight fluctuations their entire adult life and has felt all of these sentiments, I’m here to say that the topic of weight should just not be brought to the holiday dinner table at all. Here are a few specific reasons why:
1) It associates someone’s value and beauty with their body size.
By complimenting someone’s weight loss, you likely mean well and are truly trying to give them a compliment. However, by doing this, it enforces the assumption that one’s value and beauty are in alignment with their body size and shape. The idea that being thinner automatically equals being better, more beautiful, healthier, or more successful is absurd but, unfortunately, ingrained in the thinking of many.
2) It reinforces horrible and damaging cultural and societal norms.
By complimenting someone for being thinner or smaller, we’re essentially taking a long-standing societal norm and saying “Yep, we approve.” But, perhaps it is time to take a step back and think: What exactly am I approving?
Growing up, I remember using the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me” all the time. In theory, it sounded great. As a kid trying to write off a bully, this phrase sounds great. However, as an adult, I realize how insane this sounds.
Words can and do break people.
We’re all responsible for how we use words and we can be more cognizant of how we use them. We can either reinforce the norm that somehow straight-size people are better than plus-size people or we can start a new narrative.
3) It contributes to fatphobia and diet culture.
Fatphobia is clinically defined as a pathological fear of fatness, but on a social level, it is used to describe how fat people are treated differently (negatively) due to their size. The fear and/or dislike of obese people or obesity, in short. Being in a larger body is seen as a bad thing.
Diet culture is used to describe the culture surrounding the act of worshiping thinness and equating it to being healthy or with moral virtue. Diet culture can be hard to identify and it is deeply ingrained. It can include, but is not limited to: Eliminating entire food groups, feeling guilty after eating, ignoring internal cues from your body, allowing the number on the scale to determine your happiness, and using exercise as punishment and/or compensation.
4) It can be triggering for a number of reasons.
Weight loss or weight gain can occur for so many different reasons. Complimenting someone on it can easily be triggering.
It can also encourage disordered eating. For someone with a history of disordered eating, if a person is receiving compliments on weight loss, then perhaps they start thinking about what it would feel like to be even thinner. Then, they start thinking about what if they gain weight, and panic sets in.
5) It can be in poor taste when weight loss is due to unintended side effects.
Sure, many people want to lose weight. And, many people want to gain weight (this is probably a great time to mention you shouldn’t make your skinny friend feel bad for being skinny either).
However, weight loss can also be a side effect of many negative situations — depression, chronic illness, eating disorders, extreme stress. I can’t help but bring up the recent tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman. After a secretive four-year battle with colon cancer, Boseman passed away at 43. Several months ago, he was downright berated and harassed for how “horrible” he looked due to significant weight loss in his social media posts. People made fun of him, accused him of being on drugs, and more. Little did they know, he was battling something quietly that many of us could never imagine.
On another relatable note, have you ever not asked someone how far along they are because of the overwhelming fear of embarrassment when you find out they aren’t in fact pregnant? Okay, just take that and apply it to every situation when you want to compliment someone on their weight in ANY way.
What To Do Instead
If you want to pay someone a compliment, then try telling them one of these:
- How amazing of a friend or family member they are.
- How intelligent they are.
- How they always make you laugh.
- How they make you feel just being around them.
- What you admire about them.
- What they have inspired you to do.
Think about how you would answer the question “What do you love about _____?” Surely, your answer wouldn’t be about their weight. This holiday season, and always, focus on complimenting people on the things you truly love about them and not how they look.