“Wow you look great, you’ve lost so much weight”, “keep up the good work”, “you’ve always had such a beautiful face, but now you look amazing”. These are just some of the “compliments” I’ve received recently after losing around 30 pounds.
The thing is I’m not on a weight-loss diet (I simply changed my diet to relieve the digestive issues I had post gallbladder removal), and this constant praise by friends, family, followers on Instagram, acquaintances I haven’t seen for years and even the man that works at my local corner shop is driving me mad! It’s as if with every compliment they are saying “you didn’t look good before”, “you weren’t enough the way you were” and that being slim is the true epitome of beauty.
So as someone whose weight has always fluctuated (next year I may well be 30 pounds heavier), rather than making me feel good about myself, this constant praise has begun to trigger food-related anxiety and negative body image issues that after years of therapy I thought I had finally put to bed.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a compliment as much as the next person, but unsolicited comments on someone’s weight loss should be a no-no, in the same way that you wouldn’t point out a person’s weight gain. That person you’re complimenting could be in the throes of an eating disorder and your constant praise could encourage them to carry on abusing their body.
Or like me, their weight loss might be a by product of a physical illness, it could also be linked to stress, or a bereavement and have nothing to do with the so called “hard work” people are under the impression I’ve been doing to drop the pounds.
When I’ve explained this to friends I’ve had mixed reactions, some have quickly understood my perspective while others (usually those who aren’t overweight but would like to lose a few pounds) don’t seem to understand how this praise is not the compliment they intended it to be.
However, with more than half of Brits attempting to lose weight in the past year, Public Health England proclaiming we should all be on strict calorie-controlled diets, the billion-pound diet industry flogging us slimming teas, shakes, pills, and programmes, plus the slim-equals-attractive ideal we are constantly exposed to, I’m not surprised that a lot of people would find it hard to see how losing weight and being praised for it is anything but positive.
But by praising me for my weight loss they simply reinforce the status quo, that thin is the ideal body type, and in so doing they do themselves a disservice too. Whether they are a size six or 16, doling out weight-related praise only locks them in a cycle of equating their self worth to a number on a scale.
This is a way of thinking that the body positive movement is trying to dispel, and as every misguided compliment drags me back into this collective slim-positive consciousness, I’ve made an attempt to engage more with this community. It is a movement that encourages the idea that all bodies are worthy of respect, that you are not lesser than or more than depending on how much you weigh, or what you look like.
It’s an admirable message, but one that is clearly taking time to truly permeate. For every body-positive advocate with a million followers on Instagram, there’s a celebrity with millions more promoting a weight-loss product. And for every brand using a diverse range of body shapes in their campaigns, there are hundreds more that don’t – making self acceptance no easy feat.
When it comes to weight, skinny does not necessarily equal healthy in body and mind, in the same way that having a higher BMI doesn’t necessarily mean you are unhealthy or unhappy. There is so much focus put on to the way we look on the outside and not enough on the way we feel on the inside, I for one am exhausted by it all and I bet a lot of you are too. So next time you’re about to “complement” someone on their weight loss think again, you’ll be saving them the internal angst as well as yourself.
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