Don't compliment me for losing weight

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‘Oh wow, you look amazing. You’ve lost weight,’ said one of the mums at kinder pickup.

It was an unexpected compliment because after years of body hatred I now put my efforts into self-acceptance and sustaining healthy eating and exercise habits rather than battling to make myself less than I am.

But even though weight loss wasn’t my goal, it did feel like a compliment. In our culture, it is one of — if not the — highest forms of praise. We’ve been conditioned to believe that weight loss is synonymous with success, control over one’s life, improved health and of course, enhanced beauty.

Weight loss is celebrated in every aspect of our culture, from ‘polite’ dinner party conversation, to reality TV shows, magazine covers, corporate challenges and government ‘health’ messages.

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Being thin is as much a moral judgment as it is about health. Even media ‘concerns’ with women who are painfully thin come wrapped with a certain degree of admiration.

For example, when former Home and Away star Sharni Vinson was recently snapped on a beach in Miami having lost a stack, the article included a quote that explained away her weight loss as the result of hard work.

‘I always lose weight when I’m shooting a movie — you’re constantly busy and on-set giving 110 percent’ Vinson is reported to have said.

So that’s all right then. Other than a healthy dose of the Protestant Work Ethic, there’s nothing to see here.

Weight loss praise, just like fat chat, is a socially acceptable strategy for women to bond with each other. I’m just as guilty as the next woman of trying to make my friends feel good by celebrating their weight loss.

But let’s face it, a compliment about weight loss comes with a sting in the tail. No matter how well meaning, underneath the praise is the implication that when you were fatter, you looked ever so slightly crap.

Given that most people who lose weight will eventually regain it, the compliment has a definite use-by date. It’s only a matter of time until the compliment is null and void. So rather than making our friend feel good, we’ve effectively put her on notice that any future weight gain will not go undetected.

Perhaps what’s most grating about statements relating to changes in body size or shape — whether positive or negative — is that they show that we’re all slyly monitoring each other, checking each other out to see if we’ve porked up or pared down.

Just as we objectify each other’s bodies, we in turn learn to objectify ourselves, basing our self-worth on how others perceive us.

Back at kinder, on this particular day, it occurred to me that my four-year-old daughter Violet was listening to the weight loss compliment, and the temporary warm glow of affirmation was quickly replaced by a sickly feeling.

I fear that what my daughter learned from this exchange was that if you lose weight you necessarily are deserving of positive attention. The exchange had nothing to do with the messages of health and positive body image. Rather, it was reinforcement of our society’s sickening quest for thinness at all costs, and its vile insistence on judging people’s — particularly women’s — worth by their appearance.

We can’t raise our kids to feel happy and confident in their own bodies if they hear their mothers judging one another by the sizing number on the back of their jeans. We need to stop using weight loss as a benchmark for how good we are or how well we are doing in life.

Focusing on the size fluctuations of our bodies, however great or small, only serves to make us all more insecure about our appearance. One of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and our friends is a safe space that is free from the hateful and anxiety-inducing weight and beauty messages that plague us.

If we really care about each other — and our kids — it’s time we found a different way of expressing our admiration and friendship. 

 

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

 

 

53 comments so far

  • I agree that there's too much obsession with weight and size. I also believe, though, that everyone does look better and feels better when they are a normal healthy weight.

    I think that one of the problems is that most people consider only the lower end of the normal healthy weight range as the desired and acceptable size and consequently anything above that is considered overweight.

    I don't think you are helping anyone by accepting obesity as ok in this increasingly heavier society of ours. Nor do I think it particularly helpful to be unsupportive of those trying to lose and then keep weight off by stating that they'll put it all back on again. Such statements are merely politically correct cop outs.

    Commenter
    donab
    Location
    Normanhurst
    Date and time
    August 21, 2013, 8:55AM
    • I enjoyed this article - Have been thinking recently that we also take "You don't look your age" as a natural compliment, and thinking about it, why shouldn't we be proud that our faces and bodies reflect the life that we've lived - what is wrong with being proud of what we are and what we've experienced?

      Commenter
      Lizzie
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 9:27AM
      • totally agree that weight loss compliments are often backhanders in disguise, and there is far too much focus on weight etc... but ignoring someone's obvious intended weight loss is pretty awkward too, and if you try to dress it up as a health-based compliment, its just as transparent.. so what do you do? my sister in law was a little disappointed no one noticed her weight loss at a recent family gathering... maybe its political correctness gone mad... it is still ok to compliment someone looking well...

        Commenter
        jane
        Date and time
        August 21, 2013, 9:28AM
        • There are ways to compliment people without saying "hey you've lost weight". I agree that that is a back-handed compliment.

          Commenter
          NSG
          Date and time
          August 22, 2013, 8:35AM
        • My weight struggle began when I was about 9. Bigger than everyone else (height wise) I was also much broader. Looking at photos of myself i was quite a healthy, muscular little kid. But being teased for being overweight actually made me emotionally eat. 10 years later and being 35 odd kilos overweight (a size 22) I did something about it. I learnt about food and calories and how much I actually needed to eat and started running everyday. The compliments from people were a highlight for me - people noticing the change in my appearance really propped me up and I felt my hard work was validated. At the end of the day I was still doing it for myself - it didn't matter what others thought - but it was NICE to have words of encouragement from those around me. Now I am in my mid 20's and my weight is stable. I am a healthy size 10 -12 and enjoy exercise everyday. Positive re-enforcement helped me. I'm not saying it's good for everyone, but don't put a blanket ban on it just because a few people are uncomfortable with it - who knows, you may just be that positive voice that a person thinks about when they are in the middle of a hard exercise session that gets them through!

          Commenter
          Kate
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          August 22, 2013, 8:50AM
      • But the same implications could be read into all other compliments. If the woman had said to you, 'Your hair is looking nice today' then you could also take it as meaning your hair looked worse yesterday, and could well fall back into the same state of non-niceness in the future today. And the same can be said of non-appearance based compliments - 'wow, that was a great column you wrote today' presumably indicates that what you wrote yesterday is of lesser value with again the possibility that you may slip into non-greatness with future columns.

        Maybe we need to learn to accept compliments with graciousness? That the other person, at this moment, has taken time to appreciate something about us? And we need to stop the negative internal voice - within us - that undermines their generous gesture?

        Commenter
        Susan_66
        Location
        Corangamite
        Date and time
        August 21, 2013, 9:55AM
        • Depends if it's an appropriate compliment given in context to a person you know well, or a remark that is experienced as rude and intrusive.

          For example, a couple of years ago, an intern I was supervising commented to me one day, "Wow [Red Pony], you look great - did you lose weight?!"

          Now, this comment was inappropriate for any number of reasons. Firstly, I hardly knew this girl from a bar of soap. Secondly, I had never (but never!) discussed my weight or appearance with her - or mentioned hers, for that matter. Thirdly, this was a professional context - since when is it appropriate to make a personal remark about your supervisor's appearance, especially when you hardly know them? Finally, I hadn't lost weight (and I don't need to. I'm about an 8-10) and didn't need this woman to literally point at my torso and draw attention to my body shape... and in front of other people in the office!

          So my response was, drily, "No, I guess I just looked fat before."

          I'm not ashamed to say that I rather enjoyed watching her squirm as she realised she had overstepped the line and made an inappropriate, personal remark to me. I hope she thinks twice next time before offering her unsolicited opinion on the weight of a person she hardly knows.

          Basically, I don't know where people got the idea that it's ok to go around commenting on other people's bodies. It's not like commenting on a dress or a haircut. It's a very personal and sensitive area. Unless you know them very well or they mention it first, why mention a person's weight or shape at all?

          Commenter
          Red Pony
          Date and time
          August 21, 2013, 12:09PM
        • So, you enjoyed the humiliation a young person experienced for making a simple mistake in an attempt to become more familiar with her supervisor? Wow.

          Unbelievable.

          Commenter
          Lazy Jesus
          Date and time
          August 21, 2013, 1:09PM
        • It must be a barrel of laughs working with you Red Pony. Presumably personal relationships, what you got up to on the weekend, any upcoming holidays etc are also off the table for discussion as well?

          You might think that she's decided she's stepped over the line with a compliment but I think it's far more likely she's thinking you're a grouch.

          Commenter
          Hurrow
          Date and time
          August 21, 2013, 1:56PM
        • @Susan_66 Great post! of course, not to be construed in camparison with any previous posts you may or may not have made, whether they were in fact greater or lesser posts, or by any other assignment of relative value as a possible context for such comparison, and notwithstanding that the scope of this assignment of intrinsic value is isolated entirely to the words of the compliment as explicitly stated, and is not intended to convey any unwritten or unspoken implication involving gender polarity, social status, or other form of potential inequality, and furthermore, the compliment is offered without any associated implication of any desired reciprocity.

          There, that should cover it. Somehow, the spontaneity is lost though. I think you might be on to something with the "accept with grace" thing!

          Commenter
          Let them eat cake
          Date and time
          August 21, 2013, 3:49PM

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