You couldn’t possibly predict what your compliment does to people like me when you say things like: “Oh you have lost weight, you look great” or “Wow, you are so skinny now, how do you do it?” I know you mean well, but it shouldn’t be a complete surprise when I respond with a glass of cold water in your face.
You know what I am thinking when I hear shit like that? You are telling me that my body size is only of value if it is small. You are inadvertently saying that if I do not meet a certain measurement and number on the scale, I am not achieving an important goal in my life. I know you likely don’t see it that way, but trust me, there is nobody you can say that to without evoking some kind of response. If they are happy you said it, then they probably haven’t thought it through, or they haven’t ever been body shamed. The rest of us will give you a weak smile while we shift uncomfortably in our skin and picture ourselves stepping on your foot – hard.
Many of us have struggled with our bodies most of our lives. We always feel the need to mold ourselves into acceptable sizes. The endless diets, pointless suggestions from well-meaning friends, the tears in the change room straining to fit in a bathing suit that is made for eggs and not watermelons.
During the futile journey to become thin, I have encountered many damaging comments that were made with the best of intentions. People don’t get how much it backfires when they comment on your body size. I try never to comment on weight. I have managed to learn that simply by noticing a body feature on a human you are making a statement, and is hard to know how it will land. It is pretty safe to tell a guy busting out of his muscle shirt like the hulk that you admire his commitment to fitness, but really unless you are trying to get him to remove the shirt, keep it to yourself.
I don’t know why people are fat or thin, neither do you. They could be perfect by all standards of society but suffer from an eating disorder or anemia. Or they could be like me and their cancer medication that is keeping them alive has loaded 100 pounds on in 18 months. It horrifies me, but my doctor rejoices this as a good sign. Skinny cancer is a death countdown in my world. Isn’t that ironic as hell?
While I am on my soapbox: Why do other body types matter, like if people are tall or short? Who cares? I don’t go up to towering people and say “Wow you’re tall!” Ya moron, they have never heard that before.
I do make an exception with kids and teens though. I tell them that they are clearly growing up strong, and they should thank their parents for feeding them healthy food. Notice I use strong and not tall? Short kids just want to be tall, alter that notion every time you can.
Until the fashion houses truly become more inclusive, and Victoria’s Secret finally shuts its doors, those of us who are not six-foot-tall x-rays won’t have a chance. In the meantime, we can be the front line by simply changing what we notice and value in people, especially children who hear your words in their brains for life.
Want a new mantra to tuck in your back pocket? Always say at least one nice thing in every conversation if you can. Talk to strangers and be a light in their day. If that nice thing takes the form of a compliment, make it about a choice that person has made. I tell little girls that they have picked lovely shoes. Or a random guy that he has a great suit, and ladies a nice purse. If I am standing in line behind a teenager who has clearly fussed over her hair, I will say something nice about it. Noticing people by their choices is kinder than commenting on their bodies, even if you think you are paying them a compliment.
We are all headed into the most stressful time of the year now, the “just about to screw up any chance of going to the gym any longer than February” period. Don’t make any remarks about how much weight somebody has lost, they have not lost anything, it’s compression garments. Pretend you don’t notice and tell them you like their new shoes.