I read an article in Huffington Post today that really hit home, Why You Should Think Twice Before You Praise Someone For Losing Weight – Yashir Ali. In it he discusses the impact of telling people how great they look because they have lost weight. He points out that there could be a variety of reasons why they lost weight, like a major stress in their life (divorce, death in the family) or an illness they don’t want to disclose. The other reason to consider, and one that I feel personally, is that the process of losing (and gaining) weight is very personal. Odds are it’s not something that the person going through it necessarily wants to discuss. The article is a great read and so well thought out. It’s interesting to read the comments as well. A good portion of them say get over it a compliment is a compliment, I think it’s unfortunate that people are unwilling to consider that maybe the receivers of the “compliment” don’t necessarily interpret things the same way they do. Peoples feelings are their feelings.
It definitely got me thinking about how I feel when I get praise for losing weight. Please understand, I love my parents dearly and know they mean well, but there is a part of me that always wonders what they will say (or not say) about my weight each time I see them. In my mind I’m convinced that if I am heavier then the last time I saw them or have not lost weight, they will say nothing and if weight less, they will ask if I lost weight and then comment on how great I look. Both responses, the silence and the comments, are deafening. To be fair, I also know I am reading far more into this than what they intend, or I am sure are even aware of. I have a great life-time backlog of internal criticisms in my head to choose from, so at this point in my life it’s far more on me, then them to sort through my feelings about these comments. But I bring it up here, because it does cross my mind each time I see them. Sometimes I just want to say “Yep, I’ve gained more weight, it sucks, can we move on?”. With my friends that whole dynamic holds a lot less power for me. But, depending on how I am feeling about my weight on a given day, I do consider how I look and how friends may respond to my weight (or not).
It’s such a double-edged sword, because losing weight IS a lot of hard work and when I have been successful, I have been proud of that effort. The acknowledgement I get in response to weight loss does feel good. Where it becomes hard, is in the contrast of that praise for weight loss, compared with the silence I get when I haven’t lost weight. Without a word, I can hear it loud and clear (at least my interpretation). I am an intelligent woman who questions everything, doesn’t accept status-qua and I know I’m a valuable and worthy person, full of amazing qualities. But, but my Achilles heal is weight. On some level I have bought into societies validation based on thinness. At the core of me, to some degree, I do feel that I am a better person if I am thinner. I don’t “think ” it but I know I “feel” it and that is really so much more powerful and damaging. So I will admit that when I get that praise I feel more worthy. When I hear nothing I feel like somehow I have let everyone down including myself. And its not even because I think that I am better thinner, but because conversely I’m not as worthy if I am fat. That is so messed up to even write that down but somehow I feel better saying it here. Maybe doing that will reduce it’s power in my being.
So for those that know me or for those who know someone who battles with their weight you are probably wondering what you should do. What I have discussed above seems to have no good answer or response and is sort of contradictory. So all I can do is tell you what I would want. If you see me and notice I have lost or gained weight, wait and see if it’s something that comes up in our conversation. If I bring it up then consider the topic is open for discussion. Although I guess this post has sort of done just that.
But, if you want to say something nice, tell me how happy I look….because for the most part I am that. Words like radiant, beautiful, happy, glowing are always good too. There are so many ways complement someone besides their weight. Frankly complimenting them on things other than their appearance also means you are really being present with them and turned into them as a person and not just their outward appearance.
So I guess the bottom line is, do give praise but be mindful of the words you choose, because what they mean to you may not be what they mean to someone else and you never know where someone’s head is at.