As a Pilates and Yoga Instructor, it almost felt like my duty to comment on friends or clients who had lost weight. It was the reason most of my clients came to see me, so a weight comment seemed like the right thing to do. I used to do it all the time.
“Wow! You look great. You’ve lost a lot of weight! How did you do it?”
I assumed that weight loss was a good thing. Like you, I grew up in a fatphobic world that glorified thinness and vilified fatness. Unfortunately, this stereotype that thin is good and fat is bad persists today.
I hear moms all the time commenting to other moms, saying, “Ohhhh, you look so skinny! You look amazing!” “Have you seen her lately, she’s lost so much weight!” The verbal high-five, slap on the back, atta girl words of praise.
Years ago, those kinds of compliments always fueled me to work even harder to maintain my “perfect physique” so I could continue to receive compliments from friends, family or clients. I would keep counting, keep exercising, keep working at doing everything with food and exercise “right”.
I would dole out those kinds of compliments to other people, too.
I now realize the extraordinary amount of pressure that weight-related compliments place on people. Praising someone’s appearance might seem like an encouraging, supportive, or nice thing to do—but it’s really not.
Why? You mean, I really shouldn’t comment on someone’s weight loss? Isn’t that rude if I don’t commend their efforts and hard work and newly achieved status now that they’re part of the thin world?
Nope. I highly encourage you to say nothing and here’s why.
Firstly, you don’t know how—or why—she lost weight.
Let’s say you notice that someone’s body has changed. Her cheekbones are more defined. Her waistline is smaller. You can tell that she’s lost weight! You immediately begin heaping on the praise. But hold on a sec—maybe she lost weight because she’s grieving a devastating loss in her life, like the death of a loved one, an ugly break-up or divorce, and has lost her appetite due to grief. Maybe she’s battling cancer. Maybe she has a serious gastro-intestinal disease. Maybe she has developed an eating disorder, like anorexia, bulimia, or orthorexia. Maybe she’s a survivor of sexual assault, or rape, and has lost weight due to PTSD. Despite how “great” someone may look, they might be going through a horrific ordeal and your praise is not only unwelcome, but out of place.
Or, maybe she lost weight because she went on a diet. Well, diets almost never lead to long-term weight loss. Very few people (almost none, basically unicorns) can maintain diet-induced weight loss for a period of two-five years or longer. The rare unicorns who can usually do so at the expense of their mental sanity—they are completely obsessed with food and food related thoughts. By praising someone for going on a diet, you’re heaping additional pressure on their shoulders to keep off the weight they’ve lost, which is virtually impossible. Plus, they’ll likely feel badly about themselves when they do eventually gain weight and reflect back on all the people who stopped to notice when they did lose weight. Your friend may be thinking, geez, if I look so great now, what did she think of me before?
Before you praise someone for losing weight, stop and consider how your words might harm them. I know you likely mean well, but let’s take a look at some things to say that will actually help your friend’s overall wellness.
The next time you see a friend or family member, try giving a compliment that has nothing to do with their weight. For example:
“You’re so creative. I love how your mind works.”
“You’re really glowing, tell me what’s great in your life right now!”
“You’re hysterical! You should seriously do stand-up comedy.”
“I always look forward to reading the articles that you write in the school newsletter. You really have a way with words.”
“I admire the way you parent your kids. You’re so nurturing and patient.”
“I love how you’re always doing spontaneous things—like packing up and taking a road trip at the last minute. You inspire me!”
Or, simply say, “I’ve missed you!” or, “It’s great to see you. How are you doing?” And really listen to their answer.
Because in the end, being heard—and being seen for who you truly are on the inside, not the outside—is so much more valuable than receiving superficial praise about your body.
Being heard & being seen for who you truly are on the inside, not the outside, is so much more valuable than receiving superficial praise about your body. -Andrea Dow (Click to Tweet!)
Text a non-weight-related compliment to your best friend right now. Give your daughter or son a compliment that has nothing to do with how cute or pretty they look today.
Let’s create a world where, “oh my gosh, you look so skinnnnnnnny!” is no longer considered the highest form of praise.
Andrea Dow is a certified life coach, certified yoga instructor, a certified pilates instructor, and was a teacher-trainer with Power Pilates. She specializes in helping moms end food restriction and the diet/binge cycle with a Health at Every Size (HAES), and Intuitive Eating approach, so that her clients can finally find peace with their bodies and stop obsessing about their food. She is passionate about getting clients to participate in joyful movement and strives to enhance her client’s emotional and social wellbeing.
Image courtesy of CoWomen.