I know better than anyone that one’s weight is a topic fraught with sensitivity. As an anorexic teenager I loved it when people noticed my weight loss. In later years when on diets, I’ve been thrilled to receive comments on my ‘success’. Fortunately people have rarely commented on the ensuing weight gain. Nonetheless, my own angst over the issue of weight means I know it’s a friggin’ minefield and something one needs to negotiate carefully.
Nowadays I’m trying to embrace the body-acceptance way of thinking and not despise myself because of my weight. I’m also trying to acknowledge that healthy is more important than slim and self-confidence more important than how we are perceived by others.
I was out with a friend recently and she commented that her shorts were falling down. Without thinking my response was…
Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Implying of course it means she’s losing weight—which MUST be a good thing. I should note that this friend has no hangups about her weight but I know she’d like to lose a few kilograms.
Nevertheless I studied the words as they left my mouth.
I was struck with a myriad of realisations: firstly that we tend to think losing weight is a good thing. Naturally not everyone needs to lose weight. Indeed a friend of mine who’s a runner recently dealt with a lot of stress and lost weight she could ill-afford off her already lean frame. But for most people, it’s a big thumbs-up.
And, other than the obligatory congratulations which accompanies weight loss comments, there’s the unsaid but implied suggestion the loser-of-weight is ‘better’ than they were before—a new improved model.
I suspect the issue was playing on my mind because that morning I’d been out with another friend to my favourite brunch spot. One of the staff members is always super-friendly but my immediate thought—as I hadn’t been for a few weeks—was that she’d lost weight.
“Do I say something?” I wondered.
The options marinated in my mind. If she meant to lose weight, she’d be happy I noticed. But I couldn’t remember her being overweight, so if I said something will I be implying she was? What if she hasn’t lost weight? Will she think I’m saying she needs to? (As an aside, as if I would… #potkettleblack etc)
And then of course… the other dilemma: what if she was sick?
I’ve read a few articles which discuss the pros and cons of ‘commenting on weight loss’. Those who’ve worked bloody hard to drop the kilograms generally appreciate encouraging words and knowing someone’s noticed. It can give them the motivation we need to continue on their weight-loss journey.
Of course to some, congratulations on weight loss can feel like confirmation that we were indeed overweight. They suddenly worry everyone noticed and secretly thought they needed to lose weight. More importantly and on top of that…
It implies that we weren’t okay before. It feeds our assumption we need to lose weight to be socially acceptable.
Or perhaps that’s more about the way it’s done. “You’re looking good!” most certainly implies that everything which went before was not; whereas “Have you lost weight?” is a far more open-ended option. If they want to talk about it, they’ll generally offer up information which allows us to offer the positive reinforcement they may need.
Of course, I may just be overthinking this whole thing and need to stop reading online magazines. Honestly… although the internet has brought a great many wonderful things into our lives, it’s also introduced a very visible dichotomy of thinking which can be a real mindf*ck!
Do you comment on someone’s weight loss or not? Are there other factors influencing your decision?
Linking up with Essentially Jess for IBOT.
This is so funny- I was (over) thinking the same stuff on Saturday when a friend said ‘you’re looking good- have you lost weight?’ I’m know she just meant to pass a compliment, but my brain went straight to- wow, I must usually look like crap!
Absolutely… it’s so easy to jump to the negative!
I usually say, “Gosh you’re looking fit! You been running marathons or something?” which usually gets a smile and then they tell me why they’ve lost weight. If someone lost weight because they were sick or are going through stress they shouldn’t be offended I wouldn’t think. If someone has lost weight because of serious illness I think you’d see it in their face. I know what you mean about an overabundance of information these days. It makes everything okay!
The girl at the cafe looked a bit drawn and I think that was what had me wondering whether to comment—as I was thinking she may be unwell.
I’ve been on the other end of this with Grave’s disease (NOT wanting to lose weight, but did anyway) and getting pretty gaunt in Ironman training. I just figure if people comment (and they do) I tell them I have “just enough body fat” to be healthy. Don’t. Care!!! (Not at 61!)
I can imagine this would be frustrating if you struggle to keep weight on. My only experience of being too thin was when I was anorexic so even though people thought I had some terrible disease (to have lost so much weight) or thought I looked too thin… I took that as evidence I had succeeded! 😦 I wish I knew back then that I was screwing up my metabolism and mind forever…
How about instead of focusing on people’s weight we look at their state of happiness… Say., Gee you really do look well… I find that if you need to say something let’s find a positive in how everyone looks. Chances are if they aren’t looking well then they are the ones who already know that and that could just make things worse..
When I lived o/s a friend (who’d been in Europe) flew into Zimbabwe to meet me and her mother joined us there from Australia. I’d put on quite a bit of weight so was relieved when her mother greeted me with the comment that I looked so healthy! I was walking a lot, so relatively fit I guess. I sort of knew it was code for having gained weight, but it didn’t devastate me.
I can relate to this on far too many levels. My sister was anorexic growing up and I now the impact a few supposedly harmless words can have on a person. With three teen girls, I’m even more mindful.
On the other side of the scale. Having stacked on the weight due to health issues with absolutely no control over things no matter how hard I diet and exercise.. I’ve recently been accused of partaking in an all you can eat buffet quest when my reality is far from this. Worse still, it was one of my specialists that accused me. I felt like crying, pulling my hair out and killing someone all at the same time.
I completely understand this. God knows how I would have been had I been able to have kids. I would certainly have been worried about my own obsessiveness rubbing off on them (or going too far the other way!).
And yes, I’m way overweight now and even though I know that I get mortally offended if anyone mentions it. And of course rather than motivate me, it depresses me and I’m more likely to binge!
I’ve suffered from weight issues my whole life. My mother would take me shopping with her (in the 1960s) and she’d just cry, because nothing fit her. She was a size 28 and anything for that size looked horrible. she was miserable but couldn’t stop eating. VERY long story short, became a powder cocaine addict in the 80s (to lose weight, of course). It didn’t work. Been off drugs for 28 yrs. this post ISN’T asking you to congratulate me AT ALL. I would eat EVERYTHING in sight (as did my mom). Today I have the same problem. I’ve been reading about two new drugs: Naltrexone and nalmefene. Either of them combat ALL compulsions, eating (binging) drinking, drugs and gambling. I suspect this treatment will enable me to stop binging. From the personal stories of addicts who’ve used it, its a wonder drug and it works. I hope it does. I’m ready to stop the weight roller coaster
Good luck! I hope it works for you.
My husband has heard equally stupid comments about food from specialists – some of them have no real world sense of reality and are very offensive. I’m sorry they said that to you – it’s doubly hard when a specialist who you’re supposed to trust with difficult details says it.
Wow, you’ve got me thinking about all this now. I’ve always enjoyed telling people they look like they’ve lost weight because I assumed it would be taken as a compliment. But after reading this, I might lean more towards the ‘you look so healthy’ thing, rather than focus on the weight issue. With a young daughter and plenty of body image issues in my own past, I want to get this one right from the off!
I was a bit the same Laney. It wasn’t until I read something a little while ago about the flip-side of the weightloss conversation that I realised how it could be perceived (and indeed how I may have been taking it for so many years!).
LOL – you have an overly analytical mind like me Deb! I guess it is probably safest to not say anything unless you know that your friend was trying to lose weight. If that is the case then she would be thrilled to have it noticed! At my age – most of my friends are trying to lose weight. On a personal level – I have never struggled so much with my weight as I am now. Peri menopause hormonal crap is not being kind to me at all!
My weight used to sit around my bottom half Min, but now I’m in my 40s I can see more of it around my belly! 😦
Fabulous post Deb, and it’s a dilemma I often think about when I haven’t seen someone for a while, do you mention it or leave it be? If it’s a friend and you know personally that they are trying to lose the weight, it’s seen as heartfelt encouragement, but an acquaintance, I probably wouldn’t comment on it. I figure I wouldn’t bring it to attention if someone had put on weight, so suggesting they’ve lost it may not be all that welcoming either. Sometimes it’s better just to comment that they’re looking well, or looking fabulous even. A broader statement is less likely to offend I think. It’s definitely one of those situations we all face though.
I definitely like the idea of a broader statement. As I mentioned in another response, someone once said to me I looked healthy. I guess that could have been taken either way. I’d gained weight but was probably a bit fitter etc so decided to take it that way!
This is a sensitive subject for me because it is the FIRST thing my parents say to, my sisters, husband etc, and it’s not cool. Who cares if we’ve lost weight or not? I am adamant they don’t talk about weight, diets around my kids and they think I’m being sensitive but I have a shocking self image due to the constant weight that weight was given, does that even make sense? x
Oh yes, I completely understand. And as for the talk of dieting around kids. I recall in the early – mid 2000s when I was doing Weight Watchers I spent a weekend with my folks and my SIL, brother and niece. WW was (and still is) all about points so my mum and I had a few discussions about it. I was—however—horrified to hear my 5(ish) year old niece pick up a biscuit and ask me how many points were in it?!!!! Lesson learned BIG TIME!
It’s so tricky isn’t it? i must admit that I do comment if I think someone looks great, but try and put the spin on that rather than the weight loss. Having recently put on a bit of weight (no medical issues, just been lazy) I’d be mortified if someone told me I looked big. You can’t win, can you?
No… it’s certainly a difficult one Vicki!
This is such a complex subject for women or is it ? … if someone looks great, tell them. Not weight related – just say hey, you look beautiful. But remember that beauty comes from within, so when we find someone truly beautiful it’s because they are in a good place. I tend to avoid comments on weight loss or gain, unless the person has confided this to me. And I am an absolute stickler when it comes to discussing weight in any way around anyone under the age of 28 (when we come into our selves). Not mine, not theirs, not someone else’s. There is so much more to a person than their body and commenting on those attributes has a lasting effect – because those are the constants. My two cents worth 🙂
I love that approach! I grew up in such a different era. We (society) seemed far less self-aware back then. The concept of body-image or self-acceptance and HAES (health at every size) wasn’t really even on our radar. Of course now everything’s rammed at us from all directions – the good and the bad.
I must admit that I don’t comment on people’s weight unless they bring it up first. And then I do try and make the ‘health is more important than the number on the scales’ point of view. I also hate it when people say ‘You look great!’ or the old ‘Gee, you look tired’ Yeah thanks! I am friggin’ tired but thanks for telling I also look it too!!!! lol
I used to hate certain comments about what I was wearing (more so when working). “You look nice today!” Or “You’re all dressed up today!” would get me thinking I usually looked like crap or not sufficiently dressed-up. Of course, I do realise that’s my baggage not theirs and my overthinking mind was to blame! They were probably just trying to be nice or saying the first thing that came to mind!
I don’t normally comment on weight loss, purely because I usually don’t notice 😉 . I lost 5 kg last year and people that I see regularly are only just noticing, yet I haven’t lost anything in the last 6 months!
I’m a bit like you Janet and don’t often notice unless it’s a drastic weight loss. The problem with being the size I am now is that I need to lose A LOT of weight before people notice. I lost 12kg on Weight Watchers last year and it wasn’t at all noticeable!
Yes, it really is tricky to know whether you should say something or not. I think you need to treat it on a case by case basis. A friend of mine, an older woman, returned to work today from five weeks off work on a trip to Antarctica. I could tell instantly that she had lost a lot of weight and she wasn’t big to start off with. The first thing that tumbled out of my mouth was, ‘you look like you’ve lost weight’. She admitted she had lost weight from being seasick on the boat! Thankfully no one was offended, but I can see how easily it can hurt people. #teamIBOT
I do worry that I overthink it. Indeed I’d never had any qualms about telling people I thought they’d lost weight (unless they were too thin already—and again, that’s subjective!) until I started reading articles about body-acceptance and the like. Given my own history I guess I could understand how comments work not only to keep someone motivated, but also to reinforce that thin=good; fat=bad thinking!
It’s a really tricky subject. I’m trying to train myself not to mention it when I meet people trying instead to focus on other things such as how they look or something nice they’re wearing. My eldest is very thin and I’ve suggested to her she put on an extra two kg. Why? She’s currently underweight and it’s affecting her energy levels. But for her putting on weight is as hard as it is for me to lose so we have a dilemma. She’s trying to co-operate but it means eating far more than normal and she’s not happy with that. No, she’s not anorexic, just naturally thin.
The other event that began my journey to not talking about other people’s weight (except for my friend who I hadn’t seen for a while and had lost five dress sizes, but I knew she was losing weight on purpose) is when I mentioned to a friend some years ago about how good she was looking since she lost weight. Not a good comment as she had a disease that eats the flesh from your bones before it kills you, no-one had told me and she died some months later.
Oh no! (On both accounts Suzie!)
I (only vaguely) knew someone once who lost a huge amount of weight and when I commented I naturally asked their secret… (
hopingassuming they knew some magic trick I didn’t!) and they were very curt in their response. I later discovered they’d had weight loss surgery but were reticent to share that fact, so they struggled with their response when asked.
It’s a very fine line isn’t it? Personally I have lost 25kg over the past 6 months and love people making comments as it does give me motivation to continue and I was under no misapprehension I was well and truly overweight. If my weight loss was due to illness I would be less comfortable with comments of course and would probably accept the observation without going into detail. It can be embarrassing when ladies are asked when they are due and this did happen to a friend of mine. She was not impressed at all.
Thank god the ‘Are you pregnant?’ thing has only happened to me once and I wasn’t that big at the time. I had gained some weight but was also wearing something which was a bit like a maternity dress!
Well done on your weight loss efforts!
Last year when I dropped a heap of weight in a short amount of time I got quite a few comments. They were mostly in a concerned, slightly horrified manner. I was too thin and knew it but they didn’t make me feel bad. They actually made me realise that there were lots of people who cared for me. And that’s kind of nice.
I was trying to be subtle in using you as my example in the post Char! And that is nice that people were worried. I think it’s also good that you were aware, but given everything happening at the time, struggling to regain any weight.
My mum’s lost a bit of weight lately and had quite a few comments. In fact (I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this….) she started to get a bit paranoid that something was wrong with her – that she’d lost more weight than she realised etc. Since some heart troubles late last year and continuing into this year, she’s made more of a concerted effort to be healthier without going crazy and I think that’s the difference.
I think if it’s a friend who you know the details of their struggles then it’s ok to comment. Politely. I wish I had told a ‘friend’ to $%^& off a year or two after high school when she said to me one day “my dad thinks you’re getting fat”.
I had a similar comment when I was young. I’m not sure I’d even put on much weight but someone (an adult who wasn’t the teacher) at ballet said something and I was only 11 or 12 or so but have remembered it to this day.
PS. and that was just casual jazz ballet classes. Not the proper thing!
This is a tricky one! If I have been working hard and have lost weight, I kind of want people to notice. But then, I am realllly sensitive to mainly my mum making lots of comments, because it has that “you look so good NOW” flavour to it! Now? How crap did I look before?
Oh yes… I hear ya!
I think if you know that someone is on a weight loss journey it’s totally okay to comment on the weight loss. I’ve recently lost 14kgs (with a lot more to go) and I LOVE it when people tell me they can tell I’ve lost weight, it really motivates me and pushes me to keep going but I agree with you it can be a touchy subject with some people.
Oh yes I can relate to that Michelle. Not the weight loss recently, but the pleasure when others notice!
The older I get the less likely I am to comment on weightloss because sometimes I myself go into a nnegative tail spin over such comments. Ridiculous I know. Also I just hate the whole pressure to be thin. I think that it is healthier to embrace what we have and work on other aspects of health. The weight usually follows. Eating disorders are heart breaking and way too common!
Yes… I’m still hoping I eventually get back to some normal(ish) weight and normal(ish) eating patterns just by caring more about myself and making sensible decisions….