Jenny Kanevsky sends the weight loss question packing.
You run into a friend you haven’t seen in a few months. They look thinner. You exclaim “Wow! Have you lost weight?” thinking, this is a compliment. Heck, who doesn’t want thinner? Everyone wants thinner, right? I’ve been on both sides of this question. Guess what? It is not a compliment.
Think about it. The flip side is, you were once thought of as fat. Asking “Have you lost weight?” or making an observation—any observation—about the size of a person’s body is not a compliment. It’s also none of your damn business.
Stop and think about some of the reasons people may lose weight. One may be by conscious choice. They may exercise. They may count calories. Or, maybe they have cancer and be undergoing chemotherapy. Maybe they are going through a contentious divorce and are so distraught they cannot eat. Maybe they just lost a loved one. What if, instead of noticing that they had lost weight, you noticed they looked heavier? Weight gain is common when someone is ill, experiencing stress, has lost a loved one, or their body has simply changed. Would you greet a friend with “Wow! Have you gained weight?” No.
The size of another’s body does not, in any way, impact your relationship with them. If it matters how they look, and not who they are in your life, then perhaps this post is not for you. We are not the size of our bodies. We are the content of our hearts.
It is a loaded question, “Have you lost weight?” I have been on both sides, yes, guilty, and I am calling a moratorium on the whole damn thing. In that past, when I asked, I meant it as a compliment. But body image and body shaming need to stop. The size and shape of our bodies does not determine our worth. This is not the message to send to our friends, ourselves, our daughters and sons. Body size does not equal value.
As someone blessed with a solid foundation, I have been on the receiving end of the question far more. And I know how it feels. It’s as if someone just said “Wow, your new haircut looks so much better than before, I mean, it was OK but now, it’s so much better.” It’s a no-win, horrible feeling. So, you’re saying, I needed to lose weight, you noticed that about me. I needed to change; and now I am better. If I gain it back, will you judge me again? How does that work?
When I am asked this question, even today, my first feeling is a twinge of relief, or joy, or something good. I don’t want to feel it, I don’t like that I feel it, but that’s what happens. That’s done. In writing this, I am going to (try to) cleanse myself of that feeling.
I grew up thinking there was something wrong with my body. I was chubby. Wait, I was told I was chubby and I was put on diets. Food was restricted. There was “good” food and “bad” food. As was the norm for girls of my generation, I developed an eating disorder. I struggled for decades. I am doing well, but I sometimes fall into negative self-talk. I don’t diet now. Ever. That is a victory. But, I still work to accept who I am, to be in my bones and my skin the way I was born to be.
If I hadn’t been body shamed, I’d have developed a healthy body image. But, instead, my eating was watched and monitored. And, I developed an eating disorder. And, I became a chronic dieter. I tried every diet known to man. I did the Scarsdale diet, Weight Watchers, run-of-the-mill-restricting-until-you-feel-faint, Atkins, Cabbage Soup, Green Smoothie. I could go on and on. The one consistency with these diets was not only that I lost weight; it was that when I stopped, and I always did, I binged. I made up for lost time.
Diets don’t work. They do not work. Finally, in my college years, and with only minor relapses since then, I started doing what I needed to do all along. I listened to my body’s own hunger cues. I ate what felt good and what fueled me.
Today, I enjoy indulgences in moderation and, fortunately, I love healthy food, so it’s easy to eat salads, whole grains, chicken, and fish. I also love steak and potatoes, and pasta. So, I eat them. And I love desserts, but in small doses. Too much sugar makes me sick. Too much anything makes me sick; as it does most people.
Asking “Have you lost weight?” is typically followed by a compliment like “you look great,” or “good for you.” But at that point, it’s too late. The question itself is not a proper compliment. It’s backhanded at best, an insult at worst. It says: “You looked fat—and therefore bad—before.” Or, “You needed to change, so, phew, thank goodness you have.” Or, “I’ve been watching your body size. Be on alert.”
Let’s start with the word “fat.” Let’s not use that word. How about, my body doesn’t look like the bodies of other women you see, i.e., models, actresses, or any other people who are not me?
Unless I brought it up, or you are my physician—and it’s a health issue, the size of my body is not your concern.
I have finally learned to like my body. It has made two babies. It has lived in several countries. It has done amazing things, this body. I’m on a medication that causes weight gain. Without it, I’d be so depressed I couldn’t function, so that extra 10 pounds, while not welcome, is my life raft. Ultimately, my weight is none of your business. That question could easily be a flat out insult. It implies that I looked bad before and now I’m better, more visually appealing. Just, better.
The next time someone asks me “Have you lost weight?” I will change the narrative. “It’s great to see you,” I will say. I will redirect the conversation away from how my body looks to who I am in that moment, to how I want to relate to them. And the next time I see a friend who has slimmed down, or gained weight, or gone bald, or in anyway changed their physical appearance, I will tell them I’ve missed them, or they look so happy, it’s been too damn long.
And, now, when you see someone you’ve missed, or haven’t seen in awhile, maybe something is different, you can just say “Hey, it’s good to see you!” But, leave it at that, even if you’re thinking, wow, she’s lost 10 pounds! Re-train your brain. Think instead about how happy he looks, or about how much you missed him. Think. If the response is “Thanks, I’ve lost 10 pounds, I feel great,” you can say, “I’m glad you’re feeling good about yourself. Good for you.”
No more asking that question. Be thoughtful. Let’s change the narrative.