Think Twice Before You Praise Someone For Losing Weight

It’s really the most natural reaction: when we see a friend, colleague, family member, or acquaintance who has visibly lost weight, we love to say to them, “You’ve lost weight! You look great!”

These statements are usually made with the best of intentions. We are genuinely happy for them, we want to show them that their hard work and sacrifices are being noticed and deserve to be acknowledged. But I want to say something that may seem controversial: we should all think twice before acknowledging or praising someone’s visible weight loss.

Why?

First, we don’t always know how or why that person lost the weight for which we are commending them.

For example, my friend Anna has Lupus, and at one point, she rapidly lost 30 pounds in a couple months. She was constantly getting positive affirmations about how great she looked and to keep up the good work. For a number of reasons, Anna chose to keep her diagnosis confidential (to most people). So, she was caught between two worlds: one in which she had to reveal why she was losing weight, and another where she just had to grin and bear it.

Anna said, “Every time I heard those words, it was like a punch in the stomach. It not only made me feel disgusted about my body, but it also put me in a position where I wanted to share my diagnosis with people, just to shut them up.”

My cousin’s professor faced a similar dilemma when she returned to the university from summer break, having lost a visible amount of weight. She was greeted with the same seemingly positive affirmations. What no one realized was, her mother had died weeks before. Her weight loss was a result of stress.

The smiles and the effusive praise offered to these two women were in direct opposition to the pain that caused the weight loss to begin with.

And even when someone isn’t dealing with an uncontrollable circumstance, like a death in the family, or a terminal disease, we don’t know how someone arrives at his/her weight loss.

Sometimes, more often than we realize, weight loss indicates an eating disorder and/or an unhealthy body image. And our complimenting of somebody whose weight loss results from one of these diseases only adds fuel to the fire. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, ten million women and one million men are living with anorexia and/or bulimia. And it is likely that millions more are living with one of these disorders in secret; since illnesses related to food, especially bulimia, lend themselves to very secretive behavior.

So when we actively and publicly praise someone for his or her weight loss (especially young women/girls), are we praising someone for a healthy and balanced approach to living or someone who is facing a critical, mental health crisis? Are we mistakenly encouraging someone to continue a process that has allowed them to lose weight, a process that will, if gone unchecked, lead to their death?

But I’m not just talking about someone with a clinical diagnosis. Women are constantly confronted with a barrage of incredibly unhealthy body images in the media, so even if someone isn’t going as far binging, purging, and starving themselves, that doesn’t mean they don’t require the same restraint from us when it comes to their weight loss.

And even when we think we are fully aware (although we are never truly fully aware) that someone we know has been approaching their weight loss efforts in a healthy, balanced way, the way in which we praise them can inflict further pain on what is already a painful process.

We almost think it rude if we don’t say something about someone’s weight loss—as if we aren’t acknowledging his or her hard work. And along with the pounds that someone has shed, we also think that person has shed the pain of the past, that they are living in the now, when, so often, they have not.

My friend Jane, aged thirty-five, decided to lose weight because she has a family history of heart disease. She eventually lost 65 pounds over eight months. She was shocked at how people responded to her weight loss.

One good friend (a man), kept remarking how attractive she looked. “You’re so beautiful,” he would say, in animated tone.

“I had never heard these words from him before, ever. Was I just a disgusting pig before? Now I’m worthy of validation?”

And others were effusive in their praise in a way that came across as decidedly condescending.

Jane would often hear statements like, “You’re doing so great! Good for you!” And she would often hear this while the person was looking directly at her stomach and smiling.

“It makes me feel like shit, and I know their intentions are good, but it’s like I was some sort of child before. Oh, look you can control yourself now; you’re an adult! Good for you.”

My friend Ally who lost 100 pounds after two years of consistent workouts and a shift in diet, faced comments from family members like, “Oooooh, now you gotta go out and find yourself a hot boyfriend.”

How could Ally not think that her weight loss was tied to acceptance by the people, her family, who are suppose to love her and think she’s worthy, no matter what.

I’m not suggesting that we should never compliment someone on being attractive—I am not in a position to say what people definitively need or don’t need. And some people who have undergone weight loss really thrive from positive verbal support and attention. But we have to evaluate whether we’re making statements to someone that they’ve never heard from us before, statements that suggest the weight loss suddenly makes them a better, more legitimate person.

Again, it’s related to the idea that we have now made them worthy, we have given them permission to be normal or we have accepted them as normal. We think people who have lost weight have literally shed the mental and emotional baggage along with the weight. Usually, they haven’t.

Ally was also faced with attention she did not want. She went to her aunt’s birthday party and one family friend yelled from across the room, “Oh my god, look at you!”

Immediately, everyone turned and looked at her. Ally, who had for years (and still has) struggled with major insecurity, who felt such deep pain and shame about her body and her weight, was suddenly made to feel like a circus freak.

“I just want to move on with my life, not be reminded about how gross I was to people,” she told me.”

This approach, the idea that we should really evaluate what and how we are praising someone’s weight loss, before we actually say anything, is counter to what we’re taught.

I’m not saying that many people don’t want the attention and encouragement. What I’m suggesting is that it’s dangerous for us to apply this strategy, the praise that we are taught to give, across the board. Weight loss is not one size fits all and our reactions shouldn’t be either. We don’t really know what’s going on behind that weight loss…and we may never truly know.

We have to ask ourselves a question, has this person invited us into this private moment, have they engaged us in a discussion about this? Usually, the answer is “no.”

And when we do say things like, “You’re so beautiful,” when we have never said those words to that person before, what happens if they relapse, as so many people do, and they gain weight back? When we attach the word “beautiful” to their new physical form, how are they not supposed to think that with their relapse, they will be unattractive in your mind? Are they the opposite of beautiful when they no longer have that thinner body?

My friend Victoria recently lost a significant amount of weight through diet and exercise. When I saw her after a few months of not meeting, I was taken aback at her physical change. My initial reaction was to praise and congratulate her, while examining her body. But I didn’t. I gave her a hug and told her I loved her. It actually felt really awkward for me to not say anything about her weight loss, but I wanted to respect the possibility that she wanted to move on and not make a big deal about it…the thinner Victoria isn’t any different from the woman I have always loved.

And I wasn’t about to make her feel like she is.

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47 Responses to “Think Twice Before You Praise Someone For Losing Weight”

  1. Avatar of Kelly
    Kelly May 18, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    I made weight loss very complicated and now that I’ve reached and maintained a healthy weight for 15 years a few things come to mind when I read your article – one of them being that I TOTALLY agree with you that when someone comments on weight loss you feel that it was the elephant in the room before. There are so many things to compliment someone for – your article is a good reminder to get people to be more thoughtful and creative when giving out compliments that truly highlight their worth. Thanks Yashar! Kelly
    http://www.the10principles.com

  2. Avatar of gsvc
    gsvc April 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    I’m sorry, I find this so ridiculous. I’ve lost 60 pounds and have about 100 to go, and the idea that someone is going to refrain from telling me they notice it because they’re afraid to hurt my feelings is laughable. This whole thing about “Wow, was I disgusting before??” That’s just projecting how you felt about yourself onto other people and very unlikely to be what anyone else is thinking. By that logic no one can ever pay anyone a compliment about anything. “Your new haircut is fantastic!” “So you’re telling it was terrible before?!” “That sweater is lovely.” “I wore a sweater yesterday, I guess THAT one was hideous!” Sheesh.

    When friends and family, people who loved you even when you had all that extra weight, tell you how great you look, etc, they are telling you that because they love you and are pleased for you and proud of the accomplishment. Okay, if you’re losing weight because of illness or other horrible events in your life that are affecting you physically, I can see how that would be upsetting. But even so, people are simply trying to be kind. I don’t understand why people can’t just be gracious and accept a compliment in the spirit in which it was intended.

    • Avatar of aj
      aj April 23, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

      I lost 30lbs in 50 days. I lost my father. And my stepmother, who had been my second mother for 30 years, and certainly more since my mother’s passing 12 years ago. And was made the trustee and everything, I mean everything was a disaster. My Stepmother was a gross hoarder. My parents were too sick to be living in a 2200 sq ft home by themselves. They had nearly lost the house because of the filthy condition of it. I was coughing up blood while cleaning the house was so bad. I was alone and so stressed out, that even when I ate, it did nothing. So telling me how great I look, when I am so broken by the loss and all the horrible family drama that followed. Yeah. Not a compliment. How about you really look at me. See my eyes. See the pain, the sorrow and the overwhelming emotional roller coaster I am still going through daily. And then tell me how good I look. When someone only looks on the outside, that isn’t a compliment. That is evaluation of your worthiness as a stock item, chattel, property. That compliment, that evaluation, that keeping in step with a skewed perspective, a commercialized, unreal, photoshopped version of what a woman is all that I would mean to them, then that isn’t being kind. It’s judging my value as a person based on the size of clothing I wear.
      I prefer the people who honestly look at me, and see beyond the weight loss. See it isn’t a thing of joy, or choice, even if it the first thing they see. They will look for the sorrow or illness, the reason behind it. They care more for my emotional being than what size of clothing I wear. That is kindness. That is a compliment.

  3. Avatar of mizzquagmire
    mizzquagmire January 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Having lost and gained weight much of my lie, I am happy to read this article which gets to the “guts” of some of the feelings we deal with when having lost a significant amount of weight. First off, having never been made to feel worthy of anything by my own family( because, well, ya know, fat chicks just don’t rate), it made me feel like “what? I am suddenly worthy of love, friends, a man, and maybe happiness cus’ im not as fat as i was?”. Nothing makes you question yourself as a human being then losing weight and having men suddenly tell you how pretty you are and want to take you out – the same men who ignored you, pushed past you and were pretty much rude to you 30 lbs ago. Sure, you feel better physically. You look better. But inside? It becomes all about your looks. I was told by my own father time and time again that my problems( any and all of them) would go away if I lost weight. to this day, i am still insecure and no matter how thin i could ever be, I will never have faith in who i am on the inside, and – gee- how could I? Thankfully, I have a daughter – overweight, but beautiful and everything I never was. And no, she wasnt always overweight, either.. Its sad what society makes us feel about ourselves.. and sad that when we get a compliment on how good we now look, it can make us feel even more unattractive.. peace <3

  4. Avatar of elvistar
    elvistar December 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    I prefer to say things like, “You look really happy” or “That dress/pair of pants fits you really well. It’s very flattering.” That implies that they look good, but allows them to engage in a conversation about their recent weight loss, or clothing choices, or life choices if they want, or just say thanks and move on. It also doesn’t provide any judgement about how they used to look. When my mom was dying of cancer, people used to compliment her weight loss all the time. Their intentions were good, but misplaced. Plus, looking happy or wearing something flattering is universally nice to hear, even if someone is ill. Perhaps especially if they are.

  5. Avatar of marriedkitten
    marriedkitten December 6, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    In my last year in high school when I was hovering around 100lbs and so many people would come up to me and ask how did I get so thin, how jealous they were of me that I was so pretty and thin. Meanwhile I’m going, yeah, you can be this thin too, if you’re willing to starve yourself and throw up everything you eat while landing yourself in the hospital time after time.

    This was so refreshing to read, someone finally got it. Well done. :)

    • Avatar of JamieLynn
      JamieLynn December 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

      I agree, I have a friend who was being complimented by everyone on her weight loss… Little did they know she was hooked on Speed.

      I have another friend who went from a size 16 to a size 6 and everyone was so impressed until they found out she was hiding a meth addiction.

      • Avatar of roxinsox
        roxinsox February 28, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

        I had almost the opposite thing happen — I lost weight in my 20s after suffering from depression and overeating, not taking care of myself thanks to stress. I developed thyroid cancer in 2010/2011, and gained 30 lbs — pretty much everything I’d lost in my 20s. I, like the friend with lupus, didn’t make my diagnosis public, but shared only selectively. And now I *know* people are saying, “gee, she really let herself go,” even though I watch what I eat & exercise more now than I ever did. It’s frustrating to be a bigger size — I’m right at the top of regular sizes, and just like before I lost the weight, there are lots of stores I can’t shop in anymore. I don’t prefer to look this way, but I feel grateful to be me. Plus, I’m much healthier now because I no longer have CANCER. So the arguments about ‘health’ and overweight are so infuriating. I work on a university campus, and I see knock-kneed, stick-thin women traipsing about all the time, knowing that nobody has a problem with how THEY look, and they are assumed to be the picture of health, even though every woman knows the slim chance that ‘she is just born that way.” it drives me insane that if I were size 2 — which would probably mean, for me personally, that I was on death’s door — I would have no problem finding ample amounts of clothing in the latest styles, and I would receive compliments constantly for how great I looked. Thanks for this article — really good to know people are thinking about this impulse to conflate ‘good’ and ‘skinny’.

        • Avatar of mattmarion
          mattmarion April 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

          “I work on a university campus, and I see knock-kneed, stick-thin women traipsing about all the time, knowing that nobody has a problem with how THEY look, and they are assumed to be the picture of health”

          You’d be surprised there. A worldwide study attempting to find what males are really attracted to (therefore studying both men in very structured societies as well as men in tribes that had very little outside human contact (and therefore not influenced by their societies). The study found, overwhelmingly, that males are attracted to the DHA stored in women’s upper thighs combined with health. DHA is omega 3 stored in women’s upper thighs to be released as breast milk once children are born. The more DHA there is, the more the likelihood of strong and capable offspring. On top of that, for the female to have so much stored DHA, she must have consumed a good deal of omega 3 fatty acids and therefore is likely to be quite strong, intelligent and healthy herself (and therefore prime candidate for child birthing and rearing, the purpose of attraction).

          In other words, there’s a reason men read playboy and not vogue and it’s not the boobs, it’s that playmates often look far more like real, average, curvy women than the straight stick like, sick looking models that make up the fashion industry. Here’s the thing, it’s much easier for a clothing company to make just a few different versions of an outfit than to try to cater to the immense number of different female body possibilities out there. As in, set up the “standard” of beauty as non-curvy, skinny stick and you only have to make a couple sizes that are small and therefore take less time and material.

          I also saw a study where they took a stick thin woman that didn’t have much of a hip to waist ratio and an overweight woman with what they had found was the most desired ratio. The overweight lady was approached by far more men than the skinny one even though the common belief was the opposite (hence the test).

  6. Avatar of sindhoorichicken
    sindhoorichicken December 4, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    Yashar,

    What are your thoughts on the damage that obesity/being overweight does to one’s health? I agree that there’s no need to inflict additional emotional damage to a person by associating “fatness” with some kind of failure of character… but there is no denying that excessive calorie intake and an excessive amount of body fat combined with inactivity lead to adverse health outcomes. Diabetes and heart disease are horrible things to have: and ultimately lead to significant worsening of people’s quality of life. From a societal point of view, these medical issues end up costing everyone in terms of health care dollars. I don’t think we ought to make people feel bad about their weight. Can you think of a way to address the social responsibility we all have to help our peers live healthy lifestyles without making them feel bad?

    • Avatar of LoveWitchYo
      LoveWitchYo April 2, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      You cannot tell by looking at someone whether their weight, be it under, over, or ideal, is the result of a healthy lifestyle. I had an unfortunate period where I was put on steroids for chronic health issues for several years. This caused me to gain 25kgs even though I was eating a rigorously healthy diet, under the guidance of a dietition and my Dr. I was also, as always, maintaining regular physical exercise.
      I can’t tell you how sick I got of people looking at me with disgust as though my weight was due to sloth while I knew many slim people who lived very unhealthy lives.
      Just be nice to people until you know them.
      If you know people who eat poorly and do not exercise then discuss healthy lifestyles with them, as someone who cares about them and wants them to stay around and have good health.
      If you don’t know someone well enough to know why they may be under or over weight then hold back your judgement they never help.

  7. Avatar of Polimicks
    Polimicks November 23, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    Several years ago I had surgery that necessitated five months of prescription laxative use. I lost a bunch of weight. I was also in constant pain, sick all the time, lost most of my hair, was an unhealthy shade of grey, and couldn’t walk more than half a block without having to stop to catch my breath.

    But I was losing weight, so people kept “praising” me.

    Do you have any idea how incredibly horrible it was to know that people valued my weight loss over any of the other terrible things that were going on. I mean, it’s not like my hair wasn’t noticeably thinner, I’d lost some of it in chunks. I couldn’t walk down a hallway without a hand on the wall, for fear of falling over… But that’s ok, I was getting thinner. Go me!

    Seriously, find something else to compliment, it’s not that hard. Clothing choice, hairstyle, shoes, or “You look awesome!” delivered genuinely.

  8. Avatar of kraftykeely
    kraftykeely November 10, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    I agree with so much of what you said. The issue is that it is very circumstantial, but it is important to remember that people are the same no matter how much they weigh, they still have the same heart. I’ve been on a weight loss journey (kind of slacking recently) and lost about 25 pounds. I have some body image issues with the way my parents dealt with my being overweight when I was younger, so it was especially difficult for me to hear my dad praise my weight loss, in my mind it simply cemented the idea that he was embarrassed by me before and thought I was fat and gross.

    I don’t think you should never praise weight loss, but it does need to be done in a way that doesn’t create the idea that you value skinny people more than overweight people.

  9. Avatar of mechanomoll
    mechanomoll November 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    Seems to me that complimenting someone’s weight LOSS would be so much less of an issue if a person could also compliment another on weight GAIN. I once had a roommate who paid no particular attention to her diet, and was so skinny, her doctor put her the stuff weight lifters take to try and get her to GAIN weight. But I can just imagine the verbal abuse I’d get if I complimented an underweight friend on gaining weight.

    Obesity is a problem. Expecting women to be no more than a size 8 is a bigger problem. And stereotyping body size is the biggest problem of all.

  10. Avatar of caiter
    caiter November 9, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    I normally find a lot in your writing to nod my head about, but this leaves me scratching my head instead.

    You have done a fine job of finding some painful examples where people’s comments hurt the person who has experienced weight loss. But I’m not sure this negates positive or neutral examples of commenting on people’s weight loss.

    What I appreciate here is the way you ask us to consider our notions of weight and worth. That’s what is most important to me, but I think rethinking weight and worth can have different applications. As you mentioned, there are people who thrive on praise and encouragement… and in the end, each person responds differently, sometimes even from one day to the next.

    I think we do ourselves no favors by reversing what you portray as our normative behavior around weight loss and starting to just not mention it. I lost nearly 40 lbs five years ago and friends hardly said a word. It’s not like I lost weight to be noticed, but I would not have minded hearing a little bit of praise. We probably do need to treat weight and weight loss with a little more gravity and sensitivity, but if we can’t even discuss it with among friends, there’s more problem-solving to do.

  11. Avatar of ekidhardt
    ekidhardt November 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    really?

    Good lord. How much of this stuff can I take.

    You’re citing 1% –the exception–to a rule and using it as evidence to think twice about complimenting those who have achieved great success in changing their life? Way to base an argument on exceptions.

    People, were you not attractive to other people because you were overweight?

    YES!!

    Jesus, sorry, that’s just the reality of it. No, you weren’t attractive. Corpulent people are NOT attractive physically. You can try to convince yourself of that otherwise.

    If you losing weight shows you TRUTH–albeit painful; take it as a lesson learned, and be happy you are now living in reality, rather than a generated world which you think other people find you alluring.

    -e

    • Avatar of Polimicks
      Polimicks November 23, 2011 at 10:07 am #

      You do realize that perceived attractiveness is subjective, yes?

      And that there are plenty of people who do find chunky, chubby and even obese people attractive, sometimes because of their weight, sometimes peoples’ weight just doesn’t matter because some people can fall in love with the person not the package.

    • Avatar of marriedkitten
      marriedkitten December 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

      You can be healthy and not a stick. My husband is overweight by society’s standards and he’s very healthy, you should see him move in the kitchen. He has run all the way from our home to his work (which is an hour and a half while walking) and then been on his feet for about 9 hours.

      Big Beautiful Women and Big Beautiful Men FTW!

      Curves rule.

  12. Avatar of Pandionna
    Pandionna October 27, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    “I feel awful about being so ungrateful to the people who I know are just trying to be nice.” Good. You should. It’s a sad day when we have to overanalyze, pick apart, and second-guess every well-meaning compliment by those who are only trying to be nice. Such thinking is self-absorbed and narcissistic. Mind-reading and walking on eggshells should not be required in one’s efforts to simply say something nice.

  13. Avatar of sarahtindell
    sarahtindell October 25, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    Thank you so much for this article. I lost around 50 pounds awhile back. I know this sounds terrible but I am SO tired of hearing about it from friends, family and co-workers. First of all, even after losing 50 pounds, I am still borderline obese with a BMI of 29. So when people gush, “OMG! Look how thin you are!” and things like that, it just seems condescending, even offensive. There is a woman at work who keeps telling me that I’m “anorexic.” Please — I’m still pretty frickin fat!

    Second, when people make such a big deal out of it, and tell me how fantastic I look over and over again, it just hammers in the fact that I must have looked really revolting before. A woman at work cornered me in the restroom and said, “You look great! You look at lot less tired! And younger!” Another person at a staff meeting told me that I am an “inspiration.” Ugh.

    Another time, I ran into a former co-worker who I hadn’t seen for a few years at a coffee shop and he just went kind of nuts, loudly telling me while we were standing in line, “You have lost a lot of weight! How much weight have you lost? Which diet are you on? The Atkins Diet? Weight Watchers? Jenny Craig? Really, you look amazing! You have really changed!” blah blah blah. It was AWFUL. I felt so humiliated in front of all these strangers who were in line with us and it felt like they were all staring at my body. I just wanted to scream at him to shut up!!!

    I feel awful about being so ungrateful to the people who I know are just trying to be nice. But I just really hate the comments and I can’t figure out a polite way to get across to people that I don’t want to discuss it.

    • Avatar of pandora
      pandora November 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

      @sarahtindell

      When I was in college I gained the frestmen-15 which in my case was the freshmen-30. I wore a size 14 and everywhere I went men and women reminded me that I was not a size 2. Then I went abroad as a student to France for a year and gained more weight and arrived back in the U.S. as a size 16 and 190 lbs, the weight diatribe got worse.

      So in one semester I took 6 P.E. classes. No I’m not kidding. I will NEVER do that to myself again. I was exhausted. I lost the weight and I put on a lot of muscle but I was SO exhausted all the time. You know what happened after that?

      Thin/Skinny people began giving me backhanded insults/compliments. “You’re so thin now you look so much better than you did before.” That’s not a compliment it’s an insult designed to make the person scared to ever gain another freakin pound again.
      I really resented those “compliments.” Then I had other people who were not thin and would be considered plus-sized themselves doing similar things. “Yay! You don’t have fat arms anymore.” Yes several plus-sized people really said this to me. That’s not a compliment either.

      That happened in the mid90′s. Now I don’t care what I weigh. I just care if my clothes fit and if I feel comfortable. I wear anything from a size 7 to a size 10. I’ve found that my new found confidence bothers other people. I’ve received insult/compliments from skinny people and big people. If they are acquaintances or people I don’t have a sustained relationship with, I usually put them in their place by verbally sparring with them.
      If it’s a close family friend or a family member then I sit down and discuss it with them.

      I’ve found that in both situations gaslighting is used and the reaction is similar to the reaction people of color and the LGBT community receive when they call out racism or homophobia when they see it. The situations are similar and the reactions are as well. The person who is commenting on fat that is called out on their BS, makes the issue about them..how narcissistic of them, instead of apologizing and learning from the experience. The same goes with racism or homophobia; the person who made the unintentional racist/sexist/homophobic comment will make the situation about themselves and not apologize. No one wants to be caught with their pants down. No one wants to be caught with their ugly showing as well intentioned as it is. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      “You look great, you’ve lost weight!” is considered a compliment but it is also an insult because it’s unconsciously validating the person’s worth based on weight. What they are really saying is, “You look great, you’ve finally been allowed to enter the exclusive club of the thin.” or “You look great, now I can be around you more.” or “You look great, aren’t you happy that you are normal now?”

      Weren’t they wonderful people before they lost weight?

      And even though I’m an athlete now, I have dated guys of all shapes and sizes. I have never discriminated against men based on their sizes or heighth, which makes me an outlier. I’ve dated guys who were shorter than me, taller than me, fat, chubby, buff, extremely skinny, average build. I promised myself that I wouldn’t be one of those bitches who loses weight and becomes a hypocrite afterwards.

      Sorry my comments are so verbose but this topic gets me talking because I’ve been at the receiving end of it.

  14. Avatar of editor_extraordinaire
    editor_extraordinaire October 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Thank you for this – it’s refreshing to read something that resonates with such truth, in a world where image (at least where women are concerned) tends to take a front seat to character and achievements.
    Not to mention that it struck a very personal chord with me, having lost a significant amount of weight earlier this year, and witnessing the ways in which it has transformed my life – for the better, slightly, though in most ways for the worse.
    While the first bit of weight loss was due largely to the stress of a high pressure job and the conclusion of an emotionally abusive relationship, it was perpetuated by these ‘positive’ responses from friends, colleagues and, naturally, the opposite sex. In fact, it’s interesting to note that, while greater attention from men was an expected outcome, I even found myself getting on better with women, whether in the office or in social settings. What’s more, I’ve been getting more recognition with the higher-ups at work (although, as I live in the Middle East, openly misogynistic attitudes in the workplace are more akin to the 1960s in America – we’ve got a long way to go – so this as well could have been predicted), including a slew of unexpected raises.
    The problem, of course, is that what began by accident has become an obsession fueled by these apparent social biases and expectations. I am, admittedly, obsessed with the numbers on the scale and the numbers of calories I consume. Would I have gotten to this point if not for all of the social encouragement for my rapid weight loss? Absolutely not.

    The fact of the matter is that making comments like this isn’t dangerous because it makes women think that they’re value is based solely on their appearance – the problem is that, as a society, we DO place such a value on a woman’s appearance. Men and women alike perpetuate these ideals and biases through our words and actions, whether deliberately or subconsciously. I’m the editor of a women’s lifestyle magazine, and I can honestly say that the amount of content we publish stressing image as an important quality outnumbers that which stresses character and intelligence AT LEAST two to one.

    Add to that the fact that I’ve read numerous studies showing that thin women make more money than their heavier (though no less competent) counterparts (you can toss in my anecdotal evidence to boot).

    When I was a child, the popular message for girls was to tell them that they could be loved, appreciated and accepted for their minds and hearts; as with the rest of those self-esteem teachings of a Generation Y upbringing, my entire adulthood thus far has provided nothing but evidence to the contrary.

    As a society, figuring out how to evolve past the female image obsession is a challenge for which I feel we’ve hardly scratched the surface.

    I do feel, however, that a message like yours here is a powerful, thought-provoking start.

    If nothing else, it convinced me not to skip out on dinner tonight.

  15. Avatar of yourspiritualtruth
    yourspiritualtruth October 20, 2011 at 7:08 am #

    Yashar….one important point you forgot the mention…..the serious double standard we have in this country regarding weight and gender. Women are expected to be a size 4 (or less) to be attractive and acceptable, where men can be just about any size. And not to be a brat….but I noticed that your story only mentioned women who were losing weight. Again…reflective of our society’s gender bias in regards to weight. What would happen if we went back to loving ourselves and each other just as we are – regardless of size and shape. And the media could do a WHOLE lot to help support this cause.

    Lauri Lumby
    Authentic Freedom Ministries
    http://yourspiritualtruth.com

  16. Avatar of saucyjude
    saucyjude October 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    This was an excellent and timely article. I’d like to add that this is not a problem only with praise of weight loss. Years ago I read an article on praising children with the same cautions. A 1998 article found at Stanford University (www.stanford.edu)entitled “Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s
    Motivation and Performance” confirms the problems with praise. Our reactions to praise as a child may color our reactions as an adult.
    Weight is an area that challenges our self worth. The path is often a roller coaster with ups and downs. Maintaining a weight loss can be further hampered by the praise we’ve gotten. A tricky situation best handled with love as you pointed out.

  17. Avatar of MochaMama42
    MochaMama42 October 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    “I gave her a hug and told her I loved her…but I wanted to respect the possibility that she wanted to move on and not make a big deal about it…the thinner Victoria isn’t any different from the woman I have always loved.”

    Sums it up perfectly. Thank you for your insight.

  18. Avatar of NobleExperiments
    NobleExperiments October 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    I was always taught to never say, “Oh, that’s a beautiful dress” or “you look great… you’ve lost weight” because that puts the emphasis on a thing (the dress, the weight loss) instead of the person. Saying, “you look great today!” is so much better, and true, too!

    Perhaps, as you say, we try to pick out the thing that’s catching our attention, when actually it’s a far better compliment to smile and say they look great. Who cares why?

    • Avatar of ooshrooms
      ooshrooms October 20, 2011 at 9:45 am #

      To me, general compliments like, “you look great today,” sound hollow. It’s all that can be said if there is nothing specific to compliment and someone is just trying to be nice. I personally greatly prefer hearing specific praise.

      What’s wrong with complimenting someone’s clothes? It’s not completely impersonal. Assuming the woman bought the dress herself, you’re complimenting her taste. If you know she’s lost weight through healthy diet and exorcise, you’re indirectly praising her willpower and determination, which are actually more important than appearance.

      If she’s only changed one thing since last you saw her, she’ll know that’s the focus of your compliment no matter how you say it. You needn’t avoid mentioning specific clothes, accessories, hairstyles, etc. as long as you say it right. A better way to praise the dress would be, “that dress looks beautiful on you.” That suggests the dress is not intrinsically beautiful but looks good in concert with the rest of her, which might be more accurate in addition to sounding better.

      There are benefits of being specific besides defeating my brand of skepticism. Lets say in addition to buying a new dress that looks great, a friend tried a new hair style that doesn’t really suit her face. You don’t want her to falsely think the hair was a good choice and continue wearing something unflattering, but it seems mean to tell her to her face that it looks bad. I see nothing wrong with complimenting how she looks in the dress specifically.

      Topic: Interesting. Commenting on things we don’t know enough about is dangerous for one reason or another regardless of topic. The problem you highlight here is predicated on people’s assumption that they know more than they actually do about weight loss. It doesn’t just make you look foolish but can also be insensitive to jump to conclusions about topics this personal. I imagine it’s similar to the automatic congratulations for pregnancy. I’m usually good about gathering information before passing judgement and commenting, but I have to admit I’ve been guilty of automatic weight loss praise more than once.

      I have a point people may want to think about. Health, fitness, appearance, and a host of other attributes are graded scales, not absolute goods and bads. It’s therefore more appropriate to use comparative adverbs than simple ones (in this case once you establish an individual intentionally lost weight in a healthy manner). Say, “you look more beautiful” rather than “you look beautiful.” This acknowledges the effort while cutting the implications that she used to look bad. I’m sure some people don’t want to be reminded of their former state at all, but at least some of the anguish discussed here comes from the mistaken use of simple adverbs coming across as backhanded compliments.

  19. Avatar of CL
    CL October 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    I love this post all except for one word: “relapse.” That word is so linked to addiction and illness, neither of which is the same as being fat.

  20. Avatar of daisybr
    daisybr October 18, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    Thank you. I’m recovering from an eating disorder, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been the very comments you reference. In response to these “compliments” about my physique or perceived fitness level (exercise bulimia and anorexia are my poisons) I would love to inform the person that I’m pretty sick and that no person should put themselves (or anyone else) through such self-esteem hell to look a certain way. However, like your friends, I just smile and thank the inadvertent offender. Then I wonder if I really do need to keep fighting; after all, someone just said thinner is better, right (please note sarcasm)?

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