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Dear well-meaning people,
Hi there. Our names are Brandilyn and Cara. We are two food freedom and body image coaches. And we have a very bold request of you: stop congratulating people on losing weight.
We would love for you to eliminate all comments like: “You’re looking so thin these days!” “Have you been hitting the gym?” “Wow, you look great! Did you lose weight?” from your verbal repertoire.
We said it was bold!
Now, we’re quite sure that your intentions are great and you want to give a nice compliment to someone; that’s beautiful, we’re here for that!
And we would like you to consider that congratulating people on losing weight is not the best way to do that and it is in fact harmful.
Hear us out.
While it might not be the case for everyone, we both developed eating disorders after trying to lose a few pounds because we realized how much our culture, and the people in our lives, valued thinness and weight loss (and we’re not alone, one in four dieters goes on to develop disordered eating or an eating disorder) with many more developing some type of food issue.
We’re writing this article to share with you the potential harm done by a culture that unconditionally congratulates weight loss and to invite you to consider no longer making comments on people’s body-size and weight.
Oppression is not just enacted through overt acts of discrimination and violence. The arguably more dangerous type of oppression (the type that paves the way for the more overt, egregious acts) is the routinized, banal, everyday oppression that sneaks its way into our thoughts, our conversations, and our vocabulary.
When we compliment someone on weight-loss, we likely assume we are doing a nice thing and acknowledging a pursuit of health, and while that might be true in some cases, it’s not for all. We might be celebrating the myth that thinness is best no matter what, which reinforces systems of discrimination that have a profoundly negative ripple effect.
Below are eight reasons why you should no longer compliment weight-loss:
1. It implies all weight loss is good and all weight gain is bad regardless of the cause.
Some people might lose weight because of getting sick or from a mental health issue like anxiety or depression, and that is a little weird to compliment. Others might gain weight because they are recovering from getting sick or recovering from a mental health issue like an eating disorder, and that feels a little weird to judge negatively. Some weight gain is a sign of increased health.
2. You could be reinforcing self-harm and health negating behaviors.
Some people lose weight because they are starving themselves, undereating, over-exercising, taking diet-pills or abusing Adderall, throwing up, or any other number of harmful behaviors. And if you don’t truly know the truth behind the weight-loss, that compliment could push someone further into self-harm.
3. You are implying that thinner bodies are better bodies.
Not only does this reflect your inner fat-phobia, but it will make any of your fat friends feel worse about themselves, and research shows that weight-stigma leads to a decrease in health, depression, and eating disorders.
4. You imply that a person’s value goes up as their body size goes down.
This further attaches people’s worth to their weight and contributes to the belief system that your appearance is more important than who you are. Whether you mean to or not, you are drawing attention to something that is far less important than who a person is. You might make this person feel that your affection is conditional based on how they look.
5. You risk this person thinking you thought they were disappointing or wrong before the weight loss.
It might also make them extremely fearful of gaining weight which could lead to self-harming behaviors because if you judge them positively for losing weight, it implies you will judge them negatively for gaining weight. Either way, complimenting weight loss reinforces a hierarchy of bodies, and regardless of where you land in the line-up, it’s oppressive, even to those at the top.
6. If the person gains back the weight and the praise stops, they will likely have a decrease in self-esteem and self-worth. They will likely end up fearing judgment from you and others.
This could lead to the person’s mental health declining or lead to them isolating themselves and skip out on social events, which has a negative ripple effect on overall well-being. The shame could trigger binge eating and get caught in the restrict-binge cycle.
7. Your comments could cause further body shame or anxiety for someone else who hears or sees the comments.
When you make any comment about any type of body, it implies something about all bodies, whether it’s your intention or not. It could be letting your fat friends know that you think their body is a problem to be fixed or not good enough the way it is.
8. You unknowingly reinforce a system of oppression rooted in racism, patriarchy, and white supremacy.
One hundred years before we started worrying about weight as it relates to health, we started attaching thinness to whiteness and a way of attaining higher status. As Dr. Sabrina Strings points out in her book, Fearing the Black Body, anti-fatness was first and foremost about anti-blackness and anti-femaleness. Fat-phobia was and always has been a way of maintaining the oppressive power structures inherent in capitalism, colonialism, the patriarchy, and an objectifying culture that values profit over people, and values some people’s lives more than others.
Although it is commonplace to congratulate weight loss in our culture, as you can see, it can be a really dangerous thing to do. Instead of complimenting someone on weight loss, here are some other ways to compliment someone that has nothing to do with weight or appearance:
“Your energy is so vibrant today.”
“I admire that you’ve been taking really good care of yourself.”
“I love being around you, you always make me feel so happy.”
“You are an amazing friend, you’re so loyal.”
“I am so inspired by your passion and work towards your dreams.”
“You’re so funny/smart/insightful.”
If you are going to compliment someone, we encourage you to do so in a way that lets people know that you value them as more than a body and that your affection and praise isn’t based on the condition that they are smaller.
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