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As a child, I was told that I was going to get fat eventually since everyone in our family was bigger. That constant threat really messed up my relationship with food leading to disordered eating. It’s only just now at 37 years old that I feel like I’ve finally figured out what works for me. Six months ago, I gave up sugar and flour mostly for health reasons (sugar and gluten cause inflammation and I had chronic pain issues) but the side effect was that I lost a lot of weight. It’s a privileged place to be in, of course, being able to afford to eat the way I do and I’m grateful. I’m also happy to be in a place where I’m eating whatever healthy foods I want whenever I’m hungry, and I don’t feel compelled to weigh myself or count calories. I feel comfortable for the first time ever with my body.
But no one else does. At first, people were like “You look great! What’s your secret?” but that has slowly turned into “You’re too thin”, “You’re losing weight too quickly”, “You’re disappearing”, and on and on. Why can’t people figure out that it’s best not to comment on people’s bodies at all? Even if you’re telling someone they’re too thin.
Here are a few reasons why:
You Don’t Know Their Story
A lot of people have complicated relationships with food, myself included. The last thing that I want to do is talk to someone about my weight loss or weight gain or whatever is happening at the time. For a lot of people, commenting on their weight can be triggering. There’s nothing more triggering for a person with a history of anorexia than positive reinforcement about their weight loss.
You Don’t Know if the Weight Change was Purposeful
Many health problems cause weight loss or weight gain. It’s quite possible that that woman who’s lost 50 pounds in your office has lost that weight because she has a major medical condition. Imagine how she feels when you go up to her and say “You look great! What’s your secret?”. It’s almost like you’re saying that it took getting seriously ill for her to look good. In my case, people want to know why I lost weight which means I have to get into the whole thing about my chronic pain which is nobody’s business.
It’s Just Intrusive
Women, more than men, are subjected to constant critique of their bodies and intrusive behavior by others. Take pregnancy for example, women have no bodily autonomy during pregnancy. People feel like it’s perfectly acceptable to walk right up to you and touch your stomach. But with weight changes, men also are subject to analysis. My partner has lost a significant amount of weight since we changed our eating habits six months ago and he has been jokingly accused of “being a heroin addict”, being on a “crack diet”, “wasting away”, and on and on. His annoyance with people’s commentary on his weight amuses me in a certain way because as a man, he’s never dealt with this level of interest in his body and as a woman, I’m used to it. But why should we be used to it? It’s intrusive AF when people think they can comment on the size and shape of your body which is a very personal thing.
Ultimately You’re Still Just Fat Shaming
When people go on about how great I look now that I’ve lost weight or they make the “skinny bitch” comments, the implication continues to be that skinny is good and fat is bad. When you praise thinness, the implication is that fatness is bad. As long as our culture continues to think of the size and shape of bodies in this way, we will continue to have the issues with body image that we have. Praising people for their thinness boils down to more pressure to be thin and a reminder for fat people that in our culture, there is something wrong with their bodies.
But What About the Children?
One of the most important things we can all do to help children have a better body image is to not focus on bodies on the time. I try really hard never to talk about my body size or about anyone else’s body around my daughters because they absorb the messages that we send about body acceptance. If you’re talking about someone’s body in a positive or negative way, that prompts young people to wonder what this all means about their bodies. If a child hears their mother saying that that woman over there has really gotten fat, how is that child going to feel if they gain weight when they hit puberty?
Basically what it comes down to is that everyone should just shut the fuck up when it comes to other people’s weight and body shape. There is one instance when you can talk about someone’s weight — when they mention it. If someone says to you, “I’ve lost 20 pounds and I feel great”, feel free to cheer them on and encourage them since you have been invited into that conversation. If someone tells you that they’ve put a few pounds on and are loving their curves, give them a high five and tell them that’s awesome. But, otherwise, it’s really none of your business.