"Ooh, have you lost weight?!"
I saw someone who I hadn't seen for a while I was out and about on my daily walk yesterday. The first thing they said was "Wow you look so healthy!". Lovely stuff, can't beat a little health related compliment whilst in the middle of a pandemic. Usually people only say that to me after I've washed my hair which goes to show how much of a rare occasion that is. However, the comment was immediately followed by "Have you lost weight?!", and it made my tummy flip. It prompted me to think again about why it's so important to encourage and empower women (because it's mostly women) to move away from making comments, regardless of whether the comments are complements, about someone else's body shape or weight.
We live in a culture that is inseparable from 'diet culture'. Diet culture has emerged as a term to encompass all the explicit and implicit ways we're constantly told that thinness equals health, happiness and moral virtue. 'Losing weight' has become something that an enormous number of us spend our entire lives trying to do. Moralising food and ascribing it 'healthy' or 'unhealthy', 'good' or 'bad', 'junk' or 'superfood' statuses impacts the choices we make about food and the way we feel after we've eaten, sometimes our behaviours too. How many times have you heard someone say "ah no, no chocolate for me! I'm trying to be good." or "I deserve this snack because I went to the gym today' or, conversely, "I don't want to undo all of my hard work in the gym by eating that." Hopefully you can start to see the issue with these kinds of statements, and appreciate the damage that this way of thinking can have on ourselves and the people (especially children) listening to us. Language matters. So much!
As soon as you start to notice how often weight-loss or body shape is mentioned in conversation, you will hopefully see how important it is to start challenging diet culture. Even when intended in the nicest and kindest way possible, asking someone if they've lost weight perpetuates the belief that weight-loss is a positive thing. I think our go-to assumption is that noticeable weight loss is the result of intentional efforts in the gym and with a diet, but it could just as easily be a consequence of illness, stress, anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder. I've been more open about my own experience of an eating disorder in recent months and I wonder what would have happened if I'd responded to the question yesterday with "oh yes I have lost weight. I've actually got an eating disorder." Apart from being absolutely cringingly awkward for both parties, it just goes to show that we must stop using weight as a measure of someone's health.
It's not just commenting on other people's weight that is damaging. As soon as the announcement for the Road Map out of lockdown was made, my social media was covered with posts about people either being self-deprecating about their lockdown weight gain and posting memes of people in fat bodies to represent how they were feeling, or posting about their new diets and the renewed fervour in which they were approaching their home workouts. More often than not, the posts were intended to be funny and jokey, however the underlying message is SO damaging. Newsflash: we're in a pandemic. We've spent a year coping with huge changes to almost every aspect of our lives. Our bodies may well have changed too. It's not exactly a surprise that when our lifestyles dramatically change, our bodies also change. It's not a bad thing. It's just a fact. Your current self may look a bit different but it's not 'bad' or 'wrong' or 'ugly'. It's you. I hope with all my heart that you don't really believe that in order to resume 'normal' life, you need to go on a diet. If you genuinely do, please please try to be kind to yourself ❤️ But, either way, please don't jump on the weight loss meme sharing trend. It's just so rubbishy.
Aside from perpetuating diet culture and subscribing to the faulty belief that weight loss is something to be celebrated, rewarded, and talked about, commenting on someone's weight may also affect the way that people feel in your company. If weight loss/gain is something that you comment on, your friends may start to feel on edge or under scrutiny when they are with you. I can think of a number of people for whom I would think particularly hard about my outfit prior to seeing them, or who I could almost put money on some weight related comment cropping up in their conversation. You probably can too. It's simply a result of this diet culture I keep referring to. Someone's visible appearance is something that we can't avoid seeing and observing. We do have eyes after all... However, if you verbally point out weight changes in other people, it says a lot about your own internalised 'fatphobia' (the fear of fatness which can lead to discrimination and harm), and might make the people around you uncomfortable. Matt Haig posted a really thought provoking comment after Meghan and Harry's Oprah interview: 'Actual Meghan Markle is not gonna see your snide comments saying you don't believe that she was suicidal, but your mates who have been in the past will, and they'll know to never come to you for help.' It's an important reminder to just. be. kind. and it works very similarly when talking about weight. If someone constantly comments on other people's weight loss or weight gain, it becomes fairly apparent that they aren't a safe person to talk to about body image, food issues or more general personal/health issues.
If you think about the people you love most in the world, how much of that love is dependant on their weight. Do you love them more when they're slim? Or do you love them absolutely irrespective of what they look like on the outside? You need to start believing that the reason why people love you is not because of what you look like either! It's easier said than done because we live in a society that celebrates and rewards people for being slim and we don't have a huge amount of control over that. However, we do have control over what comes out of our mouths and how we chose to act. I would encourage you to make a conscious choice to firstly, avoid making weight related comments about yourself or anyone else in the future, and secondly, to challenge your family and friends if/when they do. And in the words of @bodiposipanda, here are 10 things you can compliment instead of weight loss:
Their dedication to The Sims
Over n' out for now! My blog output has dwindled to about 1 per month which feels a bit more sustainable for me at the moment. As always, please let me know what you think as I am always inspired and encouraged by your stories, experiences and thoughts.