6. Congratulating People for Losing Weight
You don’t know a person’s circumstances. Maybe she lost weight because of an illness. You also don’t know if she’ll gain the weight back (about 95 percent of people do), in which case earlier praise might feel like criticism. If someone points out that a person has lost weight, consider adding something like, “You’ve always been beautiful. I’m happy if you are happy.” But if a person doesn’t mention her weight loss, then you shouldn’t mention it either. Think of something else you can compliment.
Now, I gained a LOT of weight when I was pregnant with my first son: I was 72lbs heavier than when I started. I ate what I wanted to eat and didn’t worry a bit about weight gain — I only monitored how fast I was putting it on because if there was a sudden and large gain in weight, it could point to gestational diabetes. I didn’t have that. The weight gain started early and was quite steady.
A few days before I went into labour, I was 195lbs and a towering 5’1″. And no, I wasn’t polyhydramnios, either: a few days postpartum, when all the excess fluids suddenly leak out of the body, where you wake up and fully 1/4-1/2 of your pillow is drenched in drool and sweat (motherhood is so glamourous!), I’d only lost 12 pounds and 8.5 of that was baby. Typical weight loss with poly is 25+lbs with just the birth, so it was primarily just fat that I’d put on. That was in 2007. Without trying, I’d lost all but 10-15lbs by the time I got pregnant with my second son in 2009. During that pregnancy, I’d gained about 50lbs or so: all baby and fat. I grow good sized babies (8lbs, 8oz and 9lbs, 1oz), too.
Last summer, I went through a weird mental spell and was hypomanic for a few days on two separate occasions. Over the course of about 4 days, I barely slept and I barely ate — just enough to almost keep at bay the nausea from low blood sugar. I never fully recovered my appetite. Over the course of the following few months,
I ended up losing about 15 lbs because I just stopped eating. This is, like, the worst way to lose weight.
Don’t do this, please, if you can help it. And no one stopped to ask about that before they fell all over themselves to congratulate me on how great I looked. This is all kinds of shitty. Wanna know why?
Because I was pretty happy with how I looked before the weight loss and then, suddenly, I was tiny again. I had finally felt much closer to the sort of body I think of myself as having and then, for whatever reason, I lost it all. I will likely have to wait until I’m menopausal to gain any bit of weight because that appears to be the trajectory of my genetic makeup. And yeah, I’m kinda looking forward to it, to be perfectly honest. I’ve always felt a little dysphoric in my body, and for the most part, have always felt bigger than I physically am. Maybe it’s my personality…
But really, it’s also shitty because they were basically saying I didn’t look as good with a few extra pounds on my frame. And you know what? Fuck. That. Noise. I looked just fine, thank you very much. I’d already made peace with my arm flab and the junk in my trunk. Not having my ribs show on my décolletage? Awesome. And now, ribs. Which is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It’s just different from how I think of myself.
Case in point: Several weeks ago, I was having chest pains that were upsetting enough that I decided to go to the emergency room. If you know me, you know it must have been significant because I typically stay the hell away from hospitals, but that’s a whole other set of topics. Anyway, they couldn’t find anything, but I bring this up because while the doctor was talking to me, she called me ‘thin’. It took me by surprise because in my head, I’m still in the same body I was in before I suddenly dropped a bunch of weight. “I’m thin?” “Yes. You are.” Remembering that the outlines of my ribs now show in places, I replied confusedly, “…Oh, I guess I am…”
Honestly, though, I was seriously astounded at all the compliments I got, and during the onslaught, only one person bothered to ask how I felt. I admitted to being scared because I didn’t know why I’d lost my appetite nor whether I’d keep losing weight and revert to being underweight like I was in my early 20s. I really didn’t want that to happen. I found it disconcerting and said as much. That weight-loss was not something about which I wanted congratulations, but because of our heinous societal norms, we automatically default to thinking thinner is better. It’s not. It well and truly isn’t: I have four beautiful friends who are rail-thin. In the past, they have worked so hard to put on weight and their metabolism just refuses to do any such thing. Now, they work just to maintain and not lose anymore. I listen to them and I learn. They are not “lucky” to be so thin, as society would have us believe. Neither are they less womanly for being so thin (so none of this Real Woman crap, either, people — which I write in full awareness of having participated in that mode of thinking for many years). My friends are striving to maintain their health. They are working towards body acceptance just like many of the rest of us, no matter our size.
Another gorgeous friend of mine has been working to lose weight and she’s been successful. She’s made posts about it, feeling happy and satisfied. That’s what I focused my comment on — how happy she appeared in her photos and that I was glad she was happy. That’s the thing that matters — whether you’re happy with how you feel in your body. If you’re not, then the only thing I can say is that it’s worth exploring why you feel unhappy — would you feel sheer relief if society wasn’t cramming a different body type down your throat, and you felt fully accepted in your current birthday suit? What if cup-size didn’t matter? What if waist circumference didn’t matter? What if upper arm or ankle circumference didn’t matter? What if hip-to-waist ratio didn’t matter? What if clothing size didn’t matter? What if weight loss or weight gain didn’t matter as long as you felt healthy and your body was working well enough?
We don’t get to choose what our bodies look like (for the most part), but we get to choose how we relate to them.
I’m learning that it wouldn’t be right to tell you to love your body. That’s your personal journey. I can only speak for what I’m doing, which is working on being at home in mine. It’s what I want for myself because I’m tired of looking at my reflection and critiquing it all, feeling like I’m coming up lacking some integral quality to being beautiful. I’m not. I don’t lack anything and what I do have doesn’t diminish. There is nothing about my body that makes me unpretty. There is nothing about your body that makes you unpretty. I’m beautiful as I am, and I believe you are, too, even if you don’t think so. The thing is, contrary to nearly all the messages marketers and media put forth, it’s not really the look or size of bodies that matters. It’s how we feel inside them and how others feel around us. Those are what count. And this is what we lose sight of if we’re congratulating someone on changing their body without checking in with them to see how they feel about it. Keep your sights on target for what really counts. It’s not clothing size or numbers on a scale. It’s not quantity or lack thereof. It’s quality of existence and recognition thereof.