In a world where our body obsession has reached critical mass, and the media monitors celebrity bodies like they’re public property, I want to reiterate my position on how to compliment someone on their weight loss.
My position is: you don’t.
You don’t tell a person who has lost weight that their weight loss is ‘goals.’ That they’re ‘so tiny.’
Or even worse, that they ‘look a lot better.’ Yikes. Don’t do that, please.
I recently put up this Instagram post from Jessica Simpson, on my Facebook.
My caption was that I found it extremely uncomfortable that she had put this image up on her social feeds, in particular because she has a well-known history of overexercising, diet pill addiction, and disordered eating.
Even more uncomfortable was that scrolling through the comments on her post was like a dumpster fire of people ignoring her history to compliment her extreme thinness.
I realize that losing weight is hard work, and yes, many people want to give or receive acknowledgement for that hard work.
Ultimately, how you approach this situation is up to you, but before you say anything, there are some things to consider.
Commenting on weight loss reinforces the thinking that thin is good, and fat is bad.
Why do we regard weight loss as something positive and worthy of our attention? When somebody gains weight, we don’t comment.
We don’t compliment them on how much fatter they look or ask them what diet they’re following.
Why do we fall all over ourselves when someone loses weight, thinking that it’s such a fabulous achievement that supposedly everyone is aiming for?
Why is fat bad, and thin good? How did we get here?
Why is calling somebody ‘fat’ an insult, while calling someone ‘thin,’ a compliment?
It’s a learned behavior, taught to us by a culture that reveres thinness. Let’s not contribute to that narrative.
If our society wasn’t so incredibly messed up about weight and bodies and looks and fat versus thin, we wouldn’t give a thought to how thin a person’s body is.
Maybe we’d start complimenting them on – and talking about – things that are actually more interesting and meaningful, like how happy they look (which, by the way, is a great alternative to the ‘you’ve lost weight, you look great!’ compliment).
Or, what a great friend they are, or the great things they’ve achieved off the scale.
And while we’re at it, by taking the step to compliment someone on their weight loss, what are you implying about the way they looked before?
What if they gain the weight back, do you take the compliment back?
It’s sort of like telling your friend that you always hated her ex-boyfriend, and then they get back together. Awkward.
You don’t know why they’ve lost weight.
Sure, some weight loss might be intentional, but what if it’s not? What if that person is going through a really stressful time, or if they’re sick with a sinister disease that you don’t know about?
What if something is actually wrong?
This one applies especially to those people who you don’t know well. If you’re not into every corner of a person’s personal life, don’t start assuming that they’ve intentionally lost weight, or that they’re happy about it.
Commenting on someone’s body size is intrusive and gross.
If you’re dying to say something, ‘you look great today!’ is a lot better than ‘you look skinny!’ Honestly, bodies are private property. Stay off, don’t trespass.
It might seem like everyone would happily accept a compliment about how thin they look, but that’s actually not true.
Especially if you don’t know someone well, commenting on their body is a bit skeevy. (Here are 6 things about food and weight you should never say to anyone)
Sometimes I think that these body-centric comments aren’t even about the person who lost weight, they’re actually about the person who’s dishing them out and how they feel about themselves.
More times than not, when I’ve received these comments, they appear to come from a place of dissatisfaction and wistfulness.
As in, ‘you’re so tiny! I wish I looked like that!’.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that someone who’s comfortable with their own body really doesn’t need to comment on somebody else’s, because they don’t really care about how everybody else looks.
I have a sneaking suspicion that if you’re constantly commenting to other people about how they’ve lost weight, you should probably turn those thoughts inward to see what’s really going on with you.
And maybe the bigger lesson here is to stop comparing yourself to other people and start making steps towards loving yourself (and minding your own business, that too).
You have no idea who or what could be triggered
If the weight loss is the product of an eating disorder (and no, you might not know that a person has one, even if they look ‘normal,’ or even if you’re friends) or, the person has a predisposition to or history of disordered eating, a comment about how thin they look can be a major trigger.
It can trigger them to want to lose more weight, and it can also cause them serious anxiety.
Let’s step away from the ‘weight loss is always good, because thin = better’ mindset.
It’s not only untrue, it’s completely none of your business what somebody else weighs and why. We need to take the focus off of weight and put it on what really matters.
If you’re wondering how to compliment someone on their weight loss, take a step back. Tell them that they’re a great friend; a beautiful person, or a good cook.
Tell them you love to see that smile on their face, or that they look happy.
Not everyone is trying to lose weight: more and more people are focusing on their overall health and figuring out that weight does not equal worth.
Finally. Let’s support that and stop acting like weight loss is the holy grail for everyone.
Whether it is or it isn’t, just keep your eyes – and your body comments – to yourself.