health

'Please, I'm asking you. Stop complimenting me on my body.'

I’ve spent most of my life self-conscious about my weight. Whether I’m in my "ideal weight" range or the "clinically obese" range (though I have serious reservations about any of these labels), I have always seen myself as fat. And, thanks to diet culture, it wasn’t a stretch to see myself as ugly and unworthy because of my size.

My weight has fluctuated over the years, and I’ll be honest: I’ve always loved the attention I get when I lose weight. Neighbours, friends, even the lifeguard at my gym’s pool. Any time someone says, "Wow, you look great!" I glow. 

It can be hard work to lose weight. When someone recognises the results of my efforts, I feel validated. But that’s not the end of the story, and we all know it. 


Video via Mamamia.

The world has taught me for my entire life that the smaller I am and the less space I take up, the more value I have. I want people to notice when I lose weight. I expect them to notice. And I want to hear about it. Compliments tell me more than, "You’ve worked hard and I recognise that."

They say, "You’re more acceptable this way," and, "You’re prettier when you’re thin," and, "This is the right way to be." And of course I want to feel accepted, pretty, and right. Who wouldn’t?

But the fact that we’ve been conditioned all our lives to derive our worth from our looks is a problem that’s been passed on from one generation to the next, causing endless strife.

This is why, while I want to hear your compliments  —  because I’m so desperate to hear you say how fantastic I look — I’m asking you: Stop. Stop complimenting me on my body. Stop commenting on my body at all. Please, just stop.

There are many possible reasons for weight changes.

Maybe they are battling unhealthy thought patterns. People living with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder have disordered relationships and distorted thoughts about food, weight, and body image. Outside encouragement to lose weight can be seen as validating these thought distortions and perpetuating their psychological battle.

Or, perhaps they were pregnant but lost the baby before announcing the pregnancy. It happens more often than you might realise; imagine being praised for weight loss while grieving the life you are no longer carrying inside you. 

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They might be suffering with a physical illness. Steroids that treat cancer and other illnesses often cause weight gain, while other treatments or the progression of the sickness can result in weight loss. Complimenting the weight loss of someone who is sick or dying is the ultimate form of tone deafness. 

Also, some people just accept their bodies as they are. They understand weight fluctuation is a normal part of life; they enjoy their meals without obsessing over every morsel, and they realise their worth is not tied to their size. This mindset is becoming more normalised, but we have a long way to go.

Shift your mindset to offer genuine compliments.

Oh my goodness, Nicci, does this mean I can’t pay you a simple compliment?

No. No, it does not. If you truly want to compliment me, you can do so in a way that acknowledges my inherent value without providing commentary on my body size and shape.

Compliment my sweater. Point out how my new makeup brings out my eyes, or how fresh my hairstyle is. Tell me how much you love the way I harmonised with Justin Bieber on the radio just now.

Better yet, find something you love about me and tell me about it. Am I easy to talk to, because I intuit the things you leave unspoken? Do I always know whether to give you advice or let you vent? Does my perceptiveness and social commentary help you better understand people? Between one of these compliments and "Wow, you look great!" the former would stay with me longer and I would appreciate it more.

You’ll find that when you begin to highlight things you admire and appreciate about people rather than handing out surface-level throwaway compliments, your mindset will begin to change. You’ll begin noticing the bias in the commentary you hear around you. You’ll begin to see your friends for more than how they look, and they’ll notice.

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The discourse needs to change, and you can help.

How we talk about body shape and size is in need of a serious overhaul. Even when we’re not making judgmental (positive or negative) comments directly to people, the conversation about people’s size still goes on. 

I’ve got two daughters. Though no one has ever said anything directly about their weight or size, both of them have internalised the judgment society places on weight. They only need to walk down a grocery store aisle or watch a popular television show to see what society wants us to believe is the proper way to look, and to start tallying how their own bodies do or don’t measure up. 

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"Don’t worry about what other people think," I say to them, just as my parents said to me. But that’s easier said than done. The more we talk about other people’s bodies, the more we normalise the fact that someone’s body is anyone’s business but their own. This commentary reinforces society’s unrealistic standards of beauty and sends many unhealthy messages, including that it’s okay to judge someone by the way they look.

Unless they tell you, you’ve got no way of knowing what someone else is going through. Even words that are meant to be encouraging can expose wounds you don’t know are there.

I get it. Looks are the first thing we notice about people. So, when we meet after a few months or years, you’ll notice if my weight has changed since the last time you saw me. I’ll probably have a different haircut, too, or a new clothing style. Maybe a nice manicure.

But who I am lies underneath all that, and if you want to pay me a true compliment, you’re going to have to dig deeper.

Nicci is an author, teacher, and mother living in Boston with her husband and children. Some of her hobbies are singing in the car, escaping from rooms, dreaming about a full night’s sleep, and perpetual cleaning. Along with sharing personal stories from all corners of her life, she writes books and short stories. Look for her debut novel, tentatively titled The Other Women, coming in 2022. For more from Nicci, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on @kadilakwrites, or find her at her website: http://niccikadilak.com/

Feature Image: Getty.

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