The Fine Line Between Compliment and Judgement

In all the years I’ve written about weight issues, I’ve never addressed the “compliment.” I thought I had, but I checked the archives and, nope, not a word. I know I’ve had that conversation with all of you before, but it was a conversation only in my head, apparently.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about weight issues, mostly because weight lives more in the periphery than the forefront of my life these days. It’s still there. I can see it. But lately I’m more concerned about crossing my legs before I sneeze than what I weigh.

I’m bringing weight back into the conversation here, though, for a few blogs, maybe more, and it is sparked by a recent meeting with a friend I haven’t seen in many months. When she got out of her car, she was notably thinner. I didn’t say anything about it. Instead, I complimented the necklace she was wearing, a lovely triple circle diamond pendant. She said she bought it for herself as a reward for losing weight. She explained that at her last doctor’s visit, her blood pressure was up and she wanted to try to control it through diet and exercise. Considering she is 59 and post-menopausal, that’s no small feat, so extra kudos to her for her success.

I didn’t want to say anything about her obvious weight loss for a few reasons, one being that if she lost weight because she’s sick, that is her story to tell and not my business to neb. The other reason is that I’m careful offering “compliments” regarding any changes I notice about someone’s physical appearance, particularly when it’s clear(ish) that they’ve lost weight. It’s usually without malicious intent that someone says, “You look great! Have you lost weight?” But often what the recipient hears (or at least internalizes) is, “You weren’t good enough before.”

In recent years, people like Lizzo, Kelly Clarkson, Chrissy Metz, and Rebel Wilson have shut down weight critics, but they also admit that the comments still hurt sometimes. And their body acceptance doesn’t mean that everyone’s lovin’ on their own bodies all of a sudden, either. How someone looks still equals approval. Everything we wear (or don’t wear), what we put on our face, all that we weigh and the way we age… what we look like, and especially what we weigh, is important to someone other than ourselves, often people closest to us, even though it’s none of their business.

One example I will remember forever happened while planning my daughter’s wedding back in the days when I was actively losing weight. I was looking for someone to make cupcakes and a small wedding cake. Several friends recommended a woman who baked cakes out of her home. I made an appointment and went to talk to her.

She’d never met me and so of course had no idea I once weighed more than 300 pounds. At the time, I weighed about 170, and if it was the first time you had ever seen me, the thought might cross your mind that I was overweight. We sat down at her dining room table – the woman, me, and the woman’s 20-something daughter, whose leg was in a large metal brace.

After some brief chit-chat, and apropos of absolutely nothing, the woman outright apologized to me for her daughter’s weight. I was speechless, and the poor girl looked mortified. But she seemed used to her mother’s behavior and launched into an explanation (read: she was apologizing, too) about how she used to be on some high school sports team when she was in a horrific accident that crushed her leg. Subsequently, she spent months in rehab, and, apparently, gaining weight. Her mother then said…and I’m sure you can guess what’s coming…“She has such a pretty face, doesn’t she? If only…” and at that moment, I thought I was going to lose my sh*t all over her unforgivable parenting a@@, but I didn’t. I just smiled at the girl and told her how sorry I was. I didn’t get specific.

So what does this have to do with complimenting someone who has lost weight? Everything. Anytime we comment on someone’s weight, we’re making a judgement, even if we mean it in the most sincere, kind way. I know some of you might think it would be rude to ignore the obvious, and really, who doesn’t want to compliment a friend? I get that, and I’ve learned to frame a comment in a way that starts a conversation. Saying something like, “I notice you’ve lost weight. What made you decide to do that?” allows the person to talk about their feelings about their weight rather than us interjecting our feelings (as sincere as they might be) about their weight first.

Just know, if you lose weight because you want to, I support you. But also know this: you look great, you are great, just the way you are right now. Don’t let anyone (especially someone who’s supposed to love you) tell you otherwise. Trust me. As an ex-member of the Pretty Face Club, I know what I’m talking about.

 

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