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Can We Please Stop Complimenting People for This?

I just listened to an episode of the Yoga Is Dead Podcast called “Vegans Killed Yoga.” I didn’t expect to have such a strong reaction to it, but I definitely did. The part that resonated most strongly with me was the common practice of equating thinness with wellness. In yoga, we often see white, thin, strong women as the ideal “yoga body.” Obviously, there is no yoga body. But that isn’t always easy to remember. And I think everybody (and especially anybody with influence in the wellness industry) needs to actively work to dismantle this idea. In this episode, they did a great job of discussing how often being heavier is often healthy, while losing weight can be a sign of unhealthy habits or a symptom of disease.

People often lose weight when they get cancer, or while on medication for many different diseases. Additionally, some people lose weight because of unhealthy eating habits: maybe they restrict their eating and aren’t giving themselves enough fuel and nutrients for their body to be healthy. For me personally, this has really been an issue lately. When I was extremely sick with a chronic illness for the past two years, my weight fluctuated. At the beginning, I gained weight because I stopped almost all physical activity because it was too painful to even walk to class. But more recently, I’ve been losing weight.

As I’ve lost weight, I’ve been more hyperaware of comments surrounding my weight. Some people have complimented me on it, “Wow, you’ve lost weight recently,” or “You look so much healthier now.” Other people have made comments implying that everyone should lose weight — when a cousin sent a picture of the pre-packaged breakfasts she was given at college during COVID, another relative responded, “Well at least you won’t have to worry about gaining weight.”

When I hear those comments, part of me immediately realizes it’s wrong. I want to speak up, but usually I don’t. And I think the reason I don’t is because I still partially believe that thinness is the ideal. Even though I know that the way I’ve lost weight hasn’t been healthy, a part of me is happy that they’ve noticed. It feels like a compliment: like they’re acknowledging the work I’ve done.

Even if they’re complimenting me on “looking strong,” I don’t like it because I know they’re still referring to this unrealistic ideal. But I am grateful when people acknowledge the work that I’ve done, not in the way that it’s changed my body, but in the way that it’s enabled me to live a healthier lifestyle. I’ve gotten stronger not because of changing my diet, but because of hiking more, running and doing yoga daily. And that is something I’m proud of and something I’m grateful to be able to do. Doing these things makes me feel strong and healthy, and I believe that is great.

However, I will not accept any “compliments” about how my body looks. Because while I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve also lost weight that I shouldn’t have lost. I’ve lost weight because I started a new medication that made me so nauseous I couldn’t stand the thought of food, and would have to force myself to eat small things throughout the day so I won’t pass out. There’s nothing healthy about that. And I’ve lost weight because I’ve had a really bad sore throat for a long time which makes me not want to eat. And that’s not healthy either.

When people compliment me on how my body looks, it doesn’t matter if they’re complimenting me on my weight or the fact that I look “stronger.” It isn’t OK. Because they don’t know the story, they’re only comparing me to what they see as the ideal.

I’m writing this article as a reminder to myself and to others. I don’t need to share my story when I’m “complimented” about my weight loss. And even though a part of me appreciates the compliment because it feels good to match the ideal of “strength” or “wellness,” I am trying to practice being more aware of the problems that come from these messages and start conversations. Try to take a few minutes today to reflect on your thoughts about wellness. What does a healthy body look like to you? Is that what your body actually looks like when it feels its best?

Follow this journey on Purple Garlic

Getty image via Iuliia Komarova