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Why You Shouldn't 'Compliment' Others About Their Weight

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Recently I had an exchange with someone at work that simultaneously made my eyes widen and my heart sink. I believe it’s worth sharing because there’s a message beneath it.

It was a Tuesday afternoon. I was walking down the hall. Ahead of me was a coworker I’ve known for years. Someone I cross paths with almost daily. What seemed like out of nowhere, she said to me:

“You look strange.”

Confused by what I’d heard, I said, “What?”

”You look smaller. You lost weight.” Her hands gestured from wide to narrow.

Truthfully, my reaction to this comment is a blur because I was so taken aback.

She continued: “You are smaller than you were before. You look more beautiful.”

These words reverberated inside my brain, almost leaving me speechless. I don’t remember my exact response. But I know I was able to remain composed, which for me is a huge win.

My coworker didn’t know, but I’m seven years into anorexia recovery. In my journey, I’ve come to learn that healing isn’t a destination, nor is it linear. There’s no living life without knowing the intimate reality of how anorexia impacted me.

It has been 11 days since this person made that comment to me. I suspect it’s on my mind still because it felt like such an unwarranted and objectifying opinion placed on my body. It felt not OK on a visceral level. I recall in that moment soothing myself with these words: “She’s just projecting her own body insecurity onto you. This has nothing to do with your body. You are OK.” I continued about my day. Her words lingered.

For someone who has walked through anorexia, this comment wasn’t just a trigger, it felt like a threat. I can’t un-feel or forget the trauma and memory of my body shutting down. Of lying in bed wondering if I’d wake up the next morning. Of barely being able to make it through the day because my body was so tired and weak.

While I may remain composed, it has taken many years of therapy and inner work to overcome what goes on inside after a comment like that. For me, losing weight does not represent wearing a different pant size… it was a matter of living or not. In moments such as these, I can’t help but wonder: Did I lose weight? Was there something wrong with my body before? Should I lose weight? I feel disconnected from reality. And from my body.

The danger of comments such as those is that part of me gets pleasure by the idea of being smaller. It feels like the eating disorder wants to sneak up on me again. But another part of me is terrified by the thought of losing weight without meaning to. Both scenarios feel unsafe. And frankly, I think it’s heartbreaking to live in a world that praises me for looking smaller. What about looking happy? Or strong? Or healthy?

My previous self would have wanted to skip meals after that comment. I would have punished myself through grueling workouts and felt worthless afterward, disturbed by my own body.

But I’ve learned.

Others will project their pain and self-doubt onto you, even if it’s in words disguised by “compliments.” If you really pay attention, others will reveal their own insecurities even if they don’t realize it. This does not make their words or actions OK. The truth is:

I am not immune to comments about my body. I shouldn’t have to be, either.

My body is good. Not because of the way I look. But because of who I am.
My body does not define my worth. It reflects it.
My body is beautiful not because of its shape or size. But because it is my home.

Same for you.

This comment was so far off from honoring what my body is, and that is why it felt so disrespectful. My body’s sense of worth cannot be taken away by another’s inability to see their own self-worth—or mine. I believe my coworker had no intention of being hurtful or detrimental. I believe she had no idea how her comment made me feel. However, it did make me realize just how little we can know about someone based off their appearance. It made me rethink that quote: “Be kind to everyone, because you don’t know what hidden battles they are facing.”

Our words are powerful.

Sometimes I miss the innocent young girl I was before anorexia. But I believe in silver linings.

I believe every person who is struggling with an eating disorder has an inner strength that is insurmountable. It takes relentless courage to overcome the very thing that is telling you to starve yourself. Where every day is a struggle. Every meal. Every bite.

But that strength and courage is the beauty and purpose of healing.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Originally published: September 6, 2021
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