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What You Need to Know Before You Tell Someone 'You Look So Skinny!'

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Weight has always been a sensitive subject for me. I’ve never been super skinny, and always compared myself to the other girls growing up. My pediatrician once called me “big-boned,” and that stuck with me. I felt like because I had a tummy and wasn’t the smallest size, I wasn’t as pretty as the other girls.

Even so, I only really started worrying about my weight when I was 14, after my first major medical episode. I was on steroids and other heavy medication, which caused me to gain back the weight I had lost while in the hospital.

That kicked off several years of making sure to exercise every day, weighing myself every morning, and calorie counting. I tried to be “healthy,” but I know it was a bit of an obsession. Plus, I typically gained any weight I had lost back pretty quickly, usually due to medication again. Chronic illness meant I really could not control my weight, despite my attempts to do so.

When I got to college, somehow my weight stopped bothering me. Maybe it was because I didn’t have a scale with me in the dorm, or that I was so busy with my classes, new friends, and all sorts of activities. I was happy, so my weight didn’t matter.

My body image issues never went away completely, but they quieted down. My weight was no longer a subject I felt the need to vent about, and it just wasn’t on my mind anymore. That is, until my latest round of medical issues.

I am currently in the process of trying to figure out what is wrong with my esophagus. One of the first specialists I saw had me stop eating gluten and dairy. Right away, people noticed. My well-meaning friends would tell me how good I looked, which brought back the old thought process of wondering if I looked bad before.

My diet and medication have changed many times this year, so my weight has been a bit of a roller coaster. I’ve made a conscious decision to continue not to weigh myself, except at the doctor’s. I pretty much judge my body size by how I fit into my clothes (currently everything is loose again). I’m actually comfortable with how I look now, and do not want a number on a scale to influence that.

This is me, on a recent beach trip. I used to shy away from full-body pictures, but I'm learning to embrace my figure, no matter what its size is at that moment.
This is me, on a recent beach trip. I used to shy away from full-body pictures, but I’m learning to embrace my figure, no matter what its size is at that moment.

Now I am preparing for surgery on my esophagus, which will hopefully help me feel better in the long run. The surgery will require me to be on a liquid diet for at least two weeks after, which means I will most likely lose more weight. Since at this point there isn’t so much weight to lose, my doctor said it would be good if I tried to eat more protein and gain a bit before the surgery.

Most people would love to hear they have to gain weight for medical reasons. I, however, don’t like focusing on my weight at all. It’s also easier said than done, since my esophagus isn’t happy with most foods. Which is why, even though I’m trying, my weight isn’t going up. I’m still getting the “You look so skinny!” exclamations from friends and colleagues, and I know those will continue after the surgery.

As I continue to strive for a positive body image, I try to let any comments on my weight, positive or negative, not influence how I think about myself. I have also learned to not pay attention to the sizes on women’s clothing. I don’t let size stress me out like it used to when I was younger, trying to fit into the trendy juniors’ clothing my peers were wearing.

Commenting on my weight, even if it is supposed to be a compliment, brings with it a complicated array of emotions. Even when I know that I theoretically am at a healthy weight or think I look good, a comment can send me back into the spiral of negative thoughts. When this happens, I try to remind myself of the societal expectations that have fueled my perceptions of what is “skinny,” “overweight,” “attractive,” or “unattractive.”

Weight loss and weight gain are personal subjects you might not realize are uncomfortable for someone to talk about. If a loved one does want to talk about their weight, then of course you should listen without being judgmental. Letting them direct the conversation gives them control over their bodies, something that means a lot to someone whose weight fluctuation is beyond their direct control.

The next time you want to comment on someone’s weight, even if it is to compliment them, try to think of something else to compliment them on.

Maybe you really like their outfit, or, even better, can commend them on something beyond appearance, such as an accomplishment at work. This puts the focus on the person as a whole, instead of their physical appearance. Because you can never really know what someone is going through by just looking at their outsides.

Top image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: September 13, 2016
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