So what’s my beef with complimenting a women on her weight loss?
Well, this actually stems from a recent personal experience. A couple of weeks ago I was at the gym and a fellow gym goer whom I see quite often told me that I looked good and it looked like I lost some weight. Truth be told I got mad about that. You see, I wasn’t trying to lose weight. In fact, I’m on a quest to accept myself just as I am because I have been hating my body for so long. I think I’ve been doing pretty well, loving myself exactly as I am.
The reason that I got upset about the compliment was that I was not actively trying to lose weight and on top of that I was going through some really stressful events which in turn caused me to have next to zero appetite for about three to four weeks. I had to consciously tell myself to eat each day even when I didn’t want to and I still wasn’t able to consume what my body normally requires to flourish. The result was that I started to feel run down, slightly ill, and apparently lose some weight (which I cannot confirm because I don’t weight myself anymore). So the apparent weight loss came from a really unhealthy place, which in my opinion does not warrant a compliment.
But theres more...
There’s a pervasive virus that we are all infected with and it causes women try any means necessary to lose weight and attain some ideal body composition (and she’s labeled crazy if that’s not her goal). For the vast majority of us, this is a reality, we are in the throws of the fever, we are on the weight loss bandwagon. For a few, the virus has either not taken hold or the virus has been triumphantly defeated.
There is no ideal body composition despite what is being advertised to you via the media and medical field. Every, single body has a different ideal composition and weight. So this is where the trouble lies, the assumption that weight loss is the ultimate goal to health and happiness.
Why exactly is a compliment about one’s weight loss potentially so damaging?
The answer is because of the virus. Let me break this down for you. By complimenting a woman’s weight loss you actively confirm and spread the virus called, “to be loved and accepted, I must be skinny, pretty, and young.” Here is how the virus perpetuates and lives on...
When you compliment a woman on her weight loss, the damage is caused in the following ways:
- You don’t know how or why a woman has lost weight and regardless of how or why, complimenting her on what she has lost subconsciously tells her that her worth is rooted in her weight. To be loved, adored, and accepted is contingent upon how much she weighs.
- Even though you mean well, you are unconsciously telling her that the way she was before she lost the weight was not good enough and not deserving. To lose weight, puts her in a better category and thus makes her more accepted.
- When a woman is losing weight from a place of deprivation and body hate, the compliment reinforces her behavior. It’s like a drug, she gets high on the compliment and goes on along the path of self destruction by continuing to restrict calories and hate herself into some future ideal. The most dangerous aspect of this cycle is the person who has anorexic and bulimic behaviors because women challenged with these issues are often seeking acceptance and/or control and the compliment adds gasoline to the fire. “If I restrict or purge more, that will make people like me more, etc.”
- A woman may be on a very strict eating and exercise regimen and when she receives a compliment, it can easily be the green light to binge. She binges because she's attained a subgoal within the big goal and that equates to a reward which is often food. What happens after a binge? Guilt for over eating and self hate creep in rapidly and her self esteem plummets, she rejects herself and she spins into another cycle of extreme restriction and self punishing exercise to undo her transgressions. She becomes a perpetual slave to the virus that is “I am not good enough, I am not thin enough, I cannot be loved and accepted as I am, therefore I must take control of my eating and exercise patterns again.”
- For women who are very thin, especially those with very low body fat, a compliment on the state of her body may be reinforcing problematic biological and mental conditions. These can include the lack of her period (a body that is too low in body fat will shut off the possibility of baring a child because she could not support the growth of a child at such a low weight), hormonal imbalances, fear of certain food groups or macronutrients such as fat or carbs, unhealthy eating rituals, unhealthy exercising rituals, nutrient deficiencies, and even the unconscious fear of pleasurable experiences and fulfilling relationships.
- A weight loss compliment can damage the feminine aspect of the woman. Weight loss, as society preaches, requires a very linear and masculine hard line approach to success. The feminine within us is the part that flourishes on nourishment and pleasure. Dieting and exercise are rarely nourishing nor pleasurable and these feminine qualities become diminished and punished through such behaviors, therefore the woman is directly diminishing and punishing herself.
- Lastly, if a woman has children, especially girls, and she is affected in any of the preceding ways by a compliment, she spreads that mindset to her children. Children are excellent observers and sponges of information but they are very poor interpreters. They will believe and model the behaviors and thought patterns that their mothers exhibit verbally, visually, and subconsciously. Young girls will take on the same patterns of societal expectation, self hate, and disordered approaches to food and body as their mothers.
That being said, how do you compliment a woman?
Well, I think you need to know your audience. Do you really know her reason behind her weight loss? Is the root cause because she's looking for love and acceptance from outside sources? If so, then you can be the judge of how to respond. I don’t tend to compliment weight loss per se, but rather I focus on a person’s energy level, their confidence level, how vibrant and healthful they look, and how alive they feel to me. What’s important to me is not someone’s weight but rather their health and their zest for life. A person can be quite healthy with a few extra pounds, it’s all in how they treat themselves, carry themselves and the confidence that they carry.
The deeper lesson in all this?
I believe that we really need to be aware of how deeply intrenched our society is with this obsession with weight, and we need to take a step back and reconsider how important weight is when it comes to a person’s value. We also need to be aware of how our approach to weight affects the survival and growth of the “self worth” virus. Do you want to be the antidote to the virus or will you continue to help it perpetuate?