Recently, I attended a social event and I witnessed an exchange between two women that occurs so frequently that most people would never recognize the potentially negative consequences. I watched on as the first woman greeted and hugged her friend before pushing back and exclaiming,
“You look amazing, have you lost weight?”
While many would interpret this exchange as innnocent, there lies a darker element to this mindless question that often goes unrecognized. For people who are affected by body dysmorphia, eating disorders, or harbor any general insecurity, this type of comment can have devastating consequences.
By asking point-blank, “You look great, have you lost weight?”, you are asserting that they look great because they have lost this weight, and as such, their appearance previously was somehow inferior. Suddenly, weight and weight loss become a barometer for attractiveness and their self-worth. What you may not realize is that perhaps they were perfectly content with their figure prior, and now are suddenly acutely aware of a negative personal trait that may have been a non-issue for them in the first place. Even worse, the person commenting on this, regardless of their intent, does not recognize why their friend has suddenly lost this weight, or how this comment will affect them moving forward.
As weight loss is nearly ubiquitously recognized as something to be celebrated, it is easy to neglect human sensitivity to the subject. What people often do not acknowledge is that someone's weight loss could be the result of a chronic disease that they have recently been diagnosed with. The weight loss could be a result of lost appetite due to grief over the loss of a loved one. I have witnessed both of these scenarios first-hand and neither were particularly thrilled by their circumstances, regardless of their newly loose-fitting clothes.
Beyond the potentially challenging source of someone’s weight loss, the effects of a comment like this can be irreparable. Not only is it uncomfortable for someone to draw attention to one's appearance, but it may also reinforce or even illuminate insecurities that they were not aware of in the first place. While you are praising someone for this “accomplishment”, you may be the catalyst for someone’s lifelong struggle with an eating disorder. You never know when your praise of your friend's slim-down after a nasty bout with the flu could lead to an endless battle with anorexia that she won't win. It has happened and it can happen again.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As harmless as these comments may seem, you never know the origin or the potential lasting effects these details can have on someone’s life. Rather, we should take the weight off of a person’s weight and focus on complimenting who they are as people, their accomplishments or their strength. Let's begin with adjectives such as intelligent, glowing, healthy, strong, and happy and end the narrative there, leaving weight as a neutral element--not good, not bad, not ugly.
At the end of the day, weight should carry no value beyond its place on the scale, because human worth cannot and should not be confined to a number.