“You look like you lost weight!” I don’t know why people think this (or any variation on this) is an acceptable compliment. I really, really don’t.
I had a girlfriend once who had me in the gym between 3 and 5 days a week, eating flavorless shit and being generally worried about everything I put in my body. I looked good, but to be honest, I was pretty miserable.
“Don’t worry,” she’d say, “I’ll want you no matter how you look.” But she only really praised the way I looked when I was at my thinnest, and would make comments specific to the weight I had lost. Relatedly, the number of times I have expressed interest in a woman and heard, “Oh, she’s looking for somebody…um…athletic,” or something to that effect, which is just like saying, “You’re too pudgy for this one, move on,” is officially too many.
Perhaps most scarring, the only compliment my mother has ever given me on my appearance, since childhood, has been about my weight (or, when I’ve just gotten it cut, my hair). Growing up, my entire understanding of my physical attractiveness was based on my weight, and my perspective is not unique.
Now, I know that we live in a world where “thin” is somehow synonymous with “attractive,” and that fat is considered unattractive, gross, unhealthy, etc. There are lots of blog posts and articles about that, and lots of people much more willing to have the argument about how fat doesn’t automatically mean unhealthy, unattractive, or gross, so I don’t really intend to delve into that discussion. Rather, I am going to discuss this so-called compliment.
“You look like you lost weight!” and “Have you lost weight? You look great!” and “Are you on a diet? Because you look fantastic!” are all, despite whatever encouragement and good feeling are behind them, backhanded compliments.
1. It unnecessarily enforces the “thinner is better” idea.
2. It suggests that the person was insufficiently attractive before the weight was lost.
3. It suggests that the person is only attractive because the weight was lost.
4. If no weight was actually lost, it suggests that the person only looks good to you at the moment because they happen to look a little thinner.
Before you accuse me of being oversensitive, consider just how stigmatized even a little extra weight is. Look at television, magazines, the requirement that men be perfectly cut bodies, the transition of Angelina Jolie from gorgeous curvy vixen to bony, underfed Hollywood victim. Look at fashion—not just the models, but the way that clothes are designed for the thin. Look at how fat people are portrayed in movies and television, as either evil or comic relief.
Now think about this supposed compliment. Why couldn’t you just say, “You look amazing/beautiful/gorgeous!” or, “How handsome are you, is that a new shirt?” or, “Hot damn!” Why would you mitigate a compliment with the suggestion that an individual looks that way because of his or her weight? Even if it’s true. Regardless of whether you think that fat is ugly, and regardless of whether you actually think that this person only looks good because he or she has lost weight, why not just compliment him or her? Why not remember that part of what makes this peson attractive is personality, smile, eyes, hair, dimples, and so on, and so forth? Why not forget which size jeans this person wears for the seconds it takes to compliment him or her?
You don’t need to put your assumptions about beauty and health on your friend’s plate—believe it or not, we overweight types don’t want to eat everything that is put in front of us. Reconsider your choice of words. Compliment the person, not the size.
January 10, 2012 | Categories: Body Image, Dating, Food, Observations, Relationships | Tags: appearance, bodies, body image, communication, compliments, dating, desire, fat, flirting, friends, friendship, manners, overweight, physical attractiveness, Rejection, sex, sexy, social awkwardness, weight, women | 22 Comments »