I wrote earlier about my recent weight loss and the reactions I received from friends and family. I’m still struggling to maintain my weight and build muscle, and meanwhile I have continued to receive “compliments” about my thinness. I know that people mean well when they point out my weight loss and that it is intended to be complementary. From “you look so tiny!” to the standard “have you lost weight?” I’ve received plenty of opinions from friends and acquaintances. Some friends have expressed concern about the weight loss, knowing that it is related to my depression. Those without insight into my personal life, however, only judge by appearances. And in their eyes, weight loss = good. Skinny = healthy. Whether or not the weight was lost intentionally or healthfully doesn’t seem to cross their minds. Here’s where we run into a problem.
Too many people conflate skinny with healthy, a message that is constantly reinforced by mainstream media. In reality, weight is NOT an accurate reflection of health at all. In fact, weight is only a tiny chunk of one facet of health. There is emotional health, mental health, spiritual health, AND physical health. Physical health is only one part of it – not the whole. Let’s just go there for a minute, for kicks and giggles. If you want to talk health in relation to weight, let’s address the whole underweight vs. overweight issue. Research has shown that being underweight is actually far more life threatening than being overweight (I’m not going into eating disorders here, but information isn’t hard to find). The fear of fatness has far more to do with social ideals than with actual health risks. It is difficult but crucial for us to combat the social stigma surrounding weight and health.
Why, you ask? Well basically, fat phobia leads directly to body hatred and self-loathing among women and men, especially young women. When we celebrate weight loss as an achievement we support the idea that a person isn’t good enough until they’ve lost those last few pounds. We’re saying that their previous body was inadequate and undesirable and that they can only be truly valued with their new, smaller, body. I absolutely hate it, but people ARE treated differently based on their weight. Be it weight loss or weight gain, their bodies will be judged and consequently their worth as human beings determined. Not only is skinny viewed as healthy, it is also viewed as beautiful. Any magazine, advertisement, or film will tell you so. We’ve all seen the miniscule Victoria’s Secret models with thighs that never touch. And good for them – they fit the beauty ideal that our society prizes. But we’ve got millions of young girls comparing themselves to these models and the take home message is always the same: I NEED TO BE SKINNY TO BE BEAUTIFUL.
So, back to my story (mundane as it may be). Yes I’ve lost weight, but no, that does not indicate that I am any healthier. Nor does it indicate that I am somehow more beautiful now. My weight loss is a result of a stunted appetite that goes along with depression and anxiety. I’m not eating enough because I’m not as hungry as I usually am. Does that sound healthy to you? It’s not. Which is why I cringe inwardly when I am repeatedly reminded and “complimented” about my size. Today I was told that the reason I’m so skinny is because I’m a vegetarian (as if vegetarians don’t eat? False.) I’ll save debunking more vegetarian myths for later, but my point is that these people, many of whom don’t even know me well, feel the need to comment on my weight. Public Service Announcement: it’s not your duty to provide commentary or advice to someone regarding their weight (which you conflate with health). Unless you have a close personal relationship with the person, you really have no place making those comments. It leads to fat shaming AND thin shaming and let’s face it: it’s really none of your business.
Of course I am happy for my friends who are more comfortable in their new bodies, whether thinner or fatter or taller or wider. I want them to be happy in their own skin and to love themselves. But what I don’t want to do is make them feel like they weren’t good enough before, or that their worth is inextricably linked to their weight. This is why I don’t compliment them on weight loss. I try not to comment on their weight at all unless it is something that they want to discuss. There have been instances where I’ve worried about a friend’s well-being because of drastic weight loss or gain, but even then I question my role in the matter. Should I speak up at the risk of making them feel uncomfortable? I find it best usually to leave it alone, and only voice my concern when I truly feel it is prudent. It can be a tough situation when it comes to those we love. But the most important thing to remember is that weight is not a reflection of health and it should not be viewed as such. If you are concerned about a friend or family member’s health, ask them how they are FEELING instead of judging by their appearance.