Complimenting Someone On Their Weight Loss Is Just Plain Rude

Natalie Slaughter

Don’t be that jerk.

We’re taught a lot about so-called healthy living, growing up in the world. Smoking and overindulging in alcohol are ‘bad’, jogging and eating salads are ‘good’. The ever-changing food pyramid represents how much of which things we should be eating, and we’re taught that being fat is one of the worst things you can possibly be, especially if you’re a woman.

See, unlike a lot of health issues, being fat is a visible sign of your failure to conform to a really strange idea we all have that bodies have to look a certain way in order to be considered healthy. Hilariously, the majority of the people who slam fat folks for being ‘unhealthy’ don’t even actually know what health truly means – their nice circular definition is basically just that it’s “not fat”.

That being understood by our general cultural standards, it’s not altogether surprising that we’re compelled to compliment someone when they lose weight. We want to congratulate them on something that obviously must have been intentional – I mean, who would want to stay fat? It’s easy to see how our minds make a connection between ‘this person has lost weight’ and ‘they will take it as flattery if I praise them for it’. But that mindset is inherently wrong.

For one, it starts off with the incredibly insulting simplistic premise of ‘fat bad, weight loss good’. Why, exactly, do we think that? Why is it our jobs (especially women’s jobs) to make sure we’re thin and pretty? We can wrap it in health issues all we like, but we know the real reason: we’re supposed to stay pretty for men. Or any of our partners, really – as a member of queer society I can tell you that having a thin and/or visibly muscular body is definitely considered a selling point. Because that’s what these things are, right? Selling points. It turns us into cattle to be measured and quantified to determine if we measure up to some weird standard we don’t even fully understand. It’s basically saying that, by default, there’s a range of bodies that are inherently less valuable than other bodies, that this value is always alterable, and that if you are not actively altering this body, you are a lesser person.

Never assume you know the story behind someone's weight loss.
Never assume you know the story behind someone’s weight loss.

Secondly, and perhaps most poignantly, this flawed premise assumes that commenting on weight loss is a compliment by default. But have you ever been so poor that you had to feed yourself and one other person on $20 a month? Because I have. I lost a lot of weight that month and it was kind of disgusting how many people complimented me on it. “At least you’re losing weight!” they’d exclaim. Yeah, because not being sure how I was going to eat the next week and slowly starving sure does have a silver lining of “at least you’re getting less fat!”

There are tons of other reasons why people lose weight, and none of them are any of our business, or even something someone would necessarily want to talk about with us; depression, serious amounts of stress and chronic illnesses all result in weight loss. Take for example, the woman who was losing weight at a rapid pace and getting compliments from her doctor about her “progress” before finally discovering she had cancer. Someone with an eating disorder may hear that ‘compliment’ and immediately assume that not eating or purging what they eat is a great idea; that what they’re doing is working. Or someone in the recovery phase of an eating disorder may slide back so they get more of that publicly acceptable praise.

Sure, some people lose weight intentionally and want to be praised about it, and if you know that about someone for certain, go right ahead. But make sure you know – don’t assume.

Never assume that commenting on someone’s weight loss is a compliment, both because it dismisses an entire range of bodies by default, and because you have absolutely no idea what’s going on in that person’s life to cause that weight loss. Don’t be that jerk.

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Comment: How have people’s comments on your weight affected you?