It’s time to eat your words.
I was sitting in my office at work eating tuna straight from the can. I was starving and couldn’t get it in my mouth quick enough. As well as my raging hunger pangs, I was also eating very fast for two reasons. One, I was on deadline. And two, I didn’t want someone to walk in and catch me.
Eating straight from a can may be excusable while at college, but in a glitzy, glossy media company, I knew it wouldn’t go unheeded. I was copiously aware that I was pushing boundaries by even daring to bring stinky tuna in. If the security guard had checked my bag at reception, he would probably have confiscated it. My secret tuna habit went on for weeks. Weight was falling off me in handfuls so it was little surprise when the inevitable happened.
As I walked into the office bright and early one morning one colleague asked “Have you lost weight?”
It was a like a domino effect from that day; two, three, seven, twelve people asked. Soon, I’d rallied a very big fat reaction to my super small figure.
Of course, every time I was asked my face lit up, I smiled and I replied something along the lines of, “Why yes, I have. Thanks for noticing”. Because that’s what we’re trained to say when someone asks the million dollar question, isn’t it?
Let’s stop right there. Why do we presume asking, “Have you lost weight?” is an acceptable question? Weight is a very personal issue. Probably for men, but definitely for women.
It’s a sensitive topic and you are opening a can of tuna when you ask it.
Unfortunately in my case, what no one added to the question was, “Are you okay?”. If they had, the answer would have been a big fat no. I was stressed, exhausted and desperately unhappy. Probably what they meant was, ‘You look good’. I know that’s what I’ve meant when I’ve been guilty of asking someone the question. In that case, the correct words are, ‘You look good’, which is just as positive, without reinforcing a size-based judgement.
Such judgements are all around us. Our obsession with weight is a weighty issue which weighs us down every day. Unachievably lithe bodies grace magazine covers, TV ads, billboards and bus shelters that light up at night.
Weight references are so woven into the snug-fit fabric of society we presume that if someone has lost weight, they’re happy about it.
Newsflash: thin doesn’t mean happy any more than rich does. How about we stop commenting on other people’s weight entirely? We don’t know the private battles anyone is scrapping with the scales or whether they’ve weighed themselves that morning and felt a wave of self-loathing or distress at the figure glaring back at them. Asking someone if they’ve shed weight is as inappropriate as asking someone who is trying to conceive if they’re pregnant.
Watch any chat show about eating disorders and you’ll hear psychologists talk about anorexia being linked to a desire to control your life and emotions. To a much lesser degree, for many people, trying to control what we eat happens when other areas of our life spiral out of control.
With that in mind, will you think twice before you ask the million dollar question next time?
At the very least, avoiding asking is the best way to avoid the awkward silence if they put it back on when they get happy again.