Friday, September 21, 2012

Why I Think "You Look So Skinny!" Isn't the Best Compliment

If you've read the "About Me" section of the blog, you might remember my saying that I used to write things in Gmail and save them in the drafts folder, just because I enjoyed it.  I'm copying and pasting one of those things below, and because I wrote it a while ago and in a different context it sounds a little more article-y than blog-y.  I thought of it because I spoke to someone today who was telling me about her teenage daughter who was trying to lose weight by doing Weight Watchers, and that she was only eating half of her daily points.  I said that she should probably be eating more because if she pushes herself too hard she's more likely to regain the weight she lost, on top of it probably not being super healthy, and the mom was kind of like "eh, she looks great, if it's working I'm not going to discourage her."  It got me wondering if maybe the girl could sort of feel that and how she felt about it- kind of getting positive reinforcement on maybe not-so-positive behavior.  I don't know them personally but I have enough context on their family over the years and know the mom's a little appearance driven- what if the girl doesn't even give a crap about losing weight, but feels like she should?  Again, reading a ton into it, for all I know I'm way off.  But it made me think of this thing I wrote and I thought I'd share it here.

Cheers to good body images! (Ok it's a stretch but I couldn't think of an apropos picture to post)

I'm having a hard time taking a compliment.

Like many women, my weight has fluctuated most of my life. I've been primarily chubby, occasionally tipping over to the not-as-cute "chunky." This isn't a new story. My weight has gone up and down, and my attitude along with it- sometimes as a teen twisted up in my sheets late at night, face puffy, red and wet, crying at the injustice and irony of my giant fucking Jncos not fitting in the hips, other times more ambivalent. Rarely feeling more than fleetingly good, but sometimes feeling not so bad. Until recently.

In about the last 2 years, a shift started to happen and I started to accept myself. Rather than swing from "ugh" to "eh", I started to swing from "hmm..." to "daaamn." This has been a change independent of actual weight, one I can only assume has been brought on as a result of wisdom through age and the confidence (or "fuck it" 'tude) that can bring. I wasn't becoming the kind of person who was wearing defiant, roll-exposing crop tops or anything but I was eating what I wanted and saying things like "maybe this is just the way I'm built and I'm fine with that", even if it was sometimes in a voice that was just a little too loud and sounded like it was a little more for my own benefit than others. 

And then I hit a downswing. All this eating what I wanted and not doing any exercise that wasn't incidental, while delicious and fun, caused a weight gain that I tried to ignore but my jeans wouldn't let me. When I found myself crying in the shower like a living Lifetime movie I decided it was time to face some facts and make some decisions. I weighed myself, found I had gained 20 pounds and decided I'd like to lose it. As someone who had been waving the fat flag, albeit at half mast, it felt like a tiny betrayal to want to lose weight but one I realized was necessary to feel better about myself.

Through eating more carefully and exercising on purpose/witchcraft, I've lost most of the weight I'd gained and I've gotten a lot of complimentary encouragement along the way that I've found a little internally confusing. As a hairdresser I see a lot of different people regularly but not necessarily on the daily, and those people have a tendency to say variations of "You look great! Have you lost weight?" when they see me at their monthly appointment. And while, yes, I have, and yes, I'm trying to, and so yes, it's a compliment...a small part of me doesn't completely see it as one. I don't resent the individual paying me the compliment and looking at me expectantly, but I do resent the fact that it's an assumed positive, that since I'm chubby I must, of course, be trying to lose weight. EVEN THOUGH IT'S TRUE. There inlies the conflict, as well as the awkwardness.

This actually became an issue, if you can call such a thing an issue, before I was even interested in losing weight. I'd wear a dress that was a little less flowy and people would excitedly tell me I looked thinner, and I didn't want to say "Thank you." Not to be bitchy, not because it made me mad, but because I wanted to somehow get across that it's not a compliment across the board and that I wasn't actually trying to lose weight, that I was happy where I was. There were a couple times that I just went "Oh really?" in reply to "You look so skinny!" but it felt like being rude by omission. I usually caved and said "thank you" out of politeness, and because they were paying me.

Now that I actually am trying to lose weight, I find the issue complicated further. I thank them because I am happy to hear it, but almost always clarify it with a rushed "...but I just want to lose the weight I gained, nothing more, I'm cool being chubby," still just a little too loud and a perhaps still a little bit too directed at myself. What's the best way to accept a compliment you're not sure you want to be paid? It's a question I don't have the answer to. But I'm trying to answer it as graciously as possible.


  1. You nailed it. Is it weird that I also don't like when people notice I've lost weight because it's a reminder that they must notice when I've gained it AND also I'm like DON'T NOTICE YET, THERE'S GOING TO BE A BIG REVEAL!

    1. They're just ruining it for themselves the next time I wear leggings so stretched out they're see-through, THEIR FUNERAL.

    2. ugh... my boyfriend bought me a pair of floral leggings from forever21 one year for christmas... they were very... skewed.

  2. I'm on a diet now. Because I feel far to fat and unhealthy. Will it work? I'm not so sure. But even if it does, I feel uncomfortable with any attention I am getting for my weight, losing it or gaining. I once lost a LOT, and people did nothing but comment on it. It's my body, it's private, folks! In general, I would much rather people complimented me on my dressing style, my new haircut or the colour of my eyes, because those are things that are not wrapped up in so many issues for me.

    1. I totally agree, I think it's such a better bet for us to compliment each other on other things that aren't so hot button. You could even be telling someone they look skinny and it turns out they're sick, you know? Good luck with your diet! I know that old song and dance.