Wish my body was password protected

Images via we heart it

After spending three days in the fog of a head-cold, I finally emerged Sunday and went out shopping with a friend. I spent a little more than intended on a cute Lululemon workout top (ahem, you know, for all the working out I do), a summery t-shirt, and on total impulse, a grey shawl with threads of sparkly silver running through it. There must a thousand good uses for that!

All was well (ie. no blog worthy material encountered), until my friend and I tried on some dresses and I was hit with a terrible bout of self-consciousness that caused me to run and hide in the changing room. Since I wasn’t trying on bathing suits or jeans, it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill body-shame at not looking like an air-brushed model. No, dresses are the one piece of clothing that almost never let me down.* And that’s precisely where my problem arose.

l have to preface this story by saying that to me people commenting on my body is akin to people commenting on my bank statement: there is nothing I’m especially ashamed of, but I wholeheartedly believe it’s no one’s business but my own. And just as with finances, casual comments about my weight feel utterly inappropriate to me (thoughtful discussion is another matter). This is not a decision that I came to after careful deliberation – it’s simply my gut reaction. And as it tends to go with gut reactions, most of what I say here is probably not terribly rational or well thought out. But hey, what’s a personal blog for if not sorting out your feelings about complicated things you haven’t quite come to grips with?

I emerged relatively unscathed from the body-image beat-down of young adulthood and as a result, I think I have a relatively healthy relationship with food and my body. And by ‘relatively healthy’ I mean that while I am quite aware of my weight and eating habits, I have never flitted on the edge of an eating disorder or suffered from serious body angst. It’s a bit sad that that qualifies as relatively healthy body-image in our society, but that’s how it seems to be.

Nevertheless, I have a strong reaction to comments about weight. Namely MY weight. “Oh looks like you’ve lost weight!” in my head sounds like “I examine your body closely enough to detect the absence (and therefore also the presence) of a handful of pounds and right now you look like you have a few less than last time!” And that seriously bothers me.

When I hear a comment like this, even from a close friend, a surge of defensiveness instantly wells up in me and I have to try really hard to give a nonchalant sounding response that still shuts down the discussion. It usually comes out as an ‘urmphf’ noise. For the same reason, I never offer a “you look like you’ve lost weight” to others even if I actually notice that they have (and I usually don’t – I only know once they tell me). I know some people would love nothing more than to hear it, but to get those words out of my mouth, I have to override all the little guards in my brain that work hard to keep me from saying inappropriate things. I’ve tried, but it feels forced and wrong, so now I just don’t.

Back to the shopping expedition: I found a fun, loose-fitting summer dress and when I came out of the changing room in it, my friend and the salesperson helping us looked me up and down and then both proceeded to make self deprecating remarks about their own sizes. I know it was supposed to be complimentary, but it didn’t feel that way. I felt ganged up on. I felt ashamed that the body I happen to inhabit fits into a ‘small’, while theirs didn’t. That’s the objective reality and I didn’t think it needed to have a valuation placed on it. I quickly changed out of the dress and didn’t buy it (which was fortunate, see: shopping list above).

This is not at all a discussion about fat or skinny bashing. It is a little about the implicit message behind these comments that less weight = better. But mostly, it is about wondering how it came to be that comments about each others’ bodies became a totally acceptable topic of conversation, even among total strangers. Just because something is intended as a compliment doesn’t make it appropriate. After all, it’s not socially acceptable to say “my, those are expensive shoes you are wearing, you must have quite a lot of money! If only I had that kind of money!” but yet saying the equivalent about weight is quite normal. Has it always been this way? Or is it only today’s highly body-conscious, diet-fad obsessed society that has decided that our bodies are public projects, up for discussion?

What is your gut reaction to comments about your weight? I genuinely want to know if I’m the only freak on the planet who can’t stand to hear “you’ve lost weight.”

*As long as I don’t get near a sheath dress or most strapless dresses.

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Posted on June 13, 2011, in Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. you know, I usually do feel Super uncomfortable when someone says they think I’ve lost weight. definitely awful when they start tearing down their own bodies because I’m technically smaller. my mom is the Worst about this, but some friends do it too. honestly I might do it sometimes without even realizing it! It never really occurred to me why I feel uncomfortable when people make comments like that, but I think you’re right that it’s just weird and invasive and inappropriate (as nice as they think their comment is..).

    • I find the self deprecating remarks about our bodies really hard to deal with and I try not to do it myself, though I’m sure I slip sometimes. I just think they bring everyone down.

  2. YES. Spot on with your feeling like the body and the wallet are off limits. That’s exactly my perspective.

    I also feel like if someone is saying “you’ve lost weight!” they’re NOT saying something when I have gained weight. C’s group of friends makes me SUPER uncomfortable because they talk about each other’s bodies all the time. ALL OF THEM. They make knowing comments about whose butt gets big during stress and whose small. Guys and girls, so at least it’s equal, but I come from friend groups who never notice anything except “Hey, you dressed up! Looks cute!” and we definitely don’t analyze weight and life circumstances. It’s bizarre.

  3. my mom had weight loss surgery a few years ago and was losing weight really rapidly; she was actually really bummed that people didn’t mention it. I figured they weren’t saying anything because it happened so fast, they probably assumed she was either really sick or had a surgery she didn’t want to talk about (uh, bingo!), but I thought it was funny that she couldn’t enjoy her weight loss – the thing she’d always wanted – because no one seemed to compliment her on it. you can’t win, with weight.

    • See that’s tough. I have a friend who I suspect may feel the same way – she really craves the compliments about her weight loss. And I have tried, but I just can’t do it and I figure other people will fill in the gap and instead I might compliment her on her outfit or something. But I can imagine if no one says anything and you really wanted them to, it can feel discouraging.

  4. RamblingRedhead

    I thought I was the only weird one with stuff like that!

    I have a hard time shopping with friends that are a larger size than me because they make me feel guilty that I am smaller than them. I want to say “I’m sorry its not my fault, and actually, I think you look geniuinely beautiful in that outfit.” but of course, they don’t believe me. Its tough sometimes dude.

    • Exactly. People come in different sizes and we all fit different things, and yes some of us have a harder time finding things that work for us than others (like me with shoes!). But like What Not to Wear proves over and over again, any body type can look fantastic!

  5. Never fear – I’ve got some crazy in me too, girl.

    I almost never feel thin enough, even when I HAVE lost weight. If someone tells me I look thinner when I don’t feel thin, then my mind immediately goes to: how f*cking big was I before? It’s ludicrous.

    I was recently on a bachelorette party with a bride-to-be who is quite naturally very thin. Despite this, like most brides she found herself eating better and working out more in preparation for the wedding, even though she didn’t “have” to, but just to feel good. A lot of the girls on the trip haven’t spent a great deal of time with her in the past few years, and made several comments about how thin she was, enough that it culminated one night (add in some cocktails, you know) in a very tearful breakdown where she felt ganged up on or disrespected for looking very good. It was a sad situation :(

    • Oh that’s terrible. I really feel for her. I also lost weight before the wedding without intending to – I exercised less – but stress just reduces my appetite. One of the worst post-wedding conversations I heard was that some of my friends apparently had discussed how many pounds they thought I had lost. Five? Ten? One person apparently said ‘Oh it has to be like fifteen!’ Oh gee thanks. Actually no it wasn’t, but thanks for thinking I was so much heavier before.

      And it doesn’t matter if you are 110 or 210 lbs – it’s simply not necessary to comment or make anyone feel bad.

  6. I agree. When people have said something about me losing weight, it often makes me feel paranoid about how I looked before. And I don’t like those kind of conversations. I have been trying to make compliments I choose to give be of the “you look great!” variety because I think that is a more affirming compliment than “that shirt is so cute!” or whatever.

    • I haven’t really thought of it before, but you’re so right about “you look great” being more affirming than specifically pointing out clothes or weight. It takes the person as a whole instead of a sum of their parts (including even how happy they look – when I was losing weight I was a stress-ball and probably didn’t look that fantastic). I think I’m more likely to say something about a shirt or outfit because I find it easier, but it’s also not as meaningful. I’ll have to remember that…

  7. Just catching up on all that I missed while I was away. I am so the same, I feel really uncomfortable when people comment on my weight, and never know how to respond – I often find myself saying the same thing back to them because I just don’t know what is the right thing to say, and then they’ll get all self-deprecating and then it just gets awkward. But I feel like if someone says “oh, you look so slim” (this is now unlikely after three weeks of eating gigantic American portions, but that is beside the point) and I DON’T say that back, it’s like I’m saying they look fat or something? Urgh, body issues are so complicated. I think I just need to learn to accept compliments more graciously – a simple thank you is enough. And agreed that “you look great” is a hundred times better than focusing on weight as the sole arbiter of beauty or attractiveness.

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