Please Don’t Comment on Anyone’s Weight
Thursday at 10:53 pm
Two minutes ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, and a lovely longtime friend of mine, Olivia, had posted a picture of herself in a new dress. I thought, wow, she looks so pretty. I have known Olivia for about 10 years now, and this whole time, she has had this rare and fucked up cancer that has pretty much never gone away. She is in treatment for it constantly. Her quality of life has been compromised by it for as long as I have known her. Like me, Olivia is a very tall blonde, and has a broad frame. Over the years, like me, her weight has fluctuated. One time, she told me that she took a trip to Italy and the men on the streets barked at her and called her a dog because she was in a heavier weight period. I won’t even go into how fucked up that shit is and how furious it makes me, because I think that should be understood already, and I have other things to say in this piece.
In this picture of Olivia in her new dress, she looks like she has lost a lot of weight. This wasn’t my first thought, but, it was a thought. However, because of my beliefs on this (which I will get to), I did not intend to make any comments about weight loss. I was just gonna say, it looks really nice! Then, I read her caption, and was blown away. Now I am inspired to write this, and share it with people. Cause we have GOT to start changing this dialogue. Olivia gave me permission to share. The caption read, “New summer dress. P.S. Please don’t comments on my weight. I know I’m much thinner and it is because I have cancer and had part of my tongue removed and have no appetite. I’m thin because I can’t eat. When you comment on someone’s weight, you never know what they are going through. It’s not always something good. Compliment something else, anything else. Love you all”
I was blown away. It was exactly what needed to be said. I was so proud of her, and so in awe of her strength, courage and vulnerability. I had been wrestling with this exact concept for awhile now, and she articulated it so perfectly. I immediately commented, and told her as much. Then, asked her permission to write about it. Got consent. And now I am writing about it.
My earliest memory of being baffled by this concept, was 5th grade. I was in Mrs. Weber’s history class, and a fellow female classmate very loudly told Mrs. Weber “You look like you’ve lost weight.” I was completely shocked. I couldn’t believe someone would say this to anyone. Especially a kid to a teacher. I was mortified. My initial instinct was “why would anyone ever comment on anyone’s weight. It is so incredibly rude.” I was completely expecting the teacher to get very embarrassed and upset and chastise the girl for saying something so rude. But, the next shock for me came very quickly when the teacher reacted the complete opposite way. She blushed, and smiled, and became flustered and said “thank you so much”. I was gobsmacked. I could not comprehend this exchange at all. So, I went home, and told my mom exactly what had happened. Then, came my third and final shock of the day, my mom said, “that’s a compliment honey. It is nice to tell people they’ve lost weight.”
There it is folks. That was a turning point for me. A very clear and concise pivotal moment in my life. As someone who always sought approval from everyone, I learned that day, that it is best to lose weight, be thin, to notice it about yourself and others, and “compliment” people on it. This is what I was supposed to do to be thoughtful to others. I was 10 at the time. It wasn’t until I was 35 that I started the hard work of undoing that, and the 25 years of bad information that followed it. I just turned 37. I have come a long way. But I still have a long way to go. Gonna take a moment to do a quick shout out to my bad ass therapist, Samee, right now She has pretty much taken on the practically impossible task almost single-handedly of undoing soooooooooooo much toxic body image shit in my head.
In the years that followed, there were countless examples and messages that I could go into, but that would be a whole book, and I know I don’t remember them all. So, I will just go into a more general story about my weight loss and weight gain “journey” if you will. Up until about 10 or 11 years old I was stick thin. Then, when I started hitting puberty, even though I didn’t develop boobies, I did I guess put on a minimal amount of weight, and wasn’t a stick anymore. When I was about 12 or so, my moms best friend said to me innocently and off-handedly, “You aren’t a stick anymore. You are starting to get some meat on those bones” She didn’t know any better. That was societal messages her whole life. Just like when my mom told me that losing weight was a compliment, that is all she had ever known. I am not trying to throw them under the bus and say they were monsters. I am saying that we have all been taught damaging things for a really long time, and it gets passed down. So, when my mom’s bff said this to me, I felt like it was a punch in the gut. I was mortified. If losing weight was the good thing, then gaining it was the opposite. I went to my room and cried.
I used to eat so much all the time and never gain anything. In Junior High, my mom told me “It will catch up with you. Someday you will stop growing this way *motioned with her hands growing taller, and start growing this way *motioned with her hands growing fatter.” Throughout the years since, a lot of times when I eat, I think about that. I shame myself for not listening when I was younger and eating so much when I was skinny. I tell myself I am fat now because I did that, and that I can’t lose it cause I ruined myself when I was young. I stopped growing taller. I grew fatter. Again, this is not a blame fest for my mom or anyone else. This is my interpretation of things that happened and formed me, and trying to help other people from making the same mistakes. My mom is a beautiful angel who has taken care of me in more ways than most people ever get, and I am eternally grateful. She has had her own weight and blame issues throughout her whole life that she has had to struggle with. Those demons are strong, and she is fighting them the best she can. I actually have a lot of open dialogues with her now about it all, and we re-learn all this shit together.
One example of my mom’s demons, and a memory that formed me and has stood out over the years, is a family saloon photo in Branson. I was in 6th grade. My family was on one of our very rare family vacations. We were at Silver Dollar City in Branson, and they had one of those shops where you could go in, pay money, put on old western saloon costumes and take a sepia picture where everyone held weapons and no one smiled. I was SOLD. I don’t know how, but I convinced my dad we needed to do this, and he agreed. They dressed my dad and brother up in pants, long sleeve shirts, vests, and cowboy hats. The costumes they had for women were revealing, small, dresses that showed you chest and arms and shoulders and were very sexy. The dress they gave me, had fake boobs in it to make it appear that a 12 year old had breasts the size of a full grown woman. And the dress they had for my mom, made her feel awful. It was small. She felt fat in it. She didn’t want to wear it. She didn’t want to take the picture. I pressured her. I pushed her. I got upset with her. I didn’t understand, and I wanted my way. I was an insensitive dick, and I am so sorry to this day. In the end, I got my way. She cried and cried and cried the whole time she was putting it on. In the picture, you can see her eyes were puffy and face was tear stained. And my dad was instructed, by my mom, to hide the photo and never display it when we got back home. And, whenever I wanted to see it, I had to ask him to pull it out of hiding and let me see it, then we had to put it away. Again, with this memory, just another life moment of many that taught me how I was supposed to feel about being “fat”.
Throughout my childhood, “junk food” was locked in a cabinet and I needed permission to eat it. My dad had the key. His heart was in the right place. I just went crazy over junk food and ate so much. He wanted me to be healthy and eat snacks sparingly. I think had we all known better, we probably should have had some serious conversations about food and healthy eating behaviors instead of locking food up. When me and my brother didn’t have friends to go out with on the weekend, our solace was getting to rent a video and buy a bag of chips. We looked forward to the junk food on the weekends, and during the holidays. They became this really special thing that felt like a reward. So, lock them up so we can only have them on special occasions.
No one understood that we were giving food too much power and that we could use some outside help to talk us through this. Honestly, I am not even sure how much outside help was available at that time and place for that sort of thing. We didn’t even know to think of it. So, I learned how to pry open the cabinet just a little bit, and put a stick in there and knock food out of it for me to eat in secret. When I went to friends houses with unlocked snack cabinets, I went crazy on them, at school I would gobble up any left over chips or Lunchables my friends didn’t want. Because I was only allowed to have Lunchables once a year as a special occasion on “Play Day” at school. I learned that I needed to sneak the food I wanted to eat.
In college, everyone and I mean EVERYONE would not shut up about the Freshman 15. So I made sure that I lost weight my freshman year, instead of gaining it. By summer, I was the skinniest I ever was or will be as an adult. I was 6ft tall and 145. I certainly wasn’t anorexic or unhealthy. But, at my height and frame, I was practically a stick again. Although, this time, I had really big boobs. So, with that and my long blonde hair, I was a living Barbie doll. I brought all the boys to the yard. But, no one ever wanted to see or care about anything beyond my body. Again, I was forced to feel that your body is your entire worth. How could I be skinny and still feel so shitty about myself? Skinny = good = feeling good about yourself = happiness, right? Those were honestly miserable years for me in a lot of ways. Because the attention I attracted led to nothing but a ton of heart break, pain, and feeling worthless.
Junior year of college I met the guy who would later become my husband. I was 21 and I got “comfortable” and started gaining weight. Mostly, I was on my second round of Accutane and it caused me to gain a shit ton of weight. But, I had heard that when you get happy in a relationship, you gain weight. Heck, a girl I worked with straight up told me that she and other people at work had been talking about how I had been gaining weight and they all decided it was because I was in a relationship and “gave up”. Once again, the message was, “my weight is something people notice, talk about, and judge me on”.
I even had a male customer at the restaurant I worked at once say to me “You are really tall, you should be a model.” To which I responded with my typical joke I said to ppl when they said this “I could never be a model cause I like to eat”. (Looking back, I shouldn’t have said this. It is insensitive on a lot of levels. Especially when it comes to the insane eating disorders that are rampant in that profession. My joke wasn’t meant to say that I was “fat”, it was meant to say that I don’t want to be anorexic.) So, the guy responded, “you could be one of those plus-sized models”. If that was said to me today, I would take it as a compliment. But, as a 20 year old (this was before I met my ex and I was 145 pounds and very skinny), I was mortified. I said, “hey! I am not fat!”. The guy got really embarrassed and his friend chastised him for saying that and he started sheepishly back peddling and I just laughed, sat them at their table, and walked away. But, after I met my ex, my weight gain really began.
Accutane played a role. Getting “comfortable” played a role. Going out on dates where we went out to eat a lot played a role. I got to be to a point that I considered “fat”. I would get so upset. I would cry and go into hysterics like my mom did in Branson, and I had literally all of my self-worth wrapped up in my appearance and weight. When he and I got engaged, I went on Weight Watchers, I did tons of cleanses and fasting, I worked out like a fiend. Some of it was healthy. Some of it wasn’t. The dieting wasn’t unhealthy, and I think my exercising was under control. The fasting and cleanses were not great though. And, the reason for me doing it was to be skinny and look good in wedding pictures. This is not at all uncommon. The problem is, throughout my life, any diet or exercise I have ever done was to be skinny and look good and never to be healthy and take care of my body.
When we were engaged, I remember men still hitting on me and it would make me uncomfortable and make my fiancé really jealous and upset. I didn’t like making him feel this way. In my head, I decided that I needed to make myself less attractive to other men. How could I do this? Maybe gain weight? In the first year of my marriage, I gained 90 pounds. Not only did I subconsciously decide that because I was off the market I needed to make myself less appealing to unwanted buyers, but I was also miserable and depressed.
My marriage was terrible already, and this man was not the person I thought he was, and I was lost. Throughout my life, I learned to cope by eating. “Forbidden’ foods that were only for “special occasions” were the only way I could treat myself. Learning that if you are sad you can go get some “junk food” and it will make you feel better came in handy for my miserable marriage. I got home from work before my husband, so I would scarf down fast food and chips before he got home and then hide the evidence so he didn’t know. In the middle of the night, when he was sleeping, I snuck away and drove to the 24 hour McDonald’s and pounded a double cheeseburger and fries in my car. I threw the bag away in a dumpster at the front of our trailer park before turning off my headlights and parking in our driveway, sneaking back into bed with him none the wiser.
Then, as I gained weight, I told everyone I didn’t know why. I hadn’t done anything “wrong”. This wasn’t my “fault”. I didn’t “deserve” this. I decided to get my thyroid tested and get all kinds of bloodwork done to prove something was wrong with me and it wasn’t my “fault”. Fault was huge for me. I didn’t want to be wrong. I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t a bad person. The more depressed I got, the more I ate. The more I ate, the more depressed I got.
Throughout my entire marriage, when my ex told me I looked pretty, I cried and told him he was wrong and that I was fat. I cried when things wouldn’t fit. When unflattering pictures were taken. I cried all the time. Like my mom did in Branson. I didn’t love myself, and I didn’t believe I was worthy of love. I was always trying to convince my husband to just admit that I was fat and that he was no longer attracted to me. He would just clam up and wouldn’t know how to respond. I can’t blame him. Not many people can deal with that.
However, I eventually got what I asked for, and what I knew deep down inside was the truth. When he was leaving me, among the reasons he gave, was because I had gained weight and he wasn’t attracted to me anymore and didn’t think I was pretty anymore. So, what is the first thing I did when my marriage ended. I lost 50 pounds.
At the time, I thought (and told everyone) it was because I was finally happy and felt free. And, that was certainly part of it. The stress of dealing with that marriage made me have high levels of cortisol and holding on to weight. And not dealing with the stress of the marriage did help. However, for the first few months I was very upset and depressed and stressed about getting a divorce. So, there had to be more to it. It’s hard to describe. On the one hand, I felt free and like a weight had been lifted and happy he was gone. On the other hand I was so unbelievably sad and hurt.
I told him when he was leaving me that he would find another girl no problem (little did I know at the time he already had), and that I was fat and almost 30 and no one would want me. So, I decided if I didn’t want to be alone forever, I better lose weight. So, I did hardcore dieting and exercise. Not anorexia, and not manic exercise. It was all technically healthy, but again, it wasn’t for healthy reasons. It was to look good and attract new men. Cause if experience had taught me anything thus far, it was that all of my worth was in being hot and skinny and that is how I could get men.
And get men I did! Your girl HOOKED IT UP for all of 2013 and 2014. I had men flocking to me, and I used em and losed em baby. Then, after awhile, it didn’t feel good anymore. In 2015, I was tired of the effort it took to be on online dating sites and the constant texting and meeting up. It was annoying and I was trying to focus on my stand-up comedy and couldn’t be bothered to juggle 5 dudes when I was trying to write jokes. I was also soooo tired of such bad and reprehensible behavior from these dudes on dating sites. I had lost all faith in mankind, and was just over it. I had recently had my heart broken by a guy I really really liked who ghosted me because I didn’t want to just hook up, and I was interested in dating him seriously. So, I deleted all of my online dating accounts. Blocked a bunch of number of guys who couldn’t accept that I didn’t want to hook with them anymore. I was closed for business. I SHUT IT DOWN. Then, I gained weight. This would keep the boys out of my yard. The more weight I gained, the more depressed I got. The more depressed I got, the more weight I gained.
As of today, in 2020, I have not lost that weight. I have tried REALLY hard. Then, I have not tried. I have lost between 5-15 pounds here and there. Then I have gained it all back. I have had ppl tell me, “it looks like you’ve lost weight. You look really good” Then, when I gain weight, I feel shame, because when I gain weight I don’t look “good”. I feel that I have let myself down. I have let everyone down. That shame and pressure are comforted by food. Ah, and so the cycle continues. From 2015 to now, I have had late nights at McDonalds binging double cheeseburgers and fries, and then making sure there are no bags in my car for the next time my mom visits or a friend is in my car. I can’t handle the disappoint I know ppl will feel in me for eating that. Up until about a year and a half ago, I was binging food hard for periods of time. Then would have spurts of diets, would lose nothing, get depressed, go back to binging. Hurt, anger, sadness, depression, loneliness and boredom were all reasons to eat. So, I ate a lot. I would see all the people who were losing weight, or who were already skinny, or who would talk about working out all the time, or talk about diets all the time, and I would hate them. Not really, but, you know what I mean,
At one point, I even made a joke on FB a few years ago that said “A bagel a day keeps the suitors away”. Most people laughed and liked it and joked along with me. But one girl, called me out on how problematic that way of thinking was and how triggering it was for her and the shit she had gone through with eating in her life. I was politely dismissive, and passively defensive and told her that I was a comedian making a joke, and I was sorry for her experiences, but not sorry for speaking my truth and telling jokes. We had an amicable back and forth about it for a bit. But it bothered me for a long time. I didn’t like feeling “wrong” and being called out. I convinced myself that I had done nothing wrong, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. Sure, I am not responsible for other people’s feelings when it comes to that stuff. But, it was a problematic joke. And she had every right to feel that way. And every right to politely call me out. I have a really hard time feeling like I did something wrong. But, looking back, she was totally right. That was a toxic joke to make.
Now, when I see posts on FB where women are making fun of themselves for gaining weight, pandemic weight gain memes going around, ppl putting soooooo much unhealthy pressure on themselves to lose weight and fit into a certain something, it makes me really sad. It triggers me. But, I stop myself and tell myself that maybe they are where I was a couple of years ago. Maybe they need to hear another narrative and another way of thinking. I don’t take the time to comment and call individuals out. I don’t want to take that responsibility on. I am still too raw myself. Instead, I am hoping people will read this. I can do my part by writing this. I do better if I try to counteract those posts with my body positivity posts and my writing. I don’t have the energy to do it individually with so many people. People: these weight gain jokes, memes, posts that you are sharing aren’t funny. They are hurtful, triggering and problematic not only for the reader, but for you. You are reinforcing toxic, negative, and shitty narratives in your head that are only going to make you and others feel worse. Those feelings just drive you towards unhealthy behaviors. Whether it be binge eating out of shame and guilt, or starving yourself. Making fun of yourself and others for this NEVER leads to a healthy attitude towards it.
In regards to weight loss social media posts, this is a bit more touchy, because people work hard to diet and exercise and are proud of their accomplishments and losing weight. Society rewards that HARD. And I don’t want to take that away from them or make them feel bad about that. I am happy that they are healthy, and want to share their hard work and healthy lifestyle habits.
It is a fine line, right? Sometimes it is just a post about getting yourself healthy, feeling good, exercising, losing weight and that was a tremendous accomplishment. One post and done. And I think that is great, and I am all for that. But then there is the constant posting about it, and only focusing on the “losing weight/looking good” part, and the absolutely obsessive and manic work outs all the time, and that is all they can talk about.
I love a good work out post that inspires me to exercise. I love a good healthy meal post that makes me want to eat a healthy. But, there is a territory it can go into where I am genuinely concerned that they have a disorder and aren’t healthy and need help. The obsession with losing weight, not gaining weight, constantly “dieting”, and not having a life outside of exercise can also be unhealthy. Your entire self worth and identity can become wrapped up in those things, and if you falter (like any human being does), you are SO hard on yourself mentally.
Ask yourself this, if you broke your leg, and were in a cast for 3 months, and couldn’t work out and you gained some weight from it, would that devastate you because you gained weight? Or, would you feel sad because you enjoy working out and it sucks that you can’t, but you will just get back to it when you can, and you are happy to be healthy? If it devastates you because you gain a few pounds, as opposed to being disappointed because working out feels good, that could be an indication that your mentality around your health is very fragile and dependent upon things that could be out of your control tomorrow. You have got to love yourself no matter what. And you have to prioritize your health. Not your weight.
I have been seeing my therapist for a couple of years now, and she specializes in all of this stuff I have talked about above. She is the reason I can reflect on all of this honestly, and write it. She is helping me learn to love myself. She taught me that “food isn’t moral”. You aren’t “good” for eating broccoli and going on a run, and you aren’t “bad” for eating a brownie and laying on your couch all day. You are being healthy or unhealthy. Who you are as a person isn’t determined by that. You aren’t right or wrong, or good or bad. You are you. And you are making healthy or unhealthy decisions. And those decisions impact your health, and can impact your happiness. And they are yours to make. And you aren’t a failure if you gain 5 pounds, and you aren’t a success if you lose 5 pounds.
Now, you can be successful at losing weight, but it doesn’t determine your overall life success, if that makes sense? You can be proud of yourself for making healthy decisions. You can be happy when those healthy decisions lead to more energy, less inflammation and digestive issues, less stress, more happiness etc. You can be proud of yourself for losing some weight because you worked hard. But try not to have that be the only focus, and rather than focusing on the number, focus on the healthy decisions you made that caused it. And, if you make unhealthy decisions, if you have setbacks, do not beat yourself up. Do not call yourself a failure. Do not give up. Doing those things, just causes you to spiral deeper into the problems and will not solve anything.
Accept yourself. Acceptance does not mean you lack motivation to strive towards being healthier. It doesn’t mean you have given up. It just means you aren’t in denial about the way things are now. It is what it is. That isn’t what it will always be, but that is what you are working with now.
Interestingly, it was finally accepting myself that led me to more success with getting healthy. I used to worry that “accepting” myself meant I would never lose weight and “get better”. That is not true. It meant that this is reality, and the sooner I accept that, the sooner I can make the changes I want to make. Also, acceptance leads to loving yourself. And loving myself has made me want to make healthier decisions. If I love myself, then I want to take care of myself and be healthy. If I hate myself, then I have no motivation to take care of myself. I just spiral into self hate more.
The more I love and accept all 250 pounds of myself, the more happy I have become. And the happier I have become, the more healthy my decisions have been. I love myself now more at 250 pounds than I did at 145 pounds. Pro-tip, one of the biggest helps for me in achieving this, is following body positivity people on Instagram, especially ones with my body type. I follow Hunter McGrady because we have very similar bodies and I think she is just so beautiful and it reminds me that I can be beautiful at any size. My weight doesn’t determine my worth. Seeing how confidently she carries herself helps me be more confident in myself. The more confident I am, the more happy I am. The more happy I am, the more I want to make healthy decisions.
In the past month I have lost 5 pounds. I may lose more. Then I may gain it all back. Then I may lose it again. You should not comment on any of that. It is my business. You don’t know what is going on in my life that is causing all of that. And I don’t need the pressure from people noticing it. I know you mean well. I know society has deemed that a compliment. But I don’t take it as one. My friend Olivia does not take it as one. The person who lost weight may have a terminal disease. The person who lost weight may be anorexic and you are reinforcing unhealthy behaviors. They may be massively depressed and in a bad mental state. They may not be able to afford to eat. They may have a drug problem. Telling them that they look good because of weight loss reinforces to them that their worth is dependent upon that, and that whatever they are doing they should keep doing no matter the cost. And, it tells people that if they gain weight, you will notice and you will think they don’t look good. That may not be the case, but that is the narrative it reinforces.
Can we just all decide it is actually rude and invasive to comment on people’s weight, whether it be losing or gaining? If you want to congratulate someone for a new healthy work out routine or healthy eating regime, go ahead. If you want to tell someone they look nice in their outfit or whatever, I have no problem with that. But just the same as you would never say to me, “you have gained weight and look bad”, please don’t say “you have lost weight you look good”. It has the same effect on me, and it isn’t necessary or our business to comment on people’s bodies. It is weird that we do it so much.
Someone did this on my one of my posts a month ago (right before I lost the 5 pounds, so at the same weight I had been for a while). She said “have you lost weight? You look good” I know she meant well. I know she meant it as a compliment. I don’t blame her and am not trying to trash her. I tried to understand that she was in a mindset that I was in a few years ago, and you have to meet people where they are at. So, I just said something along the lines of “I don’t know if I have lost weight. I just try to feel good about myself at any weight.” I hope that was a nice and informative way of letting someone know how I want to feel about myself. I don’t need to chastise, scold or call out. That just makes ppl get defensive. If I can just find a positive way of responding that doesn’t reinforce the weight loss = you look good scenario, then I think I will accomplish what I want to accomplish. I will not comment on your weight to you; loss or gain. Please don’t comment on mine to me. And please consider not doing it to anyone, especially yourself.