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Why I don’t congratulate people who lose weight

Lose_weightPraising people who announce they’ve lost weight fuels and furthers the fatphobia, weightism and sizeism inherent in a thin-supremacist society, writes Joelle Ruby Ryan.

10 October 2010

This is a touchy issue. There are people who read this who may disagree—and that’s okay. But this is really an opportunity for me to get some stuff off my chest. I’d be happy to hear from people who have a different view, as well as from folks who feel similarly about this issue.

I get uncomfortable when people announce that they have lost weight, particularly such-and-such pounds, and then expect people all around to congratulate them.

The reason I feel this way is because we live in a thin-supremacist society, and I believe that this practice fuels and furthers fatphobia, weightism and sizeism.

So often people claim they are losing weight for them, for their own personal happiness and sense of pride.  And yet, so often, part of this process is a very public discourse of weight-loss talk, and sometimes even before and after pictures.

The underlying message is clear: look at the new, skinnier me; I am better now than I used to be.  I am better now because I am thinner, and thinner is better than fat. The practice, whatever the intentions of the speaker, functions to uphold and maintain a system of thin-supremacist ideology.

Can you even imagine the reverse? Somebody comes back from an extended summer vacation, gathers their stalwart co-workers around the water cooler and states: “ Hey Guys! I have a big announcement. Over my one-month vacation, I gained 20 pounds!”

The co-workers beam and break into spontaneous applause. Hugs and pats on the back abound.  “I could use to gain some weight, too. Could you teach me how to do it?”

Double-chocolate cake and ice cream is broken out with encouragements for second helpings: “Here, gain some more, girl!”

Sound ridiculous?  Sure, because our society is about punishing weight gain and rewarding weight loss. The discourse around weight loss is arguably more important than the weight loss itself.

Never mind that the majority will gain the weight back if it is part of a fad diet, or that some will gain it back plus some more. When someone announces their weight loss, there is an expectation set up. They usually expect people to say: Congrats. You look great. Way to go! Good for you.  What’s your secret? And so on.

By some of us refusing to take this cue, we participate in trying to challenge the hegemony of a weight-obsessed culture.

Now some caveats: Am I universally opposed to people losing weight?  No. If a well-informed person decides, in consultation with a medical care provider, that shedding some weight makes sense for their overall health and wellness, then that is a decision that I do not feel I should critique.

People must make hard choices about their lives, their health and their futures. Just as I do not want people to criticize me for my decision to not try to lose weight, I do not wish to criticize others for their to decision to lose weight. It cuts both ways.

If someone is dealing with health issues that may be ameliorated by losing weight, then I support that which they wish to do as an informed agent and as the possessor of their own body and destiny.

While I am less swayed by weight loss for vanity’s sake, ultimately each person has the right to do with their own body what they wish.

Further, if other people want to congratulate their friends, family members, co-workers, co-parishioners etc. about their weight loss, I am certainly not going to say in an absolutist way: no, you shouldn’t do that! Losing weight is very difficult to do. I get that. And certainly I am not ascribing malicious intentions to those who either announce their weight loss or those who congratulate them on it.

But, remember that even as you may make one person feel good about their weight loss, you may make others in their presence feel bad about their size.

And no one should be made to feel bad about their size, or made to apologize for their size. We should not be dragged into it, and expected to ask people for diet tips, and to join in the general weight-obsessed culture that so permeates many Western cultures.

If we remain silent, we are neither being insensitive jerks nor sulking because we are “jealous.” Not everyone wants to be a skinny minnie!

Further, we are concerned with the ubiquity of fatphobia in the culture and are actively trying to find ways to not perpetuate it or not participate in it.  Because, it is not all about a number on the scale.

Why not transform those “I lost such-and-such many pounds” conversations into: “This is what I am trying to do to improve my eating habits and nutrition. This is what I am doing to move my body that makes me feel good and gives my body some exercise.”

The listener may or may not relate, but it could be information that they find helpful.  As long as it is given in the spirit of promoting health at every size, rather than conformity to a particular number on a scale, I find it to be much more benign than the constant weight-based talk.

You may or may not agree with me about positively commenting on people’s weight loss. But at the very least, I hope the next time it comes up, you will be given pause to think more carefully and critically.

Remember the awful hatred that people of size face, and the various comments (even well-intentioned ones) that serve to undergird this systemic weight discrimination.

Joelle Ruby Ryan is a Lecturer in Women's Studies at Bowling Green State University. She earned her Ph.D. in American Culture Studies in 2009 from Bowling Green State University. Her activist and research interests include: LGBT rights, feminism, racial and economic justice, size acceptance, sex work and film/media literacy and criticism. She is the director of TransGender NH, a support and civil rights group for gender-variant folks in NH. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and blogs at trans*medi(t)ations.



0 #5 Rich 2011-06-06 20:35
I think the poster "Uncommon sense" nailed it, except he used a lot of fancy words that I had to read ten times to understand. This is how I look at it:

The Givens:
In this present world, most people are unhealthy in one or more areas of their life: physically, emotionally, behaviorally, mentally, etc. The media does not exist to help us reach our full potentials...ra ther it exists to generate money by keeping us interested. Humans increase their awareness to any potential threat. That's why Barney and Sesame Street are so popular for kids because kids don't know that these prehistoric-loo king creatures aren't going to come out of the TV and eat they watch! Same thing with the media, they scare us into watching. This world would be a much better place if we were all healthy people. But we aren't. And many of us come from unhealthy backgrounds. We have parents who were unhealthy, friends who were unhealthy, etc. As the medical field spits out new results of research studies, the media throws it in our faces with their own spin on it to make it sound VERY IMPORTANT. So yes, we should all aim for a BMI of 22, a Blood Pressure of 110/70, eat a well balanced diet, see a therapist, get massages, meditate, and teach our children to be healthy as well. However, for many people this is all too much to handle as we are way behind as it is and we never LEARNED the healthy way of doing things. The best thing WE can do as individuals is to take care of our physical-emotio nal-mental-beha vaioral SELF the best we can, and encourage others to do the same, especially the children.

Now, in direct response to your article, I think it is OKAY to tell Sarah "Good job" or "Congrats" when she mentions losing 15 pounds. You are encouraging her to be healthy and to reach whatever her ultimate goal is. Maybe you aren't aware that as your BMI increases past 25 you become more and more at risk for health problems. BMI isn't perfect, it's simply an estimation based on statistics, but it is still a plausible guideline to follow.

The key line in your article was "But, remember that even as you may make one person feel good about their weight loss, you may make others in their presence feel bad about their size." You are saying that every time you applaud someone for losing weight, you are agreeing with the ever-growing frenzy of people who regard fat people as disgusting. This is not true. I know what you mean, there are a lot of people who treat fat people with disrespect and they USE the media and medical study information to back them up. "Ugh Janice is such a fat cow, look at her waddle around like a giant penguin." People talk. Hatred starts to form and pretty soon they see a fat person they don't even know and they give 'em a dirty look. They judge them without even knowing them. Well guess what? These people are also unhealthy. They might not be overweight, but they certainly have unhealthy thoughts.

But giving Rob a high-five for shedding some pounds doesn't mean you are feeding the mentally unstable "fat-people haters".
And it also doesn't make Curvy Carly feel worse about herself for being overweight. If Curvy Carly was comfortable with herself, then she would be happy for Rob because he has achieved what he wanted to. Just like if he said he finally worked up the courage to ask a girl out. We'd all be happy for him.

One thing you were never clear on is what kind of congratulations are we talking about? I'm referring to "job well done". If you are referring to office parties and that kind of thing, I think it is blown out of proportion. I know weight-loss is a popular subject of discussion these days...maybe because it affects our appearance. And if you are someone who chooses not to lose weight for whatever reason, you may have trouble relating to these people, but that in itself will not directly cause you to feel bad about yourself. That would be a mental health issue that can be worked on.

Okay? :-)
0 #4 Addie Rayy 2010-10-28 05:06
I would like to start off with the fact that I am myself plus size. I do think I am beautiful. I do not think that congratulating someone on their weight loss is wrong or offends plus size people. If they are offended why are they? Anyone can lose weight. Not everyone does it for popularity but many do it because they need to. They have to. Or they will die. So when I lose the weight I want to lose which I can say I am about 120 pounds over weight then heck yes I want people to congratulate me. I work my butt off literally for my health. Do you know how many health issues come with ring over weight even the slightest bit. Well you said you were over weight but there are many different types of over weight. So I just want to say I'll be damned if people get mad at me because I lost weight and they did not. If they don't want to they don't have to but don't rain on my parade. & yes I more than likely will have a celebration cake an if youre mad you can't have any:-)
0 #3 Uncommon Sense 2010-10-23 05:39
The premise of your entire argument rests on your belief that the reason why people want to be an average weight (i.e. a healthy weight) is for public appreciation (within your "discourse of weight-loss talk"), not because it is more healthy or because it is biologically more aesthetically appealing. Overweight people lose weight for logically sound reasons. If some people feel offended because other people want to be healthy and biologically attractive, then these offended people should not seek to conflate a "phobia" with a desire to be successful in sociobiological life; they should realize that their inadequacy stems from some complex that inhibits them from wanting what is logically sociobioloigica lly desirable, However, before you freak out, let me just say that if there are people who do not seek to be sociobiological ly desirable, but are also not offended when someone else seeks to be sociobiological ly desirable, then they are not suffering from some debilitating sense of inadequacy, they simply desire not to chase this goal that is rooted in our genes and culture.
0 #2 David Skidmore 2010-10-13 22:21
There is also the issue of weight loss being to do with illness - sometimes terminal illnesses such as cancers. Congratulating someone for losing weight and finding out they are fighting off pancreatic cancer would be mortifying for both parties.

How much people weigh is their own business. For the record, I weigh 70kgs and am 5' 10''. If anyone thinks that's thin they can fuck off.
0 #1 Eleanor 2010-10-13 15:43
I am going to speak strictly from a health point of view for a moment: We live in a society where too many people are overweight, and live unhealthy lifestyles. This is one thing I cannot accept in the discussion of size acceptance. There are just too many people who do not eat properly and remain virtually sedentary. If there is so much "fatphobia", why are there such high proportions of people who are dangerously overweight? Some are even trying to call into question whether or not obesity is an epidemic.

While on the other hand I do agree the media promotes one generic size as the only size to be, and oppresses those who do not fit into the mold. I can see where claims that a person should not congratulate people who have lost weight come from. I really do. I am not saying I disagree with many notions in this article. There are so many girls who are weight obsessed and "diet" when they shouldn't be. The only diet anyone should follow is the four food groups diet! And foremost: love your body and treat it good, don't worry about anything else.

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