Why I don’t congratulate people who lose weight
- Published: 09 October 2010
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Praising 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.