Monday, 12 May 2008

compliments

Two in one day, whoohoo. Actually, they were both written several days ago. I keep writing things and not posting them. Anyway:

This morning, one of my co-workers, who is more than a little obsessed with dieting and going to the gym, said "you look like you're losing weight."

"Oh," I said, "really? Maybe it's just that I'm wearing black."

"No," she said, "you definitely look trimmer."

"Oh," I said, very conscious of not wanting to greet this with OMGYAYTHANK YOU, and yet wanting to be polite, "well, thanks, I haven't really been trying to."

"Oh," she said, "really?"

Hell, I might be losing weight, I really don't know. We don't own a scale, and I'm not measuring or anything. My clothes feel about the same. I haven't taken any particular action – I mean, I walk everywhere, and I'm trying to eat more fruit. But that hasn't necessarily resulted in me eating any less of anything else.

What struck me, though, wasn't the tone of the compliment itself. She really meant it as a compliment. What she meant was "you look nice". It's possible that I look slimmer – maybe I have lost a few pounds, or maybe it is the black, or maybe I do just look nice and she associates "nice" so heavily with "thin" that it amounts to the same thing.

No, what struck me was the tone of her voice after I said I hadn't been trying to lose weight. That "oh really" was loaded, let me tell you.

There was a layer of "you're that fat and you're not trying to lose weight, are you crazy?"

There was a layer of "you're losing weight and you're doing nothing, how is that fair?"

There was a layer of "why aren't you more happy that you're losing weight?"

There was a significant slice of indignation that I wasn't more grateful for the best compliment a woman can be given, after all. And that right there is a horrendous statement, that the best thing you can say to a woman is that there's less of her, that she is taking up less space.

Fabulous. I know she meant it as a compliment, but it just felt hollow. Nothing complimentary about it. I want to feel better and be healthier, I really do, and if that leads to weight loss, okay, and if it doesn't, I have to learn to love myself that much anyway. But the assumption that there being LESS OF ME is inherently better is disturbing to me.

4 comments:

Alissa said...

Hi. Just found your blog and I love today's post. I'm recovered from an ED and I often have conversations like that. You captured it beautifully. I HATE when people try to talk weight/dieting with me.

Maddie said...

Thanks Alissa. I am fairly new to the blogging business, certainly on this subject!

And yes, it's such a difficult conversation to have, because people usually mean to be saying something nice to you, but you're like "oh, that's nice, only it's kind of not, only what's with the disappointment that I'm not more excited??" It's very challenging!

Sara said...

I've gotten those sorts of compliments too. When I was at the depths of my anorexia, at very low weight, people would still compliment my weight loss and tell me how "great" or "cute" I looked. In my starved brain, I interpreted that to mean that I was too fat before and that I needed to be even skinnier.

I'd like to see a society in which people's self-worth isn't linked so closely to their bodies. I hope we get there one day.

My stock response now, when someone starts talking about my weight, is "Thanks for noticing I dyed my hair/got a new haircut/got a new dress" or something to that effect. It gives most people a pretty clear signal that weight is an off-limits topic and sort of points out the ridiculousness of noticing weight more than any other part of the appearance.

Maddie said...

Sara - yeah, I completely agree. Far too much self-worth invested in something that is completely transient and unreliable.

I still haven't figured out a way to make weight discussion off limits with people (other than my mother), because I don't know how to do it without offending them. People are so caught up in the notion that weight loss is inherently good, and that commenting on it is inherently complimentary, that they get weirded out when you don't respond. Hence the post, really.