Giving genuine weight loss compliments can be a well-intended habit meant to be supportive of a friend, family member or co-worker. That said, these well-meant kudos often underscore and magnify harmful thoughts and beliefs.
Most of the time weight loss compliments are given, the intention is to make the recipient feel good. The goal is to tell them they look nice, that their hard work on a particular diet is paying off, and that you support them. However, this isn’t the full extent of the message that is often received.
Bodyweight is a complex issue, and it’s one that most people start noticing far earlier than most of us would expect. From childhood, many of us are highly exposed to concepts of beauty linked with body size. This can – and often does – develop into issues relating to body image. It isn’t uncommon for children younger than 12 years old to actively attempt to diet in the hopes of achieving the glorified slim body shapes seen on TV and movies, in ads and on social media.
Clearly, relating beauty, appeal, and attractiveness to bodyweight starts at an early age. By adulthood, they’re well ingrained, leading millions of Americans to look at their own bodies and see any deviations from airbrushed and perfected images of slim models to be flaws.
The good news is that a growing number of Americans are now identifying health and wellness as their top motivations for adopting healthy lifestyles with a weight management component. The bad news is that there are still millions of people who are doing so because they feel bad about how they look, associating their bodyweight with being ugly, unattractive, and sexually unappealing.
It’s not an easy belief to shake. After all, these toxic messages have been sent our way for most of our lives and certainly haven’t gone away.
The issue with simple, well-intended weight loss compliments is that they can reinforce those beliefs.
“You’ve lost weight!” can seem like praise for what you feel is the result of hard work or that the individual is looking good. From the recipient’s side, it is reinforcing feelings that their bodyweight is indeed noticeable and directly linked with their attractiveness. It is often translated in a way that indicates that less weight makes them more appealing, meaning that they should keep doing this, that they weren’t attractive before they lost the pounds, and that if they regain the weight, they will return to unattractiveness.
This can rapidly build beyond appearance and work its way into acceptance, particularly if weight loss compliments are given more than once from the same person or by multiple people. It can make people feel that they are gaining acceptance by losing weight, meaning that they lose acceptance by regaining pounds.
This can build – or exacerbate – serious, deeply-rooted body image issues, and generate unhealthy relationships with food, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle activities that can be taken to extremes for the sake of achieving a goal on a bathroom scale. Doctors and psychologists in many countries including the United States have started working to improve the narrative when it comes to weight loss compliments and observations about the way someone looks. Are you ready to join in?