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The compliment we need to stop making

Dara Ford Blog cover image

A little while ago, my 4 year old daughter overheard me having a conversation about someone close to us having lost a lot of weight recently. She piped up and said: Mummy – should we help her find it again?

And with that brief question she completely flipped the status quo on its head as only children can do. Why after all would we not want to find something that was lost?

I was reminded of this recently when I received the following compliment from a few different people:

Wow, you look amazing! Have you lost weight?

Perhaps it was my daughter’s earlier question, or perhaps the short succession in which I received these comments but something gave me pause when I heard them. I felt slightly uneasy and couldn’t at first work out why. I spent some time pondering this and it led me to the conclusion that we need to stop making this kind of compliment.

Here are my top three reasons why:

1. We wrongly assume everyone is on a diet

Our society is obsessed with diets, nutrition and exercise. Ads for health foods, the latest fitness fads, slimming products, etc are ubiquitous. Almost everyone we know is either on a diet, coming off a diet or at the very least thinking about their diet. Or so we assume.

So when we see someone looking good we naturally conclude that they must have lost weight – after all everyone seems to be trying to.

But does a thin body automatically equate to a healthier one? There can be many reasons why someone loses weight and they are not always positive. Equally you can be larger than average, but very fit. This is increasingly being recognised by the medical profession and is to be celebrated.

Fit doesn’t look the same for everyone and we need to re-calibrate our idea of the perfect, one-size-fits-all, body shape.

2. It directly links our beauty to our weight

When we say that someone looks great and immediately follow it up with a question about their weight we are effectively saying that the numbers on the scales directly impact on how beautiful they appear. Lower weight = higher beauty value. I believe that this undermines our feeling of confidence in ourselves and pins it to arbitrary numbers instead.

When I received the compliment mentioned above I believe that I was looking radiant because I was happy. I had just launched my new range of silk scarves and was excited to talk about them. I know that my weight had nothing to do with how I appeared as it has been stable over the past months. But I felt amazing and it showed. I am 100% sure that my glowing appearance was caused by an increase in my own confidence, self-belief and connecting with my purpose.

3. It is damaging to the next generation – in particular girls

When we make comments about our or someone else’s weight, even when we mean it in a positive way, it signals to those who hear us that our value as people is linked to our weight. This is especially damaging to our children who are sub-consciously picking up this notion. It makes them aware that ones weight is something to be watched and monitored. And it plants the idea that the importance of the body is rooted in its looks rather than its capabilities.

As a society we need to learn ways to unhook our value from how much or little we weigh.

I am, as the beginning of this piece shows, by no means perfect in this department. I am guilty of having complimented friends on their looks and weight loss. But I am cultivating a greater awareness of these issues and am trying to improve. I hope my post might encourage you to do the same.

Does this mean we can no longer make compliments?

No, of course not! But I do believe that we can do better and find ways of complimenting each other that do not reference our weight.

For example we could say: Wow – you look amazing! or Hey – you’re looking fabulous today! and leave it at that. We don’t have to append a reason. A simple compliment is so much more powerful than trying to quantify it with a number on the scales.

If you would like some inspiration there is a fantastic campaign on Instagram, started by the actor Jameela Jamil, in which people post pictures of themselves with the hashtag #Iweigh and then list all their achievements and talents. Let’s do more of that!

What do you think? Should we be striking that compliment from our collective memory or do you not see a problem with it? I’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment on this post or feel free to message me directly.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Lisa says:

    Totally agree, great post.

  • Emma says:

    A really interesting read. I’m definitely more aware of comments I make about myself and diets etc since having my little girl. It’s not easy as it’s so deeply entrenched, but definitely want her to grow up much more body positive and not measuring her worth by what she sees on the scales!

    • Dara says:

      Absolutely this! None of us are perfect and it’s hard to unlearn things we have been taught since birth. Having daughters has definitely made me more aware too, though I think this increasingly applies to boys too.

  • Rosie G says:

    This really needs to be said. I get a lot of comments about “how good” I look at the moment. I’ve actually had a really stressful time full of illness and anxiety and consequently I look thinner than usual. I’m also weaker than normal and I pretty much live on pop tarts and coffee. It has really shown me how much we value being thin over being strong. Depressing!

    • Dara says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a rough time. It really shows that weight loss isn’t always positive and that we might be complimenting something negative.

  • Kirsten says:

    100% agree! There was a great Mighty Girl post about this at the beginning of January saying we should be careful of talking about NY Resolutions to lose weight in front if children. I try to talk about eating “healthily” in front of my daughter, and say I do exercise to “be strong and fit”. But we should be careful with each other – I tell Jemima I love her for the person she is inside, and we could do more to tell our friends (and ourselves!) the same. Thanks for the thought, I’m going to try 😀

    • Dara says:

      Exactly this! It’s hard to be conscious of what we are saying all the time, but so worth doing our best!

  • fiona brown says:

    So true – I’m mum to 2 boys but I’m very aware of not mentioning losing weight or making that a big deal – in our house we are strong, fit and eat healthily – they see me go to the gym, which I love, and they know that mummy lifts weights and exercises but they’ve never heard me refer to myself as trying to lose weight or get slim etc – I really want to be a good example for them and not give them unnecessary worries about weight or shape and size. I grew up with every single woman around me wanting to continually lose weight, be on a diet, calorie counting and it gave me a complex – I was always very athletic and love fitness, so I was able to get to grips with that, but I don’t want to pass any of that onto my own children at all.

    • Dara says:

      You are right, it’s important to be aware of these issues with girls and boys. I love that you are modelling a healthy relationship with your own body for your children and not passing on what you experienced. It takes a conscious effort as you say.

  • Great points. I totally agree. Even the kids do it!

  • Yvonne Ford says:

    I appreciate your blog post and know that I have made comments that were hurtful and experienced as judgemental, even though they were intended to show appreciation and support. You are right to raise the question of the assumptions that lie behind such “praise.” I have appreciated the writings of Susie Orbach on this topic (“Fat is a feminist issue” and “on eating.” The first book is the better one, more comprehensive, the second a good summary of the essentials.)

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