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:
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.