As I refreshed my newsfeed on Facebook just last night, the first post that came up was a before picture and after picture of a friend who was sharing that she has lost weight. So far she has 132 comments, and each one sends the same message:
“You look AMAZING!”
“Wow. So proud of you!”
When I first started my new diet and exercise regimen back in college, my goal was to lose weight and get more physically fit. I had gained weight my freshman year, and as a result of society’s standards of beauty and the thin ideal, I knew I had work to do in order to attain what I viewed as attractive and desirable.
Within weeks, people around me started noticing and commenting on my body, saying things like, “Wow! You’ve lost weight! You look so great!“ Or, “What’s the trick? I need to lose weight!” These comments in which people thought were compliments were actually quite insulting and exceptionally harmful. The attention and validation added more fuel to the fire, and motivated me to continue my new low-calorie, fat-free diet along with two workouts a day…and more.
Did I not look good before? Would I look even better if I continued to lose weight? For someone like myself, who was predisposed to developing an eating disorder, these comments became lethal. I was terrified of ever going back to looking “ugly and fat” and hopeful that I was on my way to looking skinny and even “more beautiful.”
I kept cutting more and more out of my diet while increasing the intensity of my workouts. I began losing energy, strength, and personality. And, people continued telling me how great I looked. Depression soon set in, along with obsessive thoughts about my body and weight.
I was skinny. But, my body in its healthiest form clearly wasn’t meant to be that thin. I lost my period, my focus, my friends, and my happiness. Being told how great I looked because of my frame was cringeworthy. Were people really that shallow?
Even if someone isn’t susceptible to developing an eating disorder, we are reinforcing the myth that being smaller is better. Complimenting me on my weight loss also placed value of who I was as a person on my body size. I would hope that we wouldn’t define ourselves by the clothing size we wear but instead by who we are as people. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we’re constantly being told that fat is ugly and bad.
Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes—and so does health. I was not healthy or happy when I was skinny, and I learned this the hard way. Therefore, I refuse to participate in reinforcing the idea that because you lost weight you are now more worthy of acceptance and love. In my eyes, you were beautiful, are beautiful, and always will be beautiful because of the kind, thoughtful, loyal, and generous friend that you have been to me.