Times sure have changed, huh?
Awkward: “Wow, you’ve sure lost a lot of weight!” Worse: “You’ve gained a few – you know the freshman 15 doesn’t count after college, right?!” Worse-r: “You’re too skinny, eat a sandwich!” Worst: “You used to be so pretty; aren’t you worried about your health at all?” (The last one is the worst because it can be said for everything from morbid obesity to anorexia and every weight in between. For some reason “health” is the ultimate trump card in all weight conversations.)
I hate talking about weight – mine, yours, anyone’s – because I never know what to say. And because I’m so uncomfortable I usually say something really lame or stupid. (“Oh HAI! U look different! U can has no more cheeseburgers?!1!”) Maybe it’s just a reflection of my issues or maybe it’s endemic to society as a whole but I’d rather talk about Amy Winehouse’s death than discuss how many pounds you’re down this week. It’s not because I don’t care or because I’m not proud of all your hard work; the truth is I care (too) deeply and my first instinct is to grill you about all the details because if you lost weight then that means I need to too, obviously.
Yes, I know my brain is as ridiculous as Charlie Sheen’s new Anger Management show. (True story: Our car broke down once in nowhereville and the guy who picked us up spent the whole ride to the tow shop telling us about how he was on his way to anger management classes for “throwing a taco” at his girlfriend. He’d even made a poster about it and everything. If that doesn’t inspire confidence in someone’s rescuing skills, I don’t know what does! Sure he might have violently killed me but at least the police would have had a puff-painted poster diagram as evidence.)
I recently had a friend lose a lot of weight and she looks fantastic. She really does. And there’s no denying that losing a lot of weight takes a lot of discipline and hard work. Plus she’s all happy and glow-y and it’s so awesome to see her so happy. And yet I worried all day before I saw her next because I knew I should say something about her weight loss but I didn’t know what and I just knew I was going to stick my foot in my mouth. It seems like everything we say about weight has a subtext:
- “You’ve sure lost a ton of weight! You look gorgeous!” also means “You weren’t pretty before and thinner=gorgeous-er so keep going!”
- “Look at you! You sure have worked hard to lose all that weight!” can also mean “Glad you got past that fat, lazy slob phase!”
- “ZOMG! You look AMAZING! You’re so THIN now! Wow! I’m so JEALOUS!!” also means “Don’t ever gain weight again because you’ll lose all this love and respect and kindness that people are heaping on you. FEAR the CARBS! Muwhahahah!”
Me overthink things? Never! Usually I end up saying something loony and nonsensical like, “Wow, you look beautiful! Not that you didn’t look beautiful before because I always thought you were beautiful but now you look so happy and confident, not that you couldn’t be happy and confident when you weighed more but ANYHOW yeah, awesomesauce!” Then I have to grit my teeth to keep from asking them for tips.
And then there’s the reverse. If you think talking about weight loss is awkward, talking about weight gain ranks right up there with those vagina-hand-puppet commercials (you have seen those, right?!) for uncomfortable. A recent study published in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine says that even doctors avoid talking about weight gain, especially when it’s a lady doctor talking to a fellow lady-bit possessor (no puppets or funny accents allowed but weird euphemisms are totally cool).
I recently had a close friend ask me, very earnestly, how to talk to his spouse about her obesity. “I just want her to be healthy and happy! I don’t want her to have a heart attack or get diabetes or die young! How do I tell her she needs to lose weight?” he plead.
“You don’t,” I answered bluntly. I could tell he really did care about her and had good intentions. I also knew that his wife did happen to have some medical complications due to her weight (she is pre-diabetic and her movement is functionally limited) so his health concern wasn’t superficial. He thought she was attractive, he loved her and he wasn’t derogatory to her in any way that I’ve ever seen. And yet I still couldn’t think of any way that conversation could happen that would get the desired result.
He didn’t take my advice, a fact I discovered a few days later when she called me sobbing… to ask what diet pills I’d recommend. Egads.
And we won’t even start with all the snarky, backbiting or back-handed comments people make when talking about someone else’s weight: “She’ll gain it all back, just give her 6 months.” “She’s totally anorexic now.” “He’s so lazy – if he just counted his calories and exercised he could drop the weight.” I get shaky just thinking about it.
Seriously, please help me out with this one! Anyone else freak out talking about weight? What do you say to people when they’ve lost a lot of weight? Have you ever told anyone they’ve gained weight/need to lose weight? Does the person’s gender change how you talk to them? Anyone else afraid that they’ll come out with man-business sock puppets next?!