The classics always get repeated; that’s why family portraits are…
As someone who has battled with their weight for pretty much ever, I have learnt there’s a fine line between receiving advice that is loving and supportive and receiving advice that’s harsh and judgemental – and it’s often hard to pick where that line starts and finishes.
Given how easy it is to cause offence, I personally think friends and family are better off saying nothing at all about their loved one’s weight unless expressly asked for their opinion, help or support.
When it comes to what kind of advice friends should and shouldn’t offer, it’s a minefield out there. If a friend or family member stands on a landmine (the landmine being unwanted comments about weight or weight loss), it may not always end in a massive explosion. Their reaction could instead result in feelings of sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, low self esteem and they could even start eating more or, worse, entering a dangerous cycle of yo-yo dieting. Either way, it’s unlikely to result in them achieving a more healthy, balanced lifestyle.
For your own safety, I thought I’d put together a list of 10 things you shouldn’t say to someone who’s overweight.
1. You’d be so pretty if you lost weight.
So what you’re saying is that I’m ugly now? I heard this for the first time FROM A FRIEND when I was 13. I wasn’t even overweight. I was just bigger than most other girls because I was strong, sporty and a dancer. If you think we should just accept that 13 year old girls are just mean and don’t know any better then it may surprise you that, when I was 32, ones of my besties told me that if I was to lose weight, I’d be so happy and I’d absolutely find someone to marry. I remained friends with her until, one New Year’s Eve, she emailed me a list of ways to lose weight and stay healthy in the year ahead. Suffice to say, we’re no longer friends.
2. It’s easy to lose weight. All you have to do is eat less and exercise more.
If it was that easy, I wouldn’t be struggling with my weight. I have three university degrees. I have run two half triathlons. I have won community service awards. Those things were challenging, but I did them. However, compared to achieving a healthy long-term weight, they were relatively easy. Don’t tell me it’s easy. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be 5 million other Australians also overweight. Over half (55.7%) of Australians are trying to lose weight. (Fact Sheet, Heart Foundation). If it were easy, 35% of the Australian population wouldn’t be overweight.
3. I don’t see you as fat.
That’s nice, dear. When I – on that rare occasion – express something to you about my weight, I am not opening up a discussion about your perception of my situation. My being overweight is a fact. Deal with it.
4. You look great! Have you lost weight?
I think what you meant to say was ‘You look beautiful’. Hearing this is really awkward. Firstly, if I had lost weight it’s my journey and my journey alone. Your compliments will not suddenly encourage me to keep up my good work. Secondly, I have heard this comment at least 100 times in my life. I hate it so much. My responses vary from ‘No I haven’t, but thank you’ to ‘No I haven’t – this dress simply reveals my figure’ or ‘No I haven’t but I did receive a High Distinction for my Masters thesis!’.
5. I’m so fat (when you’re not).
This is intensely disrespectful. If you think your 60kg frame is fat, you must think I’m a bloody whale. When you are disrespecting your 60kg frame you are, by default, disrespecting me. Stop it.
6. It’s not like you’re obese.
Despite ‘obesity’ being a clinical and factual word, it’s a dreadful word to hear in general discussion and I don’t think it’s helpful to be talked about in the media as a ‘thing’, particularly when talking about children and ‘childhood obesity’. Similarly, ‘obesity epidemic’ is just bizarre – as though it’s a disease we can stamp out with the discovery of a pill or vaccine.
At age 15 I was told by the gym instructor that I was ‘obese’ (despite my BMI being within the healthy weight range, something I was unaware of at the time). I blu-tacked those words to my bedroom wall. Did knowing I was ‘obese’ help me become a healthier person? No, it scarred me for life. And this was BEFORE the obesity epidemic became a thing that was somehow acceptable to talk about in the media.
Today, everytime I hear the word ‘obese’ on the radio, I cringe. One of my fun things to do when I hear this on the radio is to tell people how, as an obese person, it hurts to hear yourself talked about on the radio as part of a statistical phenomenon. In response, friends say ‘You’re not obese! That’s impossible! Or ‘No, you’re fine. You’re in proportion!’ or ‘Who cares! You’re beautiful!’
There is so much negative judgement placed on the word ‘obese’ that my friends always feel they have to jump to my defense. Clearly it’s not the scientifically factual word that commentators make it out to be. Being obese isn’t an opinion. It’s a fact. But if you hate hearing the word used to describe me, imagine how I feel?
7. That looks healthy.
Actually, I’m eating it because it’s delicious. Go stick your positive reinforcement up your arse.
8. I’ve always wanted a bum like yours!
When trying on clothes, shop assistants love to bandy around compliments to make you feel better. While I have found most shop assistants to be wonderful and supportive, I found this comment hilarious. This comment was made by a young slip of a girl when I was trying on a figure hugging skirt. We were in New York. She told me I had a great booty and that she’d always wanted a booty like mine. My partner thought this made complete sense. Afterwards, he said to me ‘See. She likes your booty too.’ Sure, it’s wonderful that my partner loves my booty, but …
THERE IS NO WAY ANYONE ACTUALLY WANTS A BOOTY AS BIG AS MINE!
9. You don’t LOOK like a size 20.
Am I meant to say ‘Thank You?’
Your flawed perception of my body size doesn’t change the fact that I can rarely find funky clothes that fit.
10. This woman at work just lost 20 kg on this amazing diet.
I don’t care. I have absolutely no desire to discuss her diet regime or the latest fad diet with you. I can absolutely guarantee that I’ve tried that diet. Dieting is the root of my problem, not the solution. Can we instead please discuss the fact that 400,000 women are raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo annually or that, every day, almost 2000 children die from diseases linked to unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation?
In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing just fine, thank you very much. Don’t worry, I will ask you if I need your help. Meanwhile, more than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day … 300 million of them children. Right now they need you more.
Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. – don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements