I have decided not to congratulate people on weight loss anymore. It’s just too uncomfortable.
I know that you’re “supposed to,” like congratulating people who get married, even though almost any legally-aged, sentient person in this country has the ability to do it now (and rightfully so).
We praise the hell out of people who shed pounds.
Guests on talk shows who announce a weight loss are guaranteed an extended round of applause, the audience responding like a knee that was bonked with a rubber hammer.
We have television shows where people lose weight in order to walk into a fanfare of lights, cameras, music and a crowd of adoring fans. It seems like the greatest accomplishment you can achieve is standing in a pair of jeans that are now eight sizes too big for you.
But before you go running up to your slimmed-down friend you haven’t seen in a while with ecstatic facial expressions and your agape mouth poised to say something like “Wow! You look ahhhhmayyyyyyzing!”…
Consider that not all weight loss is created equal. Not all weight loss is expected, wanted or healthy. Boil it down, and there are three basic explanations for someone’s weight loss:
1. For health reasons and/or by recommendation of a medical professional
2. For cosmetic reasons: that person wants to look a certain way, be a certain size, weigh a certain amount, with a multitude of motives
3. Something is very wrong
There are reasons people drop weight that have nothing to do with the latest clean-eating, macrobiotic diet or spin class.
They are difficult and troubling things like (to name a few) depression, substance abuse, ulcers, eating disorders, thyroid disorders, grief, cancer and cancer treatments – many and most of these being conditions you wouldn’t be able to identify at first congratulatory glance.
You know the old sitcom etiquette horror joke of someone congratulating a woman for being pregnant when she isn’t?
Magnify that mortification by about a thousand if you congratulate a woman for slimming down, because (as it turns out) the emotional blow her recent miscarriage left her without much of an appetite for a few months, let alone the fact that praising someone for losing weight automatically buys into the idea that thin=good, thin=attractive and that thin=healthy. While that’s true for some, it’s very untrue and downright destructive for others.
On the other hand, if someone I know informs me that they are on a trek toward feeling good with better mobility and increased energy, and that every positive change they make empowers them and gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment?
Darn tootin’ I’ll congratulate them.
However, my praise definitely won’t include the words “You look great”, or, god forbid, “You look better” (the biggest FU you could send to their life previous to the present moment).
It will be more along the lines of “I’m glad you’re feeling better” or just “That sounds amazing.” But more likely, it will be “Great! So what else is new?”