“I Lost 35 Pounds Because of Health Issues — And Was Praised for It” originally appeared on Kim Bongiorno, Let Me Start By Saying under the title, “They Noticed Something and I Did Too,” and was reprinted here with permission.
I recently lost over 35 pounds.
How does that make you feel?
What is your immediate reaction to that statement?
(You don’t actually have to publicly tell me. But hold onto that truth for a moment, please. I have a point here.)
I always knew weight/size was an issue in this society, but I think it took losing so much weight for me to truly understand how much of an issue it is.
Actually, how much of an issue it is for women.
And it pisses me off.
Maybe I was getting more and more pissed off in order to channel away other feelings (like the ones surrounding the frustrating — but not too serious, don’t worry — health issues that were causing the weight loss in the first place), but there was definitely plenty of kindling getting tossed into the fire of my fury.
As people noticed me getting thinner, whether they were people who’ve seen me before or staff at the various doctor’s offices I’ve been visiting over the past six months and saw my declining weight in the charts, the comments had a clear pattern.
Those who didn’t know me or know me well:
- Greeted my weight loss as something to be happy about.
- Warned me with sadness that recovery from my issues will likely cause me to gain some of the weight back.
- Upon hearing me tell them that I had some health issues causing the weight loss, joked that they’d “love” to have the same issues in order to shake off some weight, too.
Those who did know me well:
- Asked me what was going on, because they saw I wasn’t myself.
- Asked how they could help me eat, get better, manage my responsibilities until I did get better.
- I cannot tell you how many times I have been told I “look great” now that I’ve lost approximately 20% of my total body weight in an unhealthily short period of time while weak, in pain and uncomfortable.
First of all: I didn’t see anything wrong with the way I looked before, SO THANKS FOR YOUR UNREQUESTED OPINION THAT ISN’T REALLY A COMPLIMENT.
Second of all: I would be literally hunched over with bags under my eyes, clothes hanging off of me, or in a hospital gown when they’d say this. You understand that’s messed up, right? Seeing beauty in weight loss over seeing the actual human being in front of you who is clearly going through something that is causing said undesired weight loss? WTF???
It has been infuriating to have woman after woman react to my weight loss as if it were a gift. As if it were enviable. As if it were something OF COURSE I appreciated.
At one medical office, the woman who checked me in actually said out loud to me, “well the good thing is that you’re probably happy about a little weight loss—though you should know unfortunately it will come back right after surgery.”
So I said to her, “Actually, I wasn’t looking to lose weight. Especially not over 35 pounds.”
She turned to me, horrified. “I’m so sorry—I didn’t realize. How quickly did you lose it?”
When I told her, she apologized again. So I told her that while I know the message usually is that women like to lose weight, maybe that’s not something staff in a place like that should make light of or talk about AT ALL. Especially since many of us who come there are losing it while absolutely miserable.
The next time I saw her? She essentially said the same thing again. UUUUUUGH.
Women hear so much negative crap about their bodies. It is relentless. I usually ignore it, but I started listening, making a point to notice when it came up.
I would have hoped that in medical offices I’d be safe from it. NOPE. I can’t recall exactly how many I have been in and out of since last summer, but that woman was not the only one to automatically think my weight loss was just super.
I would have thought while watching TV channels showing children’s programming with my kids I’d be safe from it. NOPE. Endless ads for liposuction, diet drinks, diet pills, diet meals, diet programs in between cartoons, movies for tweens and the like.
I would have thought while posting on Facebook to ask for help getting more food into me due to new dietary restrictions I’d be safe from it. NOPE. I can’t tell you how many messages or group invites I got after that post from people wanting to sign me up to their weight-loss group/program/drinks thing. I said I needed MORE food, they assumed since I was a woman writing about food, it meant I wanted to lose more weight UUUUUGH.
Back to my original question.
What was your initial reaction to my statement about the weight I lost? Has it changed now that you know the circumstances around it? Why do you think you had the reaction you did?
If you are someone who automatically thought it must be good because that’s what you’ve always heard and thus believe, I beg of you: STOP. You are lovely. Women are lovely. We don’t need to keep buying into the line of thinking that getting smaller must always be good.
We need to stop listening to the message that being thinner is always better, and stop spreading that message, too. All it does is cause shame. Shame for not being thinner, shame for not working to get thinner, shame for being wherever you are, really, because “thinner” has no tangible point at which you can say, “OK I am here now at the confirmed success point.”
Why feel shame about our beautiful bodies? Each is different, and it’s wonderful.
Why feel shame about the curve of a belly or cellulite on our legs? They are natural; it’s how we’re designed.
(And before the obligatory argumentative people pop in to accuse me of wanting everyone to become morbidly obese and die decades earlier than expected of heart attacks, let me say this: it’s not one or the other. There are many, many shapes to “healthy” and it would behoove us all for you to keep that in mind before you start clicking in the comments section or speaking up to someone who didn’t ask for your opinion on her weight.)
To be frank, I don’t feel any more attractive now than I did 35+ pounds ago. What I do feel is mad that my weight loss revealed how swept up women are in the message that we’re not good enough unless we’re different, thinner, smaller. I see and spend time with women all the time, and they are AMAZING. Dynamic. Supporting and loving and brilliant and funny. It kills me when I see how easily they fall into the trap of thinking they aren’t good enough when it comes to their bodies.
News flash: I’ve been called fat, skinny, curvy, thin, big and small all while at the exact same weights/sizes. Peoples’ opinions vary. What matters is our own. My opinion is that if we own an opinion that we look great, period, we are on our way to being the healthiest and most beautiful we can possibly be because we believe we are beautiful exactly as we are.
Holding ourselves up “as is” instead of knocking ourselves down — as well as the women around us with our intentional and unintentional messages — just makes more sense to me.
(I know this is easier said than done, but I promise that you deserve to feel this way about yourself. Do whatever it takes, whatever works to get you there: confidence-building Post-It notes on the bathroom mirror, read books that help get you in the mindset, break negative habits, create happier habits, talk to a therapist if it’s deeply rooted, get a support group of girlfriends together who want to work on this change together. Just pretty please find a way to default to knowing exactly how lovely you are.)
Now that I’ve had a surgery to help with some of my issues, I am going to gain at least some of the weight back. Will I look less “great” once I do? Will all of those people complimenting me now think I’m letting myself go? Will they feel bad for me?
Are you seeing how messed up this line of thinking is?
I, for one, will be thrilled to be able to enjoy eating again. Every pound I put back onto my body means I am on the way to being healthier, more comfortable and in less pain. As I get bigger, I’ll have energy to dance again, get off the couch, play with my kids, laugh with my husband while stealing his dessert.
How can anyone see that as anything less than a perfectly beautiful thing?