With every new year comes a host of new year’s resolutions. For many, that will include losing weight. Last week, nutritionist and personal trainer Joe Wicks (The Body Coach), held the top 3 positions in The Mail On Sunday’s bestsellers list of non-fiction paperbacks with his 'Lean in 15' books. If you look at any of the bestseller lists for January you'll find a host of books promising to help you get fit, eat healthy and of course, lose weight.
Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight – maybe you're overweight and concerned about the health implications, maybe you ate a bit (ok a lot) of cheese and chocolate over Christmas and are trying to shed the extra padding. Or maybe losing weight isn't even your main objective but a result of your new fitness and healthy eating regime.
So, just to be clear, I am not saying losing weight is a bad thing (although, of course it can be if done so unhealthily), but I am questioning whether complimenting someone on their weight loss is. Certainly, I've complimented friends on weight-loss before and when I did it, it was with the best of intentions. I wanted them to know that what the effort they were putting in was showing. But, when I take a step back and ask myself why I say "wow you've lost weight you look great!", I realize it's not such a great compliment after all.
For one, it reinforces the idea that "thinner is better" which can be a pretty dangerous narrative to contribute to. Both in terms of image and in terms of health. Simply put, being thin doesn’t equate being healthy and being healthy doesn’t equate being thin and losing weight isn’t always a good thing.
Secondly, it implies that the person didn't look as great before their weight-loss. Which, you know, might be taken the wrong way, like you’re implying they were overweight beforehand.
Thirdly, it puts a pressure on the person in question to maintain that weight or even lose more. Research has shown that many of us who lose weight through dieting put it back on, if not more. Therefore the "you've lost weight! you look great!" compliment is a bit of a sting in the tail. It's a reminder that you notice the other person's weight – you'll notice (and judge) if they put the pounds back on.
Of course, not everyone will take the intended compliment like that – some people will be delighted to hear you've noticed their weight-loss. I am hesitant to compliment friends on their weight because I don't want them to feel like they weren't good enough before their weight-loss, or that I think their weight is all that important. Weight is one of those things that many people struggle with, and it's different for everyone.
Some people can look healthy while ordering takeout every night, while others can eat healthy, balanced meals, regularly exercise and be generally leading a healthy lifestyle and still be overweight. To me, it's so much more important to compliment people on the more important things like their ability to be kind, generous, hard-working, loyal, humorous, sassy.
In a world that's increasingly infatuated with both men and women's weight, we're bombarded with images of the "ideal" body, one that's sold to us as the image of health and sexual appeal. We might have started to move on from thin people being the only thing we consume, but that doesn't mean what we're being sold is anyway more attainable.
From the "curvy" woman, to the chiselled men with six-packs and bulging veins, we're still having images of "perfection" crammed down our throat, often times now wrapped up and sold to us in the form of fitness books and DVDs or Instagram feeds. While I am all for people taking control of their health and fitness, I think we've reached a point where it's becoming increasingly difficult for us not to be confronted with our weight on a daily basis, and I for one don't want to further contribute to that.
So what I am proposing is that we don't stop complimenting, but we simply change our compliments. Instead of praising weight-loss, thinness, skinnyness etc, we praise the people in our life for their commitment to going for a jog in the morning or thank them for sharing a new healthy recipe with us. We compliment them on positive personality traits or for passing their driving test. There’s a multitude of things to pick from when you want to give a compliment – maybe we can all dig a little deeper than putting so much emphasis on numbers on a scale?