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Commenting On Weight Loss Isn’t The Compliment You Think It Is

People applaud me for weight loss and finally taking up less space in the world, and they expect me to be thankful and receive their words with pride.

This essay contains discussions of weight loss and fatphobia/size discrimination. 

I’ve shed a noticeable amount of weight since I began strength training several months ago. But I like to answer “No” sometimes when people ask whether I’ve lost weight recently. I like seeing the look on their faces as they twist in confusion, going over their image of me and my body in their minds and wondering if they’ve just imagined it all. 

Every time my mom asks me how much weight I’ve lost, I tell her, “I don’t know.” Every time she compliments me and tells me I “look good” now, I ignore it and change the subject. I will not engage in the way that is asked of me, and I know it frustrates her and everyone else I am withholding information about my body from. It’s the only acceptable form of gaslighting, in my opinion, when it’s used to make people trying to project their oppressive ideas onto me and my body uncomfortably question their reality.

I hate the normalized way our society talks about weight loss (and, by extension, weight gain), the way that people feel entitled to interrogate me with intrusive questions about my body, my activities, my diet. How it’s considered normal and acceptable to call attention to the mass of my frame and proceed to make assumptions based on a socially-shared false understanding of fatness, health, morality, and worthiness. All they want, all they crave from me in these interactions is a confirmation of their bias against bodies like mine, and I refuse to give it to them. 

Since my body has changed, I have encountered, again and again, people congratulating me on meeting or approaching their standards for a more acceptable body. People applaud me for finally taking up less space in the world, and they expect me to be thankful and receive their words with pride. There are people who I love, and who say that they love me, who are openly happy to see that there is less of me. I don’t know what to do with that. 

Recommended: MY FITNESS JOURNEY DOES NOT HAVE TO BE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS

Let me be clear. I’m still not thin and I still don’t want to be. I still don’t have the body that people of my assumed/assigned gender are “supposed” to have. I still weigh over 200 pounds and have no intention of working towards being less than that arbitrary number. I’m still fat and I’m still okay with being fat. 

The reasons I am strength training have nothing to do with my weight and everything to do with my peace and emotional well-being. This process was never about hating my body or its heft, but that’s what people want it to be about. They think I’ve made this change because I hated my body before, or maybe even because I hated myself. Worse, they think I am/was supposed to hate my fatness, that I am/was supposed to always be working towards becoming smaller because fat is such a shameful thing to be. And that’s a shitty thought to have to hold in my head every time yet another one of these one-sided conversations pops up. That’s a shitty thing to have projected onto me. 

Projections like this make it so that, sometimes, I inadvertently allow my body confidence to be dictated by frivolous things like the size of my waist, and I fucking hate that. Because, one day, my waistline very well might expand again, and I must remind myself that it will not make this body any less worthy of my intentional protection and care. Sometimes, I inadvertently internalize their words and aggressive, backhanded “compliments,” and I really fucking hate that. Because it feels like I’m admitting that they’re right about me and my body and my relationship to it, and I have to remind myself that I already know they are not. 

What I want is to be left the hell alone. More than that, I want people to finally understand that aggressively “complimenting” someone on their weight loss is not a compliment at all. I need people to understand that commenting on how I look now, and admitting or implying that they disliked how I looked before—especially directly to my fucking face—is not and never will be a compliment. It’s an admission of their own shitty body politics, it’s projecting them onto me, and it’s inviting me to participate in the devaluation of my own body so they can feel validated in their fatphobia.

Recommended: FAT PEOPLE DESERVE TO GLORIFY OUR BODIES

All it does is uphold fatphobia. It reinforces the concept that smaller bodies are inherently better—healthier, more attractive, more valuable. This is how my body looks now, but that doesn’t mean this is how it will look forever. Bodies change. It’s normal and natural for bodies to change, with difference in time, age, environment, access, routine. My body is not better now than it was six months ago just because it happens to take up less space, and I need people to stop trying to make me carry the weight of their own fat hatred. 

Sherronda (she/they) is an essayist, editor, and storyteller writing pop culture and media analysis through a Black feminist lens with historical and cultural context. They often find themselves transfixed by Black monstrosity, survival, and resistance in the horror genre and its many fantastical narratives, especially zombie lore. Read more of their work at Black Youth Project.

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