I don’t know about you, but I get quite a lot of my news from Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate typical news sources like newspapers (ahem) and the radio, but I find that I get a good sampling of different types of articles on my newsfeed thanks to my network of contacts from journalism school, family and friends. I also have quite a large network of eating disorder recovery friends, from my years of being in and out of recovery, who share thoughtful and interesting articles that they find relevant to the journey. Last week, as I was scrolling through my newsfeed, I came across an article that stopped me in my tracks. It was an article from the Huffington Post called “3 reasons why you should never comment on someone’s weight.” The author, psychotherapist and social worker Jennifer Rollin bemoans how socially acceptable it is to comment when someone has lost weight or gained weight. “I am sometimes struck by how I can be among a group of ambitious successful women who have amazing careers and are raising children, yet the conversation is primarily focused around dieting and weight-related concerns,” she writes. “These are women who have achieved incredible things and yet they are choosing to focus on something so trivial and meaningless. I do not blame them, as this is largely a cultural and societal issue.”
I have to agree with her. Even with my sensitivity towards weight, which comes inherently with having an eating disorder, I often get drawn in to the “Omg you look so great. Have you lost weight?”conversation that Rollin is talking about. In those situations, I tell myself that I am just participating in the cultural norm of our society. Not everyone has an eating disorder and there are people out there who work just as hard at losing weight for their health as I have gaining and maintaining my weight. Why shouldn’t they be validated for that?
Because, in the end, weight is just one parameter of health and wellness. Given the low long-term success rate of diets, commenting on the weight someone has lost may make them feel even worse if they gain it back in the future. Weight loss is also a symptom of so many other health issues, both mental and physical. Imagine how horrible it would be if you commented on a co-worker’s weight only to find out they had cancer or some other fatal disease. Your friend who his slimmed down may be suffering from depression, anxiety or an eating disorder. You truly never know what is going on under the surface.
Somehow our society vilifies gaining weight and glorifies losing it, even when a person who has gained a few pounds may be the happiest they have ever been, while the person who has lost weight may be going through some of the worst times of their life. When I first lost a noticeable amount of weight because of my eating disorder, I remember my friend’s mom telling me how good I looked. It felt great in the moment, but it solidified the fact in my mind that I had to stay at or below that weight, no matter what the cost. I know how much I weighed then; and to this day, ten years later, I’m still insecure when my weight goes above that magic number. I would hate to see the same thing happen to another impressionable teenage girl.
As I mentioned before, I am not immune to the urge to talk about weight with friends and family. When it’s brought up, I engage, because I feel like I should. After all, it is a topic that I know a lot about. However, when you think about it, there are so many more important things to talk about. People’s hopes, dreams and interests shouldn’t come second to a number on a scale. At the very least, you can bring up the sad state of US politics at the moment. That should get at least a few people going at your next family gathering. Jokes aside though, next time you get the urge to make a comment about someone’s weight, or share the latest diet tip you saw online, take a step back and ask yourself who it’s helping. The answer is probably no one.