Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Please Don't Ask Me if I've Lost Weight

For one thing, I don't know if I have. On my best days, I could say I really don't care if I did lose weight. Other days, I can at least be honest and tell you I don't keep a scale around so that I can't obsess about weight, and honestly, I don't know. On my worst days I could at least say I'm not sure because knowing things like that becomes too consuming and I don't want to be consumed by it.

For another thing, while I know you think you're making me feel good, you're really just letting my sick mind know that you thought I looked fat before, enough so that now you think I look different enough that it bears pointing out. It feels like a back handed compliment, whether you wanted it to or not.

For another thing, you say it with this proud grin on your face, which immediately reminds me how much you value thinness, and how hard it is for me to make myself not care about it, when I've grown up around people like you and in a culture that makes you seem so normal. And, no matter how strong I was feeling that day, it immediately makes me question whether I should be valuing thinness just a little bit more.

For another thing, you have that proud grin on your face when you don't even know how I've lost the weight (if I even have lost any). One time my cousin went to a family Christmas party where everyone, so impressed by her drastic weight loss, inquired repeatedly about how she got to "look so good." Each time she'd say, "Oh, I got really really sick this Fall. Honestly, didn't know if I'd make it. But I couldn't keep anything down. I had to be hooked up to a feeding tube. Dropped like 20 pounds in a month. I've never been so miserable." And the relative would walk away, embarrassed to have been so happy about something so awful, to have celebrated what was tragic and unhealthy, to have called something sickly, "looking good," to have betrayed that they might consider someone happy, healthy and curvy to be, on first glance at least, less adequate than someone sick and malnourished and miserable.

I always wondered if one of the millions of women with eating disorders were so honest when asked how they manage to look so good, if people would feel the same shame. "I haven't been eating. What I do eat, I purge later on. I also exercise obsessively, to the point I throw up. I spend more time counting calories than I do doing my homework. It consumes my whole life, and I'll never be satisfied with my weight, even as my tactics get more and more extreme." So why do you assume this isn't how I've been losing weight? It isn't. But how would you know? It is how a great percentage of young women lose the weight. So why assume it's okay to act impressed by default, when something so ugly could be behind it?

But most of all, don't ask me if I've lost weight while my younger sister is standing nearby. When she hears you pay me this compliment, how can she not want to seek the same reward?

She doesn't eat breakfast before school. And she refuses to take a lunch with her, or even take money so she can buy something there. If she leaves the house with no means to a meal, it's that much easier for her to resist eating when she gets there. When she comes home she might be forced to nibble at a plate of dinner that was prepared for her, and this can only be enforced occasionally through guilt and constant harassment from concerned people like me.

And she's only 14. And her body is growing. And she needs nourishment. But at school she knows thin is in, and then when she sees you, it gets set in stone.

Why would she want to stop that, when she gets such frequent reminders that you admire discipline and ambition to be thin? And how can I ever possibly convince her that weight is not important, health is important, when you and the rest of the world keep praising weight loss? And how can I ever convince her that weight is not important, health is important, when I myself have trouble believing that, every time I see that proud grin on your face?


Anji said...

This is perfect, just perfect, and sums up my feelings on being asked if I've lost weight far more eloquently than I could have ever hoped to.

ln said...

Yeah Arvilla, this is a really fantastic post. I'm 100% with you. It must be frightening to have a little sister in the midst of what seems like the worst years in which to create a healthy relationship with your body. And yet, high school is just the beginning.

FeministGal said...

I like your cousin's response. sometimes it's good to make others feel uncomfortable, and teach them that it's not ok to give compliments solely on weight and appearance. great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts!