“Wow, Lindsay. You look so beautiful! Have you lost weight?”
For most of my teens and adulthood, this was the typical first statement made by so many of my friends and family. People would instantly praise my skinny bod and enviously take me in as they tried to figure out how I was successfully shedding weight. I had the kind of body others seemed to want and had miraculously found the magical secret to keeping it that way. The thinner I became, the more comments I received. And with each of them, I got a temporary high from believing that my weight loss efforts upped my value and lovability in this world.
If only those closest to me had known the heartbreaking truth lurking beneath the surface. There was not a single ounce of magic behind how I was achieving eternal weight loss.
While others were treating me like the holy grail of thinness, I was silently neck-deep in an eating disorder, struggling daily with body dysmorphia, and battling a dangerous addiction to diet pills. Not once during this time was I ever happy, or at home, in my body. Sure, I experienced deep satisfaction in seeing my collarbone and sternum jut out of my skin, and I loved being able to exponentially increase my thigh gap. Each positive response about my ability to easily shed pounds certainly fueled a fire in me to “keep up the good work.”
But make no mistake. My insatiable desire to be thin was totally holding me hostage. And I didn’t even know it at the time.
Every single day, I’d look in the mirror and see a grotesquely larger version of myself than what was there. When people enthusiastically commented on my weight loss, it just made me want to get skinnier. No matter how much of a drop the scale showed, it was never – ever – good enough for me. I was obsessed with figuring out how to be the thinnest person in the room, even when it cost me my mental and physical health.
It’s been four years since I’ve been complimented for losing weight, and it’s obvious to me why. I’ve had two kids, and in the process, gained 75 pounds. My stomach has expanded, I’ve got a much bigger ass now, and I’m generally taking up way more space than I ever have before. I’ve also completely recovered from my eating disorder, am healing a body image that’s been broken for years, and legitimately love the woman I see in the mirror. I am the same Lindsay I’ve always been – except now, I’ve learned to embrace myself with so much compassion and courage.
And yet, despite my incredible inner growth and the improvements to my overall health, none of the people who used to marvel at my thinness have decided it’s appropriate, or necessary, to praise me for my current body size. I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something seriously wrong with that.
When we sum up a person’s health, worth, and admirability by how little they weigh, we are creating a breeding ground for disordered eating, self-hate, and a culture rife with shame. What’s more, we’re perpetuating a toxic societal pressure to achieve and maintain a body size that is completely unsustainable for many of us. Because let’s face it, the very thing we go to in order to lose weight in the first place is a diet. And diets don’t work.
A 2007 study conducted by the folks at UCLA revealed that dieting does not result in long-term weight loss, or weight maintenance, for most of us. “We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more,” said Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead researcher of the study. “Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”
And yet, despite the crystal clear evidence pointing to the inevitable failure of dieting, a ton of us out there still believe that hustling to lose weight and staying thin is something we should all be aiming for.
As a young child, I was inundated with the sight of weight loss ads on the TV, images of extreme thinness in the media, and a slew of skinny celebrities I was taught to look up to. As a preteen, I started my first diet because I thought I weighed too much. As a teenager, I was already hooked on weight loss pills, binging and purging, and severely restricting my eating. And at no point during my childhood did anyone ever stop to ask if the thin girl they saw before them was perhaps hurting herself to get there. Because of our ridiculous societal status quo, no one felt compelled to investigate how I was managing to stay impossibly skinny.
I think this part bears repeating. As a youth, I managed to completely avoid critical speculation about my health and wellbeing entirely because everyone around me saw how thin I was. It doesn’t surprise me why. Profit-driven industries exist in our society that are strategically designed to project the idea that losing weight is synonymous with everything good about being human. And a painfully outdated and unnecessary BMI system is continually breaking us all down into digestible, and damaging, stereotypes.
Much like respecting a woman’s right to tell us she’s pregnant before we just assume she is, I believe we need to start talking about the potential and lasting harm that unsolicited weight loss compliments can have on the people who receive them. We also need to begin making the connection between this kind of superficial praise and a seriously fucked up system that’s rife with judgment, divisiveness, and even oppression.
None of us ever know all the reasons why a person’s body has changed. I think it’s incredibly harmful and so unhelpful to just blindly assume that someone’s weight loss is something they wanted or needed. Even worse, when someone is publicly given praise for becoming thinner, it sets a shame-inducing tone for anyone around that person who, for whatever reason, isn’t actively losing weight.
This message is especially debilitating for our children to witness and receive. As parents, it is our responsibility to help our kids feel accepted, whole, and unconditionally worthy, no matter how much they weigh. The best route to helping them feel confident and safe to be themselves is to model it with how we act, talk, and behave in front of them. As a youth, I could have undoubtedly benefited from someone showing me that there are many different ways for my body to lovingly exist in this world.
Just because diet culture has us conditioned to believe that a number on a scale says anything legitimate about our character, we do not have to buy into it anymore.
If you’re someone who thrives on this type of praise, I want you to know something very important. I empathize with you more than you’ll ever know. I have vulnerably been where you are right now. And I am here to help show you that you don’t have to choose that path if it is doing more harm than good in your life.
It’s not your fault you live in a society that’s been determining your inherent value by the number on the tag of your jeans. It’s not your fault that our medical system has not shifted to embrace health at different sizes. It’s not your fault that we’ve been tricked into thinking that our insides can be grossly summed up by how we appear on the outside.
In case any of you reading this need the permission, it is 100% okay to finally stop investing parts of your self-esteem into whether you are losing weight or not. You deserve to feel good, experience love, and be respected as a human being, no matter how much you weigh. Diets were not built to last, and feeling like you constantly need to be on one to matter will ultimately erode your mental health. Please believe me when I tell you that there so many other amazing qualities about you that have absolutely nothing to do with your physical frame. You deserve to be seen and embraced for all of them.
I am living proof that there is so much fucking freedom on the other side of forcing yourself into a thin body. Trust me. You are just as worthy of that freedom as I am.