- You Look Fabulous! Did You Lose Weight?
- Yeah, but I Lost Weight
When Weight Loss Is Celebrated, Even for the Wrong Reasons
As I waited to check out at the grocery store, a conversation popped up between the cashier and the customers in line. What is appropriate to talk about as your bell peppers and pizza rolls are scanned? Weight loss, of course.
The cashier expertly tossed produce down the belt, and simultaneously divulged that she was watching her weight (because who isn’t, right?). Everyone chattered about which foods would make you fat and which combinations would magically rev your metabolism. And then, of course, there are foods like ice cream that you need to stay away from even though it coos to you from the bowels of your deep freeze.
This is when the woman at the front of the line explained how for quite a while she couldn’t eat because she had stomach cancer.
The entire conversation ground to a halt and everyone’s eyes filled with compassion.
Then she cheered up: “But I lost 40 pounds.”
Oh, well, then. If all it takes to lose 40 pounds is getting stomach cancer, then sign me up.
This is not an isolated case, sadly. I have heard this story far too many times before. When faced with illness, major life stresses and immense tragedies, unintended weight loss is viewed as a silver lining.
I worked on a project once where my boss worked over 100 hours a week for several months. She became a shell of her normal self. She would practically sleepwalk into the office. But damn, she lost weight, too. Her teenage daughter announced, “Stress is the best diet.”
One of my closest friends lost a noticeable amount of weight after her divorce. She giggled a little as she said, “But I lost weight. I look good.”
No, my beautiful friend. No, you do not look good. You look like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You look like you don’t sleep. You look like you don’t know how you will possibly raise your children on your own. You look like you will laugh hysterically one moment and cry hysterically the next.
But day-um, you can wear smaller jeans.
I wish we would stop valuing the unintended weight loss that accompanies thoroughly miserable times.
But it’s terribly ingrained in us. It’s ingrained in how we view ourselves. In how we talk to each other.
I once returned to work after a stomach bug, and was updating a coworker on my illness. And just like that, smooth as silk, it popped out: “At least maybe I lost some weight.”
Here’s the crazy part: I said it even though I didn’t mean it.
That is how strong our cultural bias is towards valuing weight loss as an end goal, as well as the entire process to get there. So strong that weight loss makes all the tragedy worthwhile. So strong that even you don’t believe it’s a good thing, you still might make small talk about it. (For more about the process behind this kind of conversation, listen to my conversation with Jessi Haggerty on the BodyLove Project Podcast.)
When it comes to small talk, weight loss is the new weather.
It’s time for new topics of conversation.
(For part 1 of this topic, click here.)