Have you lost weight?


“Have you lost weight?” She asks.

She hasn’t seen me in a while.  Not this calendar year.  My dad was still hospitalized the last time I saw her if I remember correctly.   

There is a smile in her voice, an upbeat tone to her question.  In her world, it’s a great question to ask a person.  In my world, not so much.  But she doesn’t know that about me.  She doesn’t really know professional me.  She doesn’t really know personal me all that well either.  But we know each other, like each other, and here she is with this question.  And I don’t know what to say.

Because there are two ways this question can go.  There are the facts of the question.  The mathematics of it, let’s say.  And then there are my feelings about the question.  The psychology of it, let’s say.  And, truth be told,  I can’t account for the first part and, well, our relationship (or the lack thereof) and the setting we are in kinda keeps me from being able to properly talk to her about the second. 

And so in the 2/10th of  a second pause between when she serves her question and it is left hanging in the air and when I answer it, my mind races to find the most right words for this moment.  What are the right words to use when you fundamentally believe it’s absolutely inappropriate to mention anyone’s body size- no matter how you are mentioning it- and someone has just mentioned your body size to you in a way that she thinks will make you happy?  How do you navigate that when, really, it’s not the time or place or relationship for a teachable moment? 

If you are me, as it turns out, you say, “No, I don’t think so” and smile really big to show that you are just fine with your body the way it is.   

Because what does a person do with that?  Right?  If there is ever a way to preach in a moment where you can’t really preach because of time, place, relationship, you can spin that question around for the person so that it is packaged in a way that they may (if they are the type of person who is inclined to do so) have to personally consider it later, answer it in a way that might lead to some reflection later that says, “oh, I probably don’t want to be bringing up people’s bodies because that was a little awkward.” 

I’ve talked about how I feel about “have you lost weight” on this blog (see that link above to read my earlier thoughts on it).  The truth is that when we say to someone, “have you lost weight?”, what we are really saying most times is that we think that person looks great– maybe she seems happier, emotionally lighter, maybe she’s wearing a color that really complements her, maybe her eyes are lit from within with her inner-confidence or happiness, etc.  When we say to someone “have you lost weight”, it is very rarely about the weight.  It’s about the way the person carries herself, her confidence, her happiness, etc.  If we could get everyone to banish “have you lost weight” from their vocabulary and instead speak the truth and not what they think is the essence of that truth, imagine how much further we could go on a journey to self-acceptance.

Here’s what I think that woman saw last week when I walked in.  A woman who was no longer wracked with worry and fear and sadness and exhaustion from keeping vigil at her father’s hospital bedside, a woman who was getting enough rest and enjoying the sunshine and eating well because she has the time and ability to do so right now, a woman who for the time being has all the sails up.  One day those sails will fall again, I’ll have to battle my own life to get to the other side of some sliver of happiness, but, until then, I don’t want anyone to be quantifying my size.  Instead, I want to be qualifying- that is adding quality to- my life.  And counting weight loss as the only way that might happen just doesn’t work for me.  If I could have told her that, I would have.

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16 responses to “Have you lost weight?”

  1. PJ

    perhaps “have you lost the weight of the world?” would be a better question?

  2. Ann Becker-Schutte

    PJ–I love your response.

    Rosie–What a lovely take on a critical question that we face so often. Sometimes we have to just let it go, while holding our space. Other times, we have a window to share a wider perspective.

    Thanks for sharing a wider perspective!

  3. Margot Starbuck

    You are MUCH more generous than I would have been. (And also quicker to think on your feet!)

    I think people are saying, “A physique which our culture says is attractive–lean, thin, no excess fat–is something I, personally, value. You are more worth more to me thin than you are chunky.”

    I may have issues. Ha ha. But I do think that VALUE is tucked in the comment someplace…

  4. Pamela

    Rosie, very thoughtful and honest. Thank you. I have found that I am different in some ways from a lot of people. If I were to ask “have you lost weight?” it would simply mean that I haven’t seen you in awhile and you look different to me, in other words “what has been happening with you since I last saw you?” Sometimes you’ll see someone you haven’t seen in years and they look exactly the same. Sometimes they’ll look different. Usually that means something has changed in their life. Once I lost a bunch of weight because I was under stress another time I lost pretty much the same weight because I discovered a food allergy that was making me ill and now I’m very much healthier. Of course my friends noticed this weight loss. I look very different. I’m not worried about being judged by others.

  5. Yvette

    I cant tell You how much I hate when ppl say ” U look good, have U lost weight?” Why cant I JUST look good or Pretty without having weight lose be the reason? I always say “nope I always look this good” 😀

    Ok I have lost it a few times and yell “NO I havent and NO Im not trying to!” and “Do You really think thats a complement bc its not!”.. sure later I have to explain why i think they are wrong.. Most of the time they get it.. Sadly, some dont.

  6. Kip DeForest

    Rosie, this really made me think! Thank you for your perspectives on this question. I always thought of it as a compliment… but now I see that that question can be just the opposite! I just love Yvette’s response! Perfect! Thanks for making me think hard about this topic!

  7. sui

    I am of complete agreement. You make a great point that when we ask “Have you lost weight?” we’re really trying to say that someone looks great, happy, sparkling.

    I’ve written a post about why “you lost weight” isn’t a compliment, too: http://s.rvxn.org/2010/09/21/you-lost-weight-is-not-a-compliment/

  8. Kate

    Love this, Rosie. Last weekend at a wedding I saw friends – a married couple – that I hadn’t seen in at least a couple of years. At one point, during an otherwise lovely conversation, the male of the couple (which, for some reason or another, seemed even more odd to me) went beyond asking the question and simply stated, “You look like you’ve lost weight.” My initial response (though I hate to admit it) was, “Thanks!” And then, several minutes later, “I shouldn’t have said, ‘Thanks.’ I’m taking that back. I meant, ‘Hmm. Interesting observation.'” Later, it occurred to me that maybe I do look thinner, because at the time of our last encounter, I was likely purging regularly (and thus had swollen cheeks…yada, yada, yada). Again, probably not something that’s appropriate to bring up in polite conversation.

    Either way, the question – and even more so, the statement – is so wildly loaded. Thank you for the reminder, and again today as always, for the example you set for me in rising above it.

  9. Mid-Week Balance: 1 June 2011

    […] I couldn’t narrow it down to just one post. In her caring response to being asked if she had lost weight, Rosie challenges our assumption that being thin is why we look attractive, or happy. From that […]

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