I hate the words “have you lost weight.”
They are just loaded. With good intentions, the speaker would insist, but with so much else underneath those good intentions.
You see, in our society, the ultimate compliment is “you look like you have lost weight.”
But that compliment assumes that everything is black and white– that what appears as “extra” weight to a person’s eye is bad, that small is better, and that however you lose weight– through a lifestyle change or an illness or incredible stress- is great because the end justifies the means. So there’s that. And I could go on about that for a while but that’s not the focus of today’s post.
Today’s post is not even just about what happens when we say, “You’ve lost weight” to someone and he or she hasn’t lost weight. But as an aside, when we do that, we leave a message hanging in the air: All this time, I’ve been thinking that you needed to lose weight and, by golly, I thought you finally had.
Today’s post is about what happens when those words are uttered as you are walking through, let’s say, the grocery store with your young daughter (who is, for example’s sake, somewhere between 5 and 20) in tow. What then?
Because here’s the thing. Your developing daughter doesn’t have the cognitive ability (and cognition develops into our twenties!) to navigate all the nuances of what is going on and what is being said, to understand lifestyle change or stress or sickness or whatever, all she knows is that suddenly her mom is getting fawned over and praised in the gourmet cheese section because her body is different. Because, more specifically, her body is smaller. And what that reinforces to her is that smaller bodies are better, irregardless of how getting smaller goes down.
Recently, a woman approached me to ask how to handle that very situation. She had discovered a new love of working out and her body was, indeed, a different size than it was six months before and everybody- men and women who knew her from every facet of life- was talking about it. A lot. And in front of her daughter.
At first, it had felt good. She was working hard. She felt so much better. And, yet, more and more, she was coming to realize that her daughter was hearing all of this- the “you look great; how much weight have you lost remarks”, “the thank you so much, I’ve been working hard” remarks- and was probably hearing it with a different lens as she was coming into her own body development.
What do I do? She asked.
Short of sending a missive to everyone you know (and maybe posting said missive on Facebook, too), to say “Hey, let’s make a deal and, ideally, not talk about my body at all but if we must, then let’s not talk about it in front of my daughter who doesn’t quite get all of this”, the truth is that the comments are likely to continue because we, for whatever reason, sometimes believe other people’s bodies are our business (my mind flashes now to my friends who have been pregnant and had their bellies man(or woman)handled in the grocery store by some stranger).
So, what’s a mom whose body is being discussed publicly in front of her daughter to do?
Redirect the conversation.
Let’s say that Sally, the down-the-street neighbor who you usually only see when you drive by, spots you in the dairy section and exclaims,
“Well, Tracy, I would never have even known it was you if you didn’t have Ashley with you. You look like a whole new woman. How much weight have you lost?”
You are cringing now because you believe that there is no way that Sally can exist. But she does. And she has friends who shop at that grocery store, too. And they are even less subtle and less sensitive to the fact that you are shopping with your daughter.
What you most want to communicate to your daughter (because, yes, while you are talking to Sally, it really isn’t Sally that matters. It is your daughter.) is that taking care of ourselves matters but that our weight isn’t what determines our worth.
“Good to see you, Sally. I think you must be reacting to the fact that I am really trying to work some self-care into my days. I got so busy for awhile there that I wasn’t able to take the time I needed for myself, but, as time passes, I just wanted to feel as strong and sharp as I could so I’ve been adding those thing to my list, too. The important thing is just that I have more energy now (or whatever else you are feeling right now that happens to be true). Hope you are well!”
If your daughter is a little older and more mature, you can even have a direct conversation with her about the comments you are hearing. You can say something like, “It must be really confusing to hear so many people talk about my body, and I wanted to let you know that I am doing these things- working out, cooking at home or whatever- not so that my body will be different but so that I just feel better because I was feeling really ____________. What questions do you have for me?” And then answer her questions thoughtfully and let her know that she can come back to you at any time with more questions.
Many moms fail to realize that our children already think we’re beautiful. And so if our body changes and WE act as if the new body is better, then they worry about their own perceptions of reality and also learn to redefine beauty– leading themselves away from the understanding they have developed for themselves and more towards the one society has handed to them.
Have you faced weight remarks in general? How about remarks made in front of your children? How did you handle them? Is there anything you would have done differently in hindsight? Oh, and do you know Sally?