I would like to talk about my weight so that you, my friends and family, can have permission to stop. I know you mean well but, “You’ve lost weight” is only slightly kinder than, “Oh My God you’re skinny.” Which I’m not. But sadly, it’s what I’m hearing a lot of lately. I’m not here to chastise, but to save relationships because this annoys me, and I’m certain that for others it’s a crushing enough experience that they’re avoiding people who previously had been considered friends.
For the record, I have recently lost four pounds.
Without embarrassing anyone, because I understand that folks are trying to be kind, I’d like to explain a few things about weight loss that are true for both men and women. Of course, this is oft-discussed by women, because everyone knows that a woman’s value is in her hip to breast to waist ratio.
Not all weight loss is good or intentional.
There are a million reasons people might drop a few pounds, and I’d like to refrain from speaking for anyone else so let me tell you specifically about the two scenarios that apply to me.
When my weight drops one of two things is happening. I’m either off steroids, or I’m stressed.
Some stress is great. Recently we moved, and that was stressful, but I’m not going to complain. I wanted to move. We moved to an arguably nicer home. A home that changes my husband’s commute, and therefore his days. I have more time with him every day, this delights me. But moving is stressful. I lost a few pounds, four to be exact, and everyone is freaking out about it. It’s a boring discussion. Can we stop now, please?
Sometimes my weight fluctuates and things are great. They’re great right up until that moment that a well-intentioned banker yells across the echoey marble lobby that I’m SO SKINNY. Firstly, this is humiliating. Was I the size of a hippopotamus? I mean, how fat was I in her eyes? This was a couple of months ago when I had the immense joy of getting off of steroids because my rheumatoid arthritis stopped trying to kill me. If I’ve lost weight because I’m off steroids that means that I’m not actively dealing with a disease. In the past decade I’ve never spent an entire day without a reminder that I have a disease that interrupts my life and lifestyle. Now I’m supposed to explain to my banker that I’ve lost ten pounds because the prednisone that kept me awake at night, made me shake and sweat all day, but also gave me the ability to walk and sit in a chair wore off? Is that a conversation that I’m required to have with my banker?
I’m writing about this because I don’t have food and body issues. I look in the mirror and I am reasonably certain that the image I see is the image you see. Let me assure you that I am in the minority. I don’t hate what I see when I’m “fat” and I don’t hate what I see when I’m “thin”. I am swimming in gratitude that I’m able to spend most of my days and nights in minimal pain. There are many things I will do in my lifetime, and complaining about how my body looks is not one of them.
Complaining about how my body feels? That’s a different story.
I’m writing about this intrusion because somewhere between 2-3% of American’s adult population has body dysmorphia and struggles to see themselves accurately in the mirror. I’m writing this because although less than 5% of American adults have or had a diagnosable eating disorder that does not mean that only 5% of American adults have disordered eating. How many diets are American women supposed to accommodate from vegan to high fat to low carb, gluten-free, chemical-free, fat-free, paleo … the list of predatory diet plans is seemingly endless.
When well-intentioned friends mention my weight I’m not sent into a spiral about my food or exercise intake. Sometimes it makes me a little sad about my RA, but for the most part it doesn’t wound me emotionally. It does make me worry about how they talk to other friends who may be struggling with weight issues. It leaves me painfully aware that these are my friends who notice when I do gain weight. And I will be gaining weight, not because I have a disease, not because I might need steroids or NSAIDs someday soon, but because I am human. And humans gain and lose weight during a lifetime for a million reasons, some sad, some happy, some benign.
When I thought I was dying of grief I ran. I ran marathons and half marathons and I ran in the mornings. At night when I was at my happiest, I’d dream that I’d run so far and so fast that I’d take flight. I seldom ran to anything, but I often ran from things. When I am at my fittest I’m often very happy and free, and just as often afraid and alone. I am certain that I’m not the only person who experiences the world this way. Be kind.
Some people wear their pain around their waistlines. There’s no way to know if someone is thinner or larger from joy or misfortune.
Before commenting on a friend’s size, asking oneself if this is a discussion they’ve begun is prudent. Have they told you they’re trying to gain or lose weight? If the answer is no, try complimenting their belt. It’s the only part of their waist that’s meant to be on display.