Dear Aunt Fattie,
Over the past couple of months, I have embraced HAES, starting working on my negative body image, bought some pretty clothes in my correct size(s) (including new bras that actually fit), and got a great (shorter) haircut. Moderate exercise energizes me and makes me give off a rosy endorphin glow. In short, I look good and feel better that I have in 13 years. People have started to notice and compliment me on my transformation. It’s all good, right? The thing is, my new intuitive eating and exercise habits have resulted in the loss of a very modest amount of weight, so modest that it would go unnoticed if it weren’t for all of the other changes I’ve made. (The only reason I noticed is that the nurse told me at my last check-up.) What do I tell people when they ask the dreaded questions, “Have you lost weight?” or “How much weight have you lost?”
People want to say nice things to me, and I want to let them know that I appreciate the comments, but I don’t want to talk about my weight. Or, perhaps I do want to talk about my weight, but only if it is going to be in a FA context. Specifically, I’m looking for responses for a) my husband, b) my co-workers, and c) my girlfriends (only one of whom I’ve ever known to diet).
Never learned how to accept a compliment
You are searching for something even more elusive than well-fitting bras: a response that conveys at once appreciation for an attempted compliment and complete indifference to the content of that compliment. Your husband is presumably aware of the provenance of your newfound glow (and the personal sturm und drang that probably preceded it), so with him, only gentle candor is needed: “Honey, you know I’m trying to move on from caring about my weight, so can you compliment things I’m really proud of, like my clothes or my haircut or my biceps?” With your girlfriends, you can skirt the Diet Talk canyon by focusing on the real issues: “have you lost weight?” is met with “mostly I got new bras, let me tell you about how amazing it is to have a bra that fits!” But what to say to coworkers and casual acquaintances? You don’t want to lie and say that you haven’t lost weight, but at the same time you want to downplay the importance of weight loss and, if possible, demonstrate the virtues of fat-positivity. And talking about your underthings is probably crossing a line.
Aunt Fattie’s recommendation: variations on the theme of “really? I hadn’t noticed.” For people who are keenly attuned to others’ weight fluctuations, this is guaranteed to blow their minds. It is not rude or dismissive, but the genuine indifference not to the weight loss compliment but to weight loss itself alerts people that something unusual is going on here. (In order to show that you are not indifferent to the compliment, it may behoove you to add something like “are you sure you’re not just noticing my kicky new ‘do?” In other words, acknowledge the attempt at telling you that you look good, and guide them towards the kind of compliment you care about and want to receive.) Thus, you are not only sidestepping an awkward conversation; you’re also quietly, non-confrontationally challenging people’s assumptions that weight loss is always deliberate and desirable.
If your coworkers and acquaintances are intrigued by your response, you can gauge whether you want to engage them in a more in-depth discussion of Health At Every Size and what it’s done for you. But remember that you are not obliged to discuss your body or your health choices with anyone unless you want to. If someone asks whether you’ve lost weight, and they are genuinely trying to compliment you, it’s polite to acknowledge their good intentions — but you are under no obligation to answer their question or, having answered it, to give more detail. Visibility does not make your body public property.
If you’ve got your own questions on fat, fatshion, fatiquette, self-esteem, or body image, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.