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Letters from Miss Plumcake: Dear People Who Comment About Weight Loss | Manolo for the Big Girl

Letters from Miss Plumcake: Dear People Who Comment About Weight Loss

Once upon a time I was having happy hour with a friend and the subject turned to suits. I was making my excuses for leaving early as I had to pop by Neiman’s and buy two suits with the hope at least one of them would fit my brother –who had lost a lot of weight– so he wouldn’t have to wear a barrel with suspenders to our grandfather’s funeral.

The person next to me, a close friend at the time, started holding forth about how could a grown man not own a suit that fits. I don’t think I said much as she waxed stentorian on the subject but finally when she asked me directly how a grown man didn’t own a suit that fit I answered.

“He has cancer.”

And that, my little biscuits and gravy, is why you don’t comment on someone’s weight change.

I understand we’re naturally conditioned to think weight loss is good, healthy and desirable. And if a big girl loses weight? Why NOT make public comments of congratulations? Surely she couldn’t possibly be sick, suffering from an eating disorder or heck, just thinks something as personal and private as the choices she makes with her body shouldn’t really be open for general discussion. Would you say “Hey! Congratulations on your terminated pregnancy!” (I mean I would, but only to close friends, and certainly not by shouting it down the hallway.)

Recently I’ve lost weight. I don’t own a scale but I’d say it’s somewhere between “a bunch” and “a mess” and I’m fine with it. I liked my body before, I like it now. It really hasn’t been that big a deal.

I’ve got cheekbones so that’s nice, but none of my clothes fit and that isn’t nice at all.

Other than that my life isn’t any different at a size 18 than it was at a 22. It just takes up moderately less space.

And yeah, I’ve done it on purpose because the less I weigh the less ruinously expensive, side effect-laden, make-sure-she-doesn’t-go-into-shock-and-die medicine I have to have injected into my veins every six weeks until I go to the big rodeo in the sky. And you know? That’s working. It’s also none of anyone’s damn business.

But the point is, until I tell you, you don’t know.

You don’t know if I’m losing weight because I’m sick, or because I’m so distressed I’ve stopped eating, or if I’ve gone on a steady diet of tapeworms, laxatives and medical grade blow.

So please, I know you mean well, but unless you’re invited to touch my body, you’re not invited to comment on it. Let’s just focus on the important thing: how fabulous are my shoes?

Gin and Tonics,

Miss Plumcake

38 Responses to “Letters from Miss Plumcake: Dear People Who Comment About Weight Loss”

  1. Rebekka April 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Amen to this. Especially on behalf of the cancer patients I work with – and it’s not just weight loss. If they’re on steroids they can balloon up immensely, and that’s not easy either.

  2. evilsciencechick April 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    “steady diet of tapeworms, laxatives and medical grade blow”

    I think that’s the most popular celebrity diet. It must be true – I read it on the internets.

  3. daisyj April 27, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Well? How fabulous are they? You can’t expect to bring up that sort of topic and not have people be curious.

  4. Miss Plumcake April 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    @DaisyJ: It’s a rhetorical question because my shoes are always and without exception Ridiculously Fabulous. Always.

    @EvilScienceChick: I’ve actually started telling people “tapeworms and blow” when they’ve said something to me.

    @Rebekka: Exactly. I wasn’t ever sensitive to this until my brother got sick.

  5. SarahDances April 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    My favorite is people saying “You look great! Have you lost weight?” when I’m actually quite sure I haven’t. Did I look bad before, to you? Add bonus awkward points for that statement coming from a guy who saw me naked, once upon a time. Awesome.

  6. wildflower April 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    SarahDances, I had been about to comment on that very phrase! It’s odd how that is considered a generic compliment in our culture.

    “I understand we’re naturally conditioned to think weight loss is good, healthy and desirable…” Not all of us are. I am American born and raised, and grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in a very integrated and Americanized family, but my roots are Chinese, and because of this, “You look great! Have you lost weight?” falls VERY funny on my ear. It just does. not. compute. Asians would never say that. If they believe you’ve lost weight, their reaction would be one of concern. They’d sigh and say, “You poor thing. You’ve been working too hard. You’ve lost weight.”

  7. Carolyn April 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    I have to disagree with this. I have recently lost about 75 pounds. Rarely does anyone say anything to me and it kinda bugs me. Not because I want people fawning over me. That actually makes me VERY uncomfortable.

    But the fact of the matter is, I KNOW these people have noticed that I’ve gone down like 5 dress sizes. I KNOW they are talking about me behind my back about me losing weight. I would much rather have someone ackowledge to my face that I’ve lost weight, than feel very uncomfortable about the fact that people talk about me behind my back instead of to me.

  8. hickchick April 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    What cracks me up is when they tell you, “You’ve lost weight!” and wait for you to thank them. Not, “You look great, have you lost weight.” Which at least has a compliment in there somewhere.

  9. Miss Plumcake April 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    @Carolyn: How do you KNOW they’re talking about you behind your back? Also, you may want people to comment on your weight loss but that doesn’t make it generally acceptable.

    @Hickchick: Right?! I swear the next time I someone says that I’m going to say “You’ve got male pattern baldness!” or “Your eyes are unusually close together!” And claim “oh, I thought we were making unnecessary observations.”

    @Wildflower:
    Good point. I would still say the current Western environment does its best to condition us that way, but obviously it doesn’t hold true at all times and every where.

  10. Miss Plumcake April 27, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    @SarahDances: Ha! A male friend (though not a Special Friend) of mine said the same thing yesterday and I completely busted his chops for it. “Are you losing weight? You look great.” “Are you saying I didn’t look great before?” “Oh, you looked fine before but now you look better…that didn’t come out any better did it?” and it went on and on until he was pretty much a spot of grease on the concrete. Bless his heart.

  11. Carolyn April 27, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    I know because my family loves to talk about people. over Christmas when I was down about 50 pounds, no one said anything. Than one of my aunts who was not there, called me up and told me that she head I had lost a bunch of weight and what not. And that I was doing some kind of craz workout/diet. Which wasn’t even a little true. My family who was there that day, told my aunt that I had lost weight and then just started making up stories about what I was doing.

    I think there can be a happy medium were maybe you make a polite comment to the person? If you know that they are in good health in general? I just don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. Everyone is different.

    My number one though: you never ever ask a person when they are due. Even if it’s obvious they are pregnant.

  12. Thea April 27, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    My favorite Aunt used to greet everybody with “Oh my GAWD! you look GORGEOUS!” I see no reason to do differently – unless, you know, their shoes are um, unfortunate. Then they are just ASKING for it

  13. Miss B April 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    @Thea: I think I’m going to steal that habit from your Aunt. :)

    Recently, the other two people in my department at work have gone on Weight Watchers. Now, I have commented on their weight loss because I know for a fact this is their intent. However, I try to not tell them they look “better” or things like that – just that I can see their efforts paying off.

  14. Miss Plumcake April 27, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    @Carolyn: No I really don’t think there is. Your family may be crazy but that’s Not Our Problem. I get that you clearly want kudos for your weight loss, but once observations about actual body size come into play (as opposed to “you look fantastic!” full stop) it’s automatically offside. You’ll have to ask for your hairpats like a big girl.

    @Thea: That is EXACTLY the right thing to do. I’ve also been known to employ “How fabulous are you?!” if perhaps gorgeous isn’t the way to go.

    @Miss B: Yeah, I can see that. It’s such a slippery slope though. A dear friend of mine went on WW, got to her goal weight and looked like grim death. I mean on one hand you want to acknowledge a goal achieved, but on the other…eh, it’s still a little risky because the whole body imagine thing is Fraught With Peril. Regardless, I’d still counsel anyone who wanted to pay a compliment like that to do it in private.

  15. marvel April 27, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    Is one allowed to comment if the person who has lost weight brings it up first? If so, are there boundaries to what can be said?

  16. HurricaneDeck April 27, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    I remember reading once that French women (now, I have NO IDEA if this is true or not!) don’t ever say “You look great, have you lost weight?” and instead say “You look great! Are you having an affair?”

    I totally use it as often as I can. :-)

  17. Miss Plumcake April 27, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    @Marvel: Good question! As far as I’m concerned if the person brings it up, then it’s fair game. It’s only unprovoked commenting that burns my bundt cakes.

    @HurricaneDeck: Good one! But I’m not sure I want to know the answer!

  18. Lisa from SoCal April 27, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    @marvel I think you are probably fine if somebody mentions it–they opened the door, you didn’t barge in. There’s a different where I come from, and a big one.

    Thank you, Miss Plumcake, for your sensible way of describing your weight loss. Instead of regaling us with stories about how you Got Control Of Your Life, you just stated a fact. My God.

    We should talk about your shoes, actually. Very important.

  19. raincoaster April 27, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    I did this myself yesterday. Having just found out I’d lost four sizes since Christmas I put that out on Twitter. My friend who’s recently recovered from cancer congratulated me and asked how. “easy. Get your medical conditions looked at.” She was not thrilled with that answer.

    Coincidentally, I’m re-reading Marjorie Williams’ memoir and the first sign she had cancer was unexplained weight loss. She was thrilled. She wrote eloquently about how weight loss is always assumed to be a good thing in our society, and it blinded her to the fact that something bad was happening. It wasn’t a bonus: it was a symptom.

  20. lali April 28, 2011 at 1:16 am #

    Where I come from (the Philippines), weight gain and weight loss is always, ALWAYS, mentioned when people have not seen each other in a while. “How are you? You lost [gained] weight! You look wonderful!” — which I at least find really funny because they invariable get it wrong! (I would have gained weight since they last saw me yet they always say “you are thinner” and vice versa). Its just part of a culture where curiosity about people is accepted as natural — you can be asked by a near perfect stranger how old you are, do you have kids, and if not, why not! — and, unlike in America, this would not be considered an invasion of privacy.

  21. Leah April 28, 2011 at 1:50 am #

    I’ve always hated the “you have such a pretty face” line. You know what?? Yes, I do. I’m no supermodel, but I’m moderately attractive. I also have a cute butt (‘world record cute’ according to my husband), a chest that does not belie my age, fantastics skin/hair & a fairly fun personality. While I am larger than I necessarily want to be right now, I still look so much better at even size 16 or 18 than I EVER did at size 4 or 6. My face was too gaunt then & my chin too sharp. My legs were scrawny too. Even my VERY southern mother commented on how much better I looked ‘a little more filled out’.

    (SarahDances, I had that happen last week. Instead of arguing with them that I had NOT in fact lost weight, I finally just gave the ‘nod & smile’ & said “well thank you” in the most sugary dregs left of my faded Texan accent… In the words of the Madagascar Penguins, “Smile & wave boys, smile & wave.”)

  22. BSAG April 28, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    This just reminds me of the time my sisters were discussing a guy they’d known in school, who’d always been the Fat Weird Kid that everyone made fun of.

    Sister1 was going on about how she’d seen him recently and he’d lost so much weight, he must be doing great, and it was good to see him looking so much better these days…until Sister2 interjected with “He has AIDS.”

  23. Britta K April 28, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Best. Post. Ever. Thank you for saying something I’ve wanted to say for a long time a lot more eloquently than I’d ever be able to say it.

  24. tartandtreacly April 28, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I recently lost a bit of weight. Not a lot, but noticeable enough on my 5’2 frame. My friends and acquaintances are a classy bunch and haven’t made a fuss over it. The one or two “Have you lost weight?!” comments I have gotten I’ve responded truthfully with “Yes, but more importantly I’ve gotten back into doing the things I love – yoga/running/dance etc.”

    Generally I don’t get that tetchy over intrusive or insensitive comments of this nature, however. When you grow up Asian you must resign yourself, recline yourself to having your personal boundaries crossed ALL THE TIME by well-meaning but nosy aunties and uncles.

    There are a couple of girls on Weight Watchers in my office. Sometimes I humour them by asking about the dieting and weight loss that they so obviously want to talk about, but I always regret it when they begin their ode to the joys of calorie-counting.

  25. Jen April 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Britta? With the new baby Britta? It’s Jennie!!! So glad to see you read this site too – I absolutely love it and share it with everyone every chance I get. (Sorry, everyone else, for the O/T randomness.)

  26. Jezebella April 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    If someone is so noticeably a smaller size that I’m surprised by it, I will say something like, “You’re looking smaller. Did you do that on purpose?” But only if it’s someone I know well enough that they would be comfortable answering yea or nay. Sometimes the answer is “well, I just took up running again,” and sometimes it’s something like, “I had breast cancer last year.” If it’s an intentional weight loss, I follow up with a compliment. If it’s not, well, it depends on the situation. I do not mention weight, pants size, or ask how they did it. And, frankly, if they do look like grim death from over-dieting, I don’t provide them with a hearty fake congratulations.

    I LOATHE “you-look-great-have-you-lost-weight?” as a supposed compliment. It’s just not. It starts out that way and then it’s rude.

  27. Mary April 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    A correlary: Never ask a woman if she is pregnant. Even if she is actively engaged in birthing a child.

    I like the advice upthread to tell people that they look lovely, regardless of their size. I need to do this more, in my daily life.

  28. Abbe April 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    If you invite people to compliment you for losing weight, then you invite them to scorn you when you put it back on (which happens WAY more often than not.) I’d rather folks mind their own business. If you want to tell me I look fabulous (which I do)do so without reference to my pant size.

  29. wildflower April 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    “If you invite people to compliment you for losing weight, then you invite them to scorn you when you put it back on”

    Oh, c’mon. I’m not a fisher of compliments myself, but if I sense someone wants one, I can put on a smile and say they look fantastic. That doesn’t give me a license to tell them the next time I see them looking like hell, does it?

    It costs nothing to be kind.

  30. Courtney April 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    One of my coworkers makes a habit of saying, “You look different, did you change something?” That was much more welcome than the questions/comments about weight loss I had been getting. I had not actually lost weight, I just got a more flattering haircut and bought some clothes that complemented my figure better than what I had been wearing.

  31. sui April 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Uh, I LOVE this post! You are SO right. I will be sharing this for sure. I wrote a post called “Why ‘You Lost Weight’ is NOT a Compliment” and your post provides even more great reasons why it’s not. <3

  32. spuffyduds April 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    Yeah, I learned not to do that after having my blurted, “You’ve lost weight!” answered (in a much more cheerful and pleasant tone than I deserved) with, “Yeah, I’ve been in jail.”

  33. HAM April 30, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    Asking someone, “Is that a new [dress]?” is a much better line to inquire of someone’s recent weight loss or gain. It opens the conversation to weight loss if the recipient so chooses or it may be a great way to find out about some hot sale happening.

    I’ve lost about 30 pounds since the start of the year, and people who see me infrequently have asked if I’ve lost weight and follow up with, “I can tell!” Well of course it’s noticeable or you wouldn’t have asked. People don’t realize I’m trying to find a healthy relationship with food that doesn’t involve binging or starving myself. This is the first time I’ve purposefully lost weight in a healthy way, and I struggle with it. Some days are harder than others to be mindful that food is fuel and being “thin” isn’t what’s important but rather treating my body with the love and respect it needs to perform how I’d like it to. Constant comments about how I look thinner are a big distraction.

  34. gammyt April 30, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Thank you for this. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Best wishes!

  35. Christine May 2, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    Thank you for this. I have recently lost quite a bit of weight due to s serious ilness that requires surgery and yet most people are thrilled to comment that I am thinner. It’s because I can no longer eat solid food.

  36. Melissa May 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Miss Plumcake, thank you for this wonderful post.

    I totally agree, I sincerely wish people would learn to issue compliments without reference to my size or weight.

    Christine, I am right there with you. My illness was not very serious, but it did cause unintended weight loss, and I was unable to eat normal food for nearly two years until after I had surgery. Every time someone said (and this happened a LOT) “You look great, you’ve lost weight!” it just reminded me of the difficulty I was going through.

    I was always taken aback, and generally responded by letting the person know that it was unintentional, which was my way of saying “I have been sick, and if I’d wanted you to know about it, you’d already know.”

    My favorite people are the ones who know how to say “You look great,” and then stop. talking.

  37. Lisa May 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    The size and shape of a persons body is not my business and I’m certainly not commenting on it.

    Cute shoes on the other hand should never be ignored.

  38. April May 18, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Hm. Nice. Now I need a new pair of shoes.