How to respond positively to weight loss without shaming other bodies

Vintage bathroom scale by OldSteamerTrunkJunk
Does anyone have any advice/thoughts on how to respond when someone talks about losing weight and is seeking validation for it, or is discouraged when you haven't noticed?

Previously I would have felt like "You look great!" is an appropriate response and validation for their hard work. But now I feel like that is saying that something was wrong with how they previously looked and shaming fat/bigger bodies, or pre-shaming in the future if they gain the weight back. (Coming from my own experience and other people losing and then regaining weight over and over again.)

I did try to focus with one family member on how she seems to be feeling better physically and that reflects in her face (because she has been cutting out food that has been causing her physical problems separate from weight), but after she expressed disappointment specifically that I hadn't noticed that she lost so many pounds, I was wondering if I could have handled it better. -Raven

We put this question out to our Homies, and here were some of their responses for how to respond positively to weight loss, without shaming any other body types…

You say something like "it sounds like you are really proud of how hard you have been working on this," or some other "reflect the emotion" rather than validate the skinny = good sentiment behind it. -reebs

I've said things like, "Hey, you look different!" Or, "have you changed shape recently?" It's a way of acknowledging that something has changed and that effort might have gone into it, without putting any good/bad value onto it or even talking about bigger/smaller. -Ariel

What about "I'm so proud of your for working to be healthy, but I think you're perfect at any size!" -Laura

"Measuring up" soap by NewLeafSoap

I try to be super attentive to changes like better mood, increased strength, increased mobility, better health, and remark upon THOSE changes (and of course weight loss doesn't mean better health for everybody. Sometimes it's quite the opposite). If somebody actually called me out on not noticing weight loss, I would probably be quite explicit: "I'm not going to define how beautiful you are by how much you weigh. But if this is related to changes that support your health, I'm very proud of you." -Sunny

I like to compliment the hard work and self control that lead to the weight loss. "It looks like you've been working hard!" It acknowledges the change in body, without assigning emotions to the body before or after the change. And honestly, the hard work is more important and something to be proud of than just being skinnier. The weight loss is a result of hard work, and that's what people want you to notice; the effort! -Evee

"I'm glad to hear [life changes] are making you so happy."

"You're glowing! You look [happy/healthy/radiant]. Keep up the good work!"

"I'm proud of you for [act of self-care]" or "I admire your dedication to [healthy habit]." -Bunny

What are the ways that you would or do respond to someone seeking praise for weight loss?

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  1. The short answer: I'd stick to the simple, "You look great!" because that allows it to go anywhere. It can lead into a fitness/weight loss direction, a great-smile, direction, a good-color-on-you direction, where-ever.

    Now my own issue:
    I am struggling with the opposite problem. I completely agree that a person is beautiful at any size and that we should love ourselves and the bodies we live in. However, I was very unhappy with my body – I couldn't walk and talk down the block without gasping for breath. This is what I call the "Zombie Survival" test. If you can't comfortably outwalk the zombie (assuming shambler, of course), then getting fitter is a good idea. So I started working out and eating better. Not only can I pass the Zombie Survival Test, but I've lost a lot of weight.

    I want to talk about my fitness journey with my loved ones. I'm proud of how far I've come and I'm excited to see where I can go, but I don't feel like I can talk to people about it without making others uncomfortable. When I do try to talk about my progress, I find people saying things about how beautiful I was the way I was before, which is true, but I want to celebrate that I've lost 35 pounds instead of suggesting that I didn't need to lose it in the first place. Yes, I was (am) gorgeous, but I did need to get fitter. Again, zombies.

    11 agree
    • Um, that is the most amazing physical fitness test I've ever heard of. Right now, I think I could out walk a shambler for awhile but eventually I'd get tired and it might catch up. Also, congratulations on how far you've come!

      4 agree
      • I mean, isn't that what fitness is all about? Surviving the zombies?
        That's also the worst thing about zombies. They never tire. They don't lose patience. They just continue walking…and walking…Eventually we get too tired, flip out in a "I want a sandwich and a twinkie" rage, rip off a few heads, and go home. That counts as fitness success to me.

        5 agree
        • Yes to this zombie test. The only reason to master pull ups is so you can pull your self in a window while trying to get awayfrom the zombies.
          I trust that if people are uncomfortabel or dont want to talk about it they will tell me, maybe I will throw in a 'I keep talking about it, but I'm pleased/ proud with what I've done and I've been learning more about XYZ'. its up to other people to manage their reactions/ feelings, you can waste a lot of time worrying about it when they dont care at all.
          It's social conditioning of some sort that we always say 'oh you are beautiful no matter what' – which is true, but does kind of invalidate your work, or just not recognise that weight is about more than appearance. It is a tricky one for sure!

  2. I pretty much go with "Good for you!" I also have said "You look great!" and I don't find anything wrong with it. I don't think saying that implies that the person didn't look great before, I think it just validates that they look great NOW, at that moment in time. Sometimes I think people are too touchy about it.

    For example, I'm trying to lose weight. I am overweight for my height, build, and age. I don't like the way I look right now, I don't like how my clothes fit, etc. I would be kind of pissed if I lost say … 10lbs and someone said "Oh, I'm so glad you're getting healthy." I mean, that's nice and all, but I WANT to look different, I want to hear "You look smaller than you did the last time I saw you" that's kind of half the point.

    So, I guess it just depends on the personality of the person who's losing the weight, their reasons for doing so, and what they'd like to hear.

    7 agree
  3. The "reflect the emotion" thing is really obvious and usually comes off as a disapproval of the actual subject matter, at least to me, so I try to avoid it. (Unless you're a therapist, when I say I'm happy about a thing, I expect a response relating to that thing, not just "it sounds like you're happy about the thing". That gives the impression that you're trying to hide your own opinion on that thing.)

    TBH I'd probably follow their lead. You can't force people to have the relationship with their body you want them to. While I'd definitely support avoiding stuff that makes you uncomfortable, "looks like you've been working hard!" is probably a good blanket response because it doesn't get into physical attractiveness – a lot of the responses that make a point of how the speaker doesn't judge beauty by weight kind of come off like "but don't think you're attractive now".

    11 agree
    • Yeah some of those responses seemed a bit dismissive- if someone has made a change to their body and they are happy about it, let them be happy about it! I don't care if they've lost/gained weight or gotten a boob job or a tattoo… if they're happy about it, they probably want you to reflect that happiness back. Not to reassure them that they were fine before :-/ Of course I would NEVER bring it up first because you never know if weight loss was accidental because of health issues, etc. But if they worked really hard (and/or endured the pain and expense) to make a change they feel good about, then I think it's totally fine to celebrate that with them.

      But I also think "you look great!" is fine to tell anyone at any time, really.

      10 agree
    • Glad I'm not the only one who felt this way. Also saying "It seems like you're proud of how hard you've been working," in response to someone saying, "Look how much weight I've lost!" actually feels vaguely insulting to me. Like it implies you don't think their weight loss is as impressive as they're making it seem. If someone is proud of losing weight–as long as it's healthy and there's nothing else going on–I don't see anything wrong with matching their emotion and telling them they look great. Jusy don't say "You look so much better" or something like that.

      7 agree
  4. If I had been in this situation, I would have responded with something along the lines of not wanting to be overly conscious of weight loss specifically because I thought the person looked perfectly great before, and that I didn't want to imply otherwise. I would expect someone to be mollified by that kind of comment.

    I recently went through a 6-month period where I lost about 35lbs, and only one coworker (who I was close with anyway) commented on my weight loss at all. My husband didn't notice until i had to walk funny while hiking up my jeans that were 2 sizes too big leaving a restaurant one day. I was losing because I had some health diagnoses that I needed to work on, not to look better, so it didn't really bother me, but I did occasionally wonder if anyone around me noticed that I'd shrunk. I'm not the sort to want attention, though, and I would think it's rather rude to express disappointment to someone in conversation that they hadn't noticed.

    With the pop culture focus on body positivity, along with people who still want to look "better" by being smaller, I feel like you really can't win – you're going to offend someone sometime. I think it's wise to take a road of caution, as you did.

    6 agree
  5. I'm by no means at a healthy weight because I have to choose my battles in life, which right now are surviving toddlerhood, going to work, and finding time to bond with my partner (usually over food). But you can be sure that if a friend of mine takes charge of their health and starts making all these really difficult changes in their life, such as hitting the gym at 6am and eating way different than they're used to, I'll be cheering like a madwoman from the front row.
    It's not about how they look, it's saying "Damn, your mental strength is killing it and you inspire me!"

    3 agree
  6. This one is tough! I normally error on the side of caution and think a good "you look great!" is pretty safe. Since it doesn't bring up any body changes, and I've said that kind of thing to people who's outfits are excellent, for example. I do find I react more positive towards people doing healthy lifestyle changes, which result in weight loss, than people in my life losing weight by crash dieting. I have some eating disorder tendencies, and find that crash dieting, or extreme diets really seem like socially acceptable eating disorder behaviors, and I can't get behind it. You often read of some people sliding into disordered eating by all the compliments they achieved when they first started loosing weight. At the same time, you want to support and encourage the hard work people put in to becoming healthier, it's a tricky balance!

    1 agrees
  7. There seems to be a lot of caveats about "health" in these comments and wow, weight loss does not equal good health. Weight loss could result from both physical or mental distress.
    I think the safest thing is to a) NEVER mention someone's weight outside of a private (and I mean, even not quietly in public) conversation. b) I really like Ariel's "You've changed shape!" It acknowledges that there's a difference without putting that dreaded "health" or "thinner = better" spin on it, and opens the door for someone to either open up if they want to talk about it, or close that door quietly and firmly.
    As a formerly thin, then fat, then fit, then fat, and now working towards fit again, I appreciate acknowledgment of the work I put in, but I like fat me just as much as fit me, so semantics are important.

  8. Being a person that is unhappily large and struggling to change that, I tend to say, "I envy your self-control."

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