Weight LossLast year I lost about 30 pounds. I’m still very much fat, but as a girl growing up in a society that is hostile and dehumanizing to fat people, especially of the female variety, I’ve always seen weight loss as a life-changing accomplishment—something on the level of graduating from college or buying your first home.

So, when I was finally able to lose a substantial amount of pounds, I can’t lie: It felt great. It felt great to look back at old pictures and notice how much smaller my face is now. It was awesome to buy cheap clothes at Forever 21 that were a couple of sizes smaller. I know that, for me, the pride I felt in losing weight was more of a reflection of how much fatphobia I had internalized, rather than something that actually changed my life. (It didn’t, at all, by the way.)

What never felt great were people telling me that I looked better because I was a couple of pounds thinner.

In the most benign interpretation, it made me feel ashamed of the way I used to look. No one should ever be ashamed of how they look, regardless of how fat they are or were, and saying “you look great, now,” is always a repudiation of a person’s former self.

On another level, it felt invasive. Like, why are you commenting on my body? It’s mine. It’s personal and I didn’t ask you what you thought. As a woman, our bodies are too often viewed as community property—something that’s there for frequent and uninvited commentary and touching and harming. Even though they were just comments, from people who only meant to make me feel good, no less, they felt wrong. All I could ever manage was an awkward “thanks,” not the long spiel on “how” it happened or some soliloquy on how much I’d hated my body before, which is what people seem to expect.

Any kind of talk of how a person looks after weight gain or weight loss is absolutely crazy, though, and no one should engage. It’s the ultimate fat-shaming bait, for one. There is an explicit subtext that being thinner is always better, no matter how that thinness was achieved. What if a person had the flu for weeks, and couldn’t eat? No worries, you lost a few pounds and you look great, girl! Debilitating drug addiction? As long as it makes you skinnier. One of those horrific starvation diets, like the Special K Challenge, which will not only make a person miserable but ensure they’ll gain every pound back, plus a few extra? The only thing that matters is that you’re standing in front of me, now, a thinner person.

That’s what those kind of statements say, not only to the person who lost weight, but to folks listening, too.

And, really, don’t we have enough reinforcement that thin is good and fat is bad, already? Aren’t we inundated with diet culture at every turn in the workplace, at the grocery store, in women’s magazines and on Facebook, without adding fuel to the (baseless and senseless) fire that is the diet and weight-loss industry?

By fawning over weight loss—or secretly gossiping about weight gain behind someone’s back—you are overtly reinforcing a very real system of oppression that uses body size as a barometer for awards and demerits. Regardless of your (probably wayward) ideas about health, everyone has the right to dignity and respect and a fulfilling life inside of the body they have. Constantly pointing to the reduction of body size as an achievement is creating barriers to that essential and fundamental dignity and respect for body that fat people deserve.

Not to mention, women, can we please stop constantly commenting on each other’s appearance?! We live in a looks-based society, right? We reward people with certain physical attributes with more money and better jobs and more respect—something that women often complain about, because out looks seem to matter so much more than those of men. But, all of this diet talk? This “did you lose weight,” stuff? It’s playing into that. It’s feeding the very beast that we say we want to eradicate.

I challenged myself a few years ago to find ways to compliment the women in my life without mentioning how they looked and it was unbelievably difficult. I’d been trained to notice new earrings and banging lip color and a fierce ‘brow, but couldn’t readily think to say that they were always warm-spirited, or how much I enjoyed their use of vocabulary, or how proud I was of inroads they were making at school or in their careers. It revealed that even for people who try to not to uphold fatphobia, judging and complimenting looks and looks alone is something that’s so ingrained and hard to shake.

Now, I know that people only mean good when they compliment someone’s new body. I know that most people aren’t conscious of the isms they are perpetuating when they exalt weight loss. But this diet culture, thing? It’s real and it’s expensive and it’s harmful.

It has to stop, starting with all of us being a little more conscious in what we say about bodies—our own and those of others.

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    I love this article and it shows how weight loss is very mental than anything. I have heard people over and over say well if the person says I look good now then what did they think of me before I lost weight. I know you would think it’s a simple compliment but it can open a whole lot of emotions to the person on the receiving in.

  • Starla

    What about the people who get told they looked better when they were fat? I wonder how they feel.

  • Christine

    I dont agree with most of this. I am against fat-shaming, but what about uplifting positive comments on health choices that prolong life and make happier people?

  • http://www.facebook.com/britney.gulledge Britney Gulledge

    I really never thought about it from that aspect. I’ve had many friends recently lose weight and though I never had a “fat-shaming” idea of their previous bodies, I always tried to encourage and rejoice with them for losing their unwanted weight.

    I would see them dieting, exercising and overall lifestyle changes – as encouragement I always commented on how great they look in an effort to say “Your hard work is paying off.” Not once did I mean to demean who they were or judge their bodies.

    I know everyone handles things differently so I’d like to know f that ever made them uncomfortable. I always assumed that for someone to go through the trouble of losing weight (which is hard) that they’d seen the need to change and those around them should accept that.

    Thanks for giving another side of the spectrum to something that is so innocently rude.

  • ruggie

    Yeah riiiight. I mentioned to someone months after their weight loss that I noticed they had slimmed down, and their reaction was “I’d been really working on it. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

  • mEE

    but you admitted that you worked hard to lose the weight and it was important to you. …so we shouldn’t acknowledge that? there’s no way of knowing if someone lost weight because they’re starving or on drugs, just like there’s no way to know if someone is fat because they eat McDonald’s every day. and I could be being naive but I’d like to think most people are looking for signs that you’re healthy, not just skinny.

    this is a topic that I’ve struggled to understand and I guess it’s one of those you have to walk in the person’s shoes to get it type of things. I really like when someone comments on how in shape or slim I look. especially because I bust my behind working out 6 days a week and eat ridiculously clean to look like this. so uh yea thank you for noticing. then again I’m not obese and I only had a very short period in my life where I considered myself overweight. I guess I really just can’t relate.

  • Deana

    Yes, it is innocent but sometimes stings a bit.

  • http://gravatar.com/blaque217 blaque217

    I can’t relate to this article at all. First of all, I am a complimenter. I compliment my friends and co-workers about how nice they look, when they get a new hair style, are wearing a hot pair of shoes, etc.
    But more importantly, over the last year and a half, I’ve lost 86 pounds. And yes, I appreciate the compliments. I worked so freaking hard to get that weight off. And in all honesty, I hated the way I looked before. I don’t know anyone who REALLY truly loves being fat. So this whole thing about not wanting to be acknowledged for doing something so important as improving your health and looks…I just don’t get it.

  • Nicole

    To me, this article just seems like another reason to complain. Really, you’re turning a compliment about your progress, into shaming? You can’t talk about not commenting on appearance when you just said you love to buy cheap clothes from Forever 21 (how old are you again, for real…forever 21) a few sizes smaller. You couldn’t do that before. That’s all about appearance, not health. I love it when someone stops me in the gym and says, you’re looking good. It tells me that someone is acknowledging my hardwork. It also says, I’m doing something right. It makes me feel awesome. I work harder, because I like that feeling. You called yourself, fat. Boo boo, you shamed yourself. Don’t project your issues on those who try to support, and encourage you. I digress. I gotta get some sleep, hitting the gym early. Lol

    Btw, just jokes about Forever 21. Real talk though, not joking about Forever 21.

  • Nicole


  • Mademoiselle

    I usually try to stay away from anything that resembles fat bashing, but let’s be serious. The people who are complimenting you about looking better now were the same ones “not saying anything at all” when they didn’t have anything nice to say about your size before. It’s not like it was a secret that your size was a problem before, so the “looking better now” comments are both compliments and acknowledgment that you overcame a bad situation. Feeling ashamed because people mention your prior self in the compliment is nothing more than holding on to old pity. If you were not ashamed of being fat when you were, why feel ashamed that you used to be fat now that you aren’t? Your thinner self is healthier, triumphant, and more aesthetically pleasing (to some). So yes. You look better now. Accept the compliment and stay on the wagon.

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    It’s a mental thing; I don’t expect many people to get it especially if you never had weight issues, a big one. Some people have had one and lost weight probably won’t get it either. All experiences are different. When you lose weight you tend to open new doors that can be scary. A compliment is alright but then you get into this point where people start treating you better and that should make you feel good but it doesn’t. It like I said before so all it took for you to like me or notice me was for me to lose weight. It shouldn’t but it can make you feel bad about yourself and think if I gain weight then I lose this new found love I am getting from people. When you lose weight especially a big amount it just not the physical part of you changing. I don’t think the author wants people to cut out compliments completely just be a little mindful if you can or care too.
    Also I think it crazy when people whom have a had a weight problem lost weight and turn on other big people, like real fat shaming that can get immature. It has nothing to do with the article it just bother me

  • http://twitter.com/rastaqueen92 Shug Avery (@rastaqueen92)

    Alls my lifeeeeee (lol) i’ve been told fat is wrong and immoral and blah bleh bleu. I dig being fat, it’s what’s up to me, i like…love being fat. but recently i’ve been walking like crazy to save money and clear my thoughts and a lot of people have been saying things like…are you losing weight? you’re slimming down! girl, you looking good! i don’t know anyone’s intentions behind their compliments so i don’t get too pressed over it. i look at them and joke, “i don’t lose weight, i lose people.” For this fat person losing weight doesn’t enter my mind when I’m walking, I’m just walking. But there’s like this pressure on fat people to always think about that…if i’m fat and want to be physically active does that mean i don’t like to be fat and i don’t want to be fat anymore? What I took from this article is that the writer is sort of duplex…we should pay each other compliments regardless if they’re physical or other but I recently read this somewhere and I’ll remix it a bit…if you live off someone’s compliments, you’ll die from their criticism.

  • Eduardo

    I’d consider it an acknowledgment of the mental discipline and hours needed to lose weight. I used to be somewhat overweight myself, but obviously women are pressured a lot more to be fit than we are. In any case, encouraging someone to keep losing weight and looking after their health is probably positive for most.

  • http://gravatar.com/solfresh solfresh

    Like Whitney says it’s definitely challenging to not comment on our friends’ or family members’ appearances. I’ve experienced it with both. I had a friend who rapidly lost weight, and for a second I was worried because at one point I knew for a fact she wasn’t eating. We talked about her reasons for wanting to lose weight but I never saw it as my place to intervene and share my opinion. I felt it was more imperative I show that I was hearing her story instead of sharing my opinion. It takes a lot to share the inner workings of body image when it’s supposed to be superficial yet effects us in profound ways. Nonetheless I didn’t necessarily support her methods either because I don’t believe in not eating. But in the end it’s just not my place to comment on how people go about the business of their body.

    With my mother, I managed to not say you look great, but plainly you’ve slimmed down. I may be on a different journey, weight-gain, but I know how challenging it can be believing you have control over how your body looks and then actually doing it. So I feel like at least acknowledging people’s hard work isn’t a bad thing. However, I only do it when I know for certain you’re on a fitness/health journey.

    Also, it should be common knowledge not to talk about people’s weight but sadly people do. I had a friend who gained weight, and I felt completely uncomfortable when people would bring it up. Talk about awkward topic transitions. Personally, I had a rough semester and lost noticeable weight. No one said anything to my face but a few months later a friend made a comment about it. We’re good friends so I wasn’t offended, I just told her it was completely unintentional.

    I just think we as a society need to reprogram what we say to people, like we need a new script. I definitely think people’s hard work to make better change should be recognized. But if you don’t know the person on an intimate level nor have they invited you in on their journey, keep your mouth shut.

  • Marketing Gimmicks

    I dunno. It could be just me but I think this article’s a little silly in it’s overreach.

    Everyone knows that losing weight and keeping it off is hard work. Especially when poor food choice are available everywhere and obesity is the norm for many black women.

    I dunno.

    To me comments are on a case by case basis depending on the person. For me it’s the person’s intent. If it’s snide then that person’s probably always been an a-hole and if it’s well intentioned then relish in your success. Like I said. Losing weight will come with attention…some good…some negative.

    Making a comment that a person looks better is not the worst thing someone can say to when they’ve noticed you’ve shed pounds.

    I think what’s hurtful are the stare’s and glare’s and ish that people sniggle and giggle about behind an overweight person’s back. Now that’s common and downright insensitive.

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    To be on the safe side we should never compliment people who are overweight and reserve those compliments for only slim people who are super gorgeous? If someone looks better today than they dd yesterday say nothing, maybe you should even say they looked better before so that they know they don’t have to change?

    This is getting angry for no reason. It’s a self-esteem thing. You didn’t like yourself before, and now with the weight loss you still don’t like yourself, so everything is an insult to you and you see negativity.

    I think Black women would benefit more from articles about hot to be healthy instead of this fat-shaming/acceptance stuff. Watch HBOs Weight of the Nation, and you will see all the damage fat can do. Don’t embrace it, you won’t be fat and fit for long.

  • omfg

    why do people who are fat expect people to think they look beautiful?

    you may be a beautiful person on the inside, but that doesn’t mean people have to think you’re beautiful on the outside. just as a person who is beautiful on the outside may not be beautiful on the inside.

    to me, this whole fat-shaming rhetoric is so overdone. it’s amazing to me how much people want to hold on to being fat. it’s like this identity people refuse to let go of.

    and you know what, you probably do look better without the extra 30+ pounds of fat hanging on your body.

    i doubt there’s any way i’d ever think of my physical body as beautiful if i were overweight and i’m so sick people trying to convince others that a fat body is necessarily beautiful in the same way that a nicely toned not overweight body is. for most people, it is not.

    please stop throwing your insecurity on other people. it sounds like you are afraid of sliding back and becoming fat again so you need to hold on to the idea that being fat is not only okay, but beautiful – for your own sanity’s sake.

  • http://gravatar.com/hsm36 Whatever


    I agree. It’s not just about the pounds lost, people are probably proud of how hard you have worked toward reaching your goal. Also, if the author didn’t find anything “wrong” with the way she looked 30 pounds heavier, she wouldn’t be trying to lose weight in the first place.

    The bottom line is if you are overweight and way out of your BMI (yes, yes, I know BMI calculation can be faulty), you WILL look better once you lose weight and are at the correct weight for your height and body type.

    Girl, it is HARD to lose weight, especially 15lbs or more. I recently lost almost 20lbs and it took a lot of work and dedication. Eating clean, working out, running, banishing sugary foods (that I love). When I hear “you look great” I am delighted. While I know my body best, I’m happy that others see how hard I’ve worked as well. Sometimes, “they” can see the difference before we can.
    Take your compliments with grace and move on. Don’t worry about the “old” you. It’s all about the NEW you and moving forward. Embrace your new and changing body.

  • http://twitter.com/rastaqueen92 Shug Avery (@rastaqueen92)

    nah. fat shaming is real. fat is beautiful. the writer was just in her feelings a tad.

  • http://twitter.com/rastaqueen92 Shug Avery (@rastaqueen92)

    you reaching mama.

  • JS

    This! Like the author I have lost a ton a weight but by working hard with blood sweat and tears. I LOVE when people tell me I am looking good or better its a perk and a validation, besides being healthy, of all my hard work!

  • E.M.S.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you may not find a fat person attractive, but somebody out there does. The point is to respect all body types. She’s not saying you need to go tell every overweight person they’re beautiful.

    The biggest issue is body confidence no matter what size you are. A fat person has every right to feel comfortable in their skin as a fit or thin person. Society however, tells them they are not allowed to, and that’s wrong.

  • Lylydon’tlie

    I think it’s important that people keep their compliments in the present without any implications of a comparison. You can say, “Hey you look really great!” instead of “Wow, you look so good, now.” It’s kind of like when someone comments on a new hairstyle and says how much better it looks than how you usually style your hair. Why is the comparison to the old look necessary?! For instance, this happens to naturals when they occasionally straighten their hair, or women who usually straighten, wear their hair curly.

    I guess you do have to “have been there” to understand. My family is always making comments on my looks, specifically my weight. It happens to all the women in my family, but I am probably the heaviest. It is usually the women making the comments(although the fellas do it it too). Weight loss gets used as a vague and catchall compliment as if appearances are all that matters, or the only thing that get noticed!

    The women seem to automatically and disingenuously greet each other with “Hey you’ve lost some weight!” or ” Hey girl! hmm you’re getting chunky though don’t you think?”

    I hate when they do this with the younger girls in my family because as a society we need to get away from only complimenting girls on their looks. Compliment girls on their good grades, or how funny or helpful they are. Not just a, frankly impersonal and uncreative “Aww you’re so pretty!” I mean there’s got to be a balance, we should let our daughters nieces, sisters, and cousins know they’re beautiful. But I know that for me, constant comments about my weight, even in the positive, only served as a reminder that my body was always being observed and judged. That at certain points in time, you disapproved of, felt disgusted by, or disappointed by MY body.

    I make a point to give varied, specific, compliments to the little girls in my family. I’ll say how great of a big sister they are to their new little brother, how gorgeous their eyelashes are, how much I love their laughter, or how good they are at drawing. As for grown women, I love complimenting and getting complimented on awesome earrings or cool purses and skirts. All I’m saying is that I think you have really cool taste, and that’s always appreciated!

    I may have digressed…and rambled. Whatever!

  • E.M.S.

    For some reason Clutch appears to have eaten my comment, so if it double posts later I apologize.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you may not find fat people attractive but somebody else does. It’s nobody’s purpose in life to be visually appealing to anyone else.

    A person should be able to have confidence no matter what size they are. Yet society tells fat people all the time they are not allowed to be confident or feel beautiful, and that’s wrong. Who are you to deny someone that?

    Is it any different if someone found you unattractive and told you so? It’s an unsolicited opinion is it not?

  • http://www.facebook.com/britney.gulledge Britney Gulledge

    I think this makes the most sense to me. It all comes down to intimacy. It would be very odd to have someone you barely know to comment on something you are personally dealing with.

  • lmd2

    well said! I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • omfg

    i did not say someone who is fat should not find themselves beautiful. i said, for most people, being fat is not the ideal in terms of physical beauty.

    you can think of yourself as good looking if you want.

    i object to people trying to push this notion that we should all think a person who is obese/overweight is physically beautiful.

    i don’t believe in fat acceptance. i exercise, eat well and work hard to never get to the point where i am demanding that people think my poor eating habits and lack of physical activity make me physically beautiful.

    this is not a value i share. and i hate that black women are leaders of this fat acceptance nonsense. it is entirely the wrong message.

  • http://www.demetriajackson.com Demetria

    I love this article because it opens up the discussion on what it looks like to be an ally when it comes to weight.

    Thank you for your words.

  • omfg

    i find it ironic you refer to yourself as rastaqueen as rastafarians believe in health and wellness. i hardly think fat is promoted.

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    I think that believing the fat acceptance movement will hurt Black women more than any other groups because if you don’t happen to be fat and fit, chances are your health problems will be worse than the rest of the population. Given the fact that Black people get poorer quality healthy care, if you are black and have fat/obesity related health problems, you will be more negatively affected by it than non-Black people. You might be fit and fat for 10 years, but when you hit 50 you might have serious health problems.

  • http://twitter.com/rastaqueen92 Shug Avery (@rastaqueen92)

    @omfg jah loves everyone

  • omfg

    jah may love everyone but jah might also tell you that defiling your body is not okay as it is your temple made by jah and so should be honored.

    that’s one of the reasons why healthy eating is at the heart of rastafarianism.

    so, if you actually believed in that stuff, you’d take up the mantle of healthy eating and treating your body kindly with good, healthy foods.

    acting like being fat is a great state to be in is not the rastafarian way as far as i am aware.

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    True. I follow Black Doctor on Facebook, and they occasionally post weight loss achievements. There was one woman who went from really, really big to a lot smaller, and a whole lot of heavier women were tearing her down. How she “lost too much”, and “looks so sickly now” (which she did NOT!). >_<

    I hoped that woman didn't see a letter of those comments.

  • Nakia

    As a woman, it is impossible to get people to stop commenting on your body. This would be the case regardless of your size and that it is all about how you receive and react to those comments.

  • Kacey

    86 lbs! Wow! Congrats!

  • http://gravatar.com/rastaman1967 rastaman

    Much ado about nothing!
    This is the type of self involved navel gazing that just makes you just want to chuck it all sometimes. Really, your beef is that other people compliment you for no longer being fat. SMH! Yes maybe you were not looking that good with that extra 30 lbs and they were being polite in not mentioning it.
    Call it “fat shaming” or whatever meaningless victimization folks wish to conceive but I don’t know anyone who if given the chance between being fat and not do not choose the latter.
    Listen no one should be abusing others if they are fat but we need to understand that for the majority of people its just not a healthy state of being. Denying it will not change it and trying to mainstream it will not make it any healthier.

    So yes you loss weight and you are looking better and people are complimenting you, take it for what it is and just for goodness sake just keep it moving. If that is the biggest issue you could find to write about then you need to expand your life or just quit writing until you can come up with some stories that have real relevance.

  • felicia

    Look at Jennifer Hudson. She looks waaaaaay better now. Slim looks good….Just saying

  • jaded

    The thing is people focus too much on the looks and not on the health part.

  • jaded

    I 100% agree with this post. I have recently lost around 30 pounds. And I have more to go. I think I look great now, and I think I’ll look great when I hit my goal. But the most important goal I have is to make healthy behaviors a lifelong habit.

    Our society equates weight with health. And looks with health. Health comes from engaging in healthy habits: staying active, eating your produce, reducing your stress and so on. Everyone, no matter what there BMI is, needs to be engaging in healthy behaviors.

    The way we have framed things these days is that the only thing that matters is giving the appearance of health and not actually acting like a healthy person. Commenting on looks only solidifies that.

  • http://gravatar.com/aqiyl2012 Aqiyl

    You can’t please people, and I am talking about the person who made this post. I like being fit. I like being able to run around and have energy. I like being muscular and lean. It makes me feel good. At my heaviest I was around 200lbs. I am now 150lbs. I lover the way I feel and look. Some people tell me I am too thin. I say with the weight and health yo are carrying, if you can do half of what I can do I will think about being like you again. We are so screwed up. I like to look at my history to find when we were at our best, and by we I am talking about black people. Black people were enslaved because we we physically strong and vibrant people. If you look back at the people being enslaved they were lean, beautiful people. I am looking for my people and any other people to regain strength on all level. Mentally, physically, and spiritually. If you want something else you good for it, but stop spreading your weakness.

  • http://twitter.com/rastaqueen92 Shug Avery (@rastaqueen92)

    it’s not anyone’s place to tell you that you’re too thin. it’s not anyone’s place to tell someone that they’re too fat.

  • Tasha

    I actually considered complimenting a woman who lost a significant amount of weight. I never spoke to her previously and after a few moments of thought I decided against it for many of the reasons the writer mentioned. For all I know, she may have felt better with more weight on her…

    Now that I think about it, I believe Raven Symone was unhappy with her post-weight loss atttention too.

  • http://honestysprotegee.wordpress.com Deauna

    I agree with parts of this post. I think health is more important than weight. If you’re a few pounds over the ‘norm’, but can still engage in healthy activities like walking and running, so what? If you want to be overweight, that’s also a personal choice.

    When I had my daughter, I was 40 pounds over my ideal weight. I know that I wasn’t always overweight. I was an average-sized person. The women in my family, when they were younger, were average-sized. For me to believe that being overweight (not healthy for me), was okay was setting me up for ailments I didn’t want.

    I don’t agree the complimenting on looks upholds ‘fatphobia’. If an outfit, accessories or hair cut complements someone, regardless of size or shape, I don’t see how it’s wrong to say ‘that dress looks great’ or ‘love the haircut’.

  • http://thisisthinprivilege.tumblr.com/ rtg

    Good luck with getting people to understand, there’s a lot of fatshaming on this site.

  • http://kendraporter.com Kendra Charisse Porter


  • http://kendraporter.com Kendra Charisse Porter

    It’s not so much the oh you like nice or that dress is nice but rather “oh you lost weight you look great” comments that can be internalized and feel hurtful.

  • http://gravatar.com/moudou moudou

    Every. blessed. word. Thank you Whitney Teal.

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