Wednesday, June 13, 2007

nasty compliments

Laura's comment about weight-loss related compliments that feel more like insults on Grumpy Chair's latest post reminded me of a conversation that really bugged me recently:
Complimenter: "So, how much weight have you lost?"
Me: "Oh, I don't know, maybe 10 or 15 pounds, total."
Complimenter: "Well, it sure looks like a lot more than that!"
I know she meant well, but if she wanted to compliment me, she could have said, "You look great," or something similarly innocuous. "It looks like a lot more than that," really just implies, "Boy, were you a heifer before!"

To be fair, I've looked at old pictures of myself and it does look like I've lost more than that. I've been weight-training and upping my aerobic exercise as I've lost weight, so I know that my body has gotten leaner. But still, I'd personally prefer the type of compliments that suggest I look good now, versus the kind that just refer to how huge I used to be. I wasn't really in the mood to explain it.

The absolute worst compliment I ever got was, "Boy, you must have lost a TON!" Well, no, since I never weighed more than 2000 pounds, it was physically impossible for me to have lost a ton. But thanks for implying that I used to weigh more than a cow. I had probably lost about 60 pounds when I got this "compliment" from a guy at my gym who had never spoken to me before. Until that point, I had lived under the happy illusion that none of the people at the gym really noticed me at all, and that they were all just busy doing their own workouts.

Mostly, though, these kinds of compliments make me think carefully about how best to express myself if I want to notice someone's weight loss in a nice way, rather than make them cringe. I usually either just say, "You look really good," or, if I don't know the person well, don't say much until they bring it up. It just seems safer that way. Once I complimented a formerly stocky guy that I hadn't seen since college on how trim he looked, and it turned out that he had been seriously ill for the past few years. Ouch.

What (if anything) is the right thing to say when someone has lost a noticeable amount of weight? What's the worst compliment you ever got?

Note: Anonymous comments have now been disabled, thanks to someone who is much too excited to tell everyone how they can show the latest news on their blogs. I've done my best to delete all the spam comments, but I may have missed a few.


  1. someone i work with lost a lot of weight and one day she was wearing a really nice outfit... so i said, "wow, you look really good" and kept it non-weightloss related (safer)... i'm not sure if i've ever gotten a bad compliment (sorry!) but haven't, until recently, worn clothes that actually show how much my body has changed... old habits die hard... ;o)

  2. After I lost a couple of stone (as a side-effect, incidentally, of following a course of CBT for depression and self-esteem issues, yay CBT!) someone told me I was the sexiest woman he'd ever met. Then he followed it up with "When I first met you I thought, 'Whoa, she's a big lass", but then you went and got all sexy and stuff." I really wasn't sure how to take that. But it didn't get me to sleep with him, which was his intention.

  3. I've been reading for a while without commenting, but I enjoyed the tangent you followed from Grumpy's post.

    Recently, my brother's mother in law said to me "you look like half the size you were before, you must have lost at least 30 pounds (or some number close to that)." At that point, I'd been maintaining for about 6 months and if I had lost 30+ pounds then I would have been over 190 (from her POV) at the start.

    Like you mentioned, unless someone offers a number I try not to make weight-related comments, just general "you look really good" type comments.

    Otherwise, I find your posts thought provoking and incredibly honest. Thanks for sharing - it is always a good read.

  4. I've had a few of those kinds of compliments. I think I actually hate it when people notice my weight loss - I'd rather just, as you say, go on with the happy illusion that noone notices me.
    When they notice it makes me feel like I have to keep losing since they noticed...once I back slide (and it is noticeable) the 'silence' when they see me again is almost unbearable.
    How weird is that!?!? Must be some familial memory cropping up.
    Another fine and funny post Jen.

  5. Oh, the worst compliment I got was someone who confided in me that they were so glad. They were glad because they were so worried about me and worried that I might not be there or my health was compromised.

    This was not someone who is a close friend so this was a surprise to me. I wondered if everyone thought I was teetering towards a stroke or something.

    I just tell people that they look good and/or their outfit looks great.

  6. My favorite:

    "You look sooooo much better."

    Which, incidently, sends me running to the pantry.

  7. This is some very wise advice for the newbie on the block ;)

  8. I saw a friend for the first time since last summer and she said, "What did you do with the other half of you." Then she went on to say how great I looked, and that it really wasn't half of me she was sure. It actually was almost a third of me and I didn't mind the compliment at all. I figure I've worked hard to get this figure, I'll take all the compliments anyone wants to dish out. Some people don't believe I was as heavy as I was to start with and are really surprised when I tell them where I began. I think the nicest compliment I've gotten in awhile came from my dd's bf and his twin.DD's bf has been one of my cheerleaders (along with dd). Recently they told dd that they think I look really fresh and healthy. Of course there's the guy in my husband's office who walked by and asked who the skinny lady was who looked like dh's wife. But dh has been bragging about me at the office. I think the only thing that is still frustrating is the people who say, "of course you aren't trying to lose any more weight now." In fact, I've got another 10 pounds or so I'd like to drop, if I say that they protest that I'll be too thin (yeah right, pretty likely!!!). Of course most of them are now heavier than me instead of me being heavier than them which I was a year ago. A lot of them ask how I did it, and then tell me they don't think they could be that disciplined.

    I'm not sure there's a safe way to compliment someone. If you say you're looking great, they may think that ordinarily, or in the past, they looked horrible. On the other hand if someone has a new outfit, on or a new hairdo, or has lost 50+ pounds and no one notices it may make the effort that they went to to look good feel like a wasted effort. But I'm a compliment junkie, I'll admit it. I love the fact that old friends notice. I'm also going to love the fact that new friends will never meet the fat frump I was a year ago.

  9. The worst comment I received was from mygrandfather-in-law. Not because of what he said but because of our history together.

    Complimenting someone’s weight loss is a tough one. My grandmother lost a bunch of weight because of her diabetes, and a distant aunt had complimenting her, saying she looked liked a young lady and went on and on about it. I don’t know why but it pissed me off. My grandmother appeared to not like the comment either, maybe because of her disease or maybe because she was actually proud of her extra weight. The lady looked a bit ackward after she caught everyone’s reaction.

    But I don’t want to not comment either. What happens if they worked hard to lose weight? I just wait until later in the conversation, to call it out, hoping I can catch a clue to what had caused the weight loss before then. Also I like to ask what a person’s been up to before I start complimenting on appearances (including clothing and hairstyles). It lets people know what I find more important.

  10. I agree, they can just say, "you look great" - I love the picture! It made me laugh out loud.

  11. The worst "compliment" I got was just a few weeks ago. This lady came in to my office and said, "You've lost weight, haven't you?" I said yes, and she said, "You sure are looking good now... because a few years ago you weren't looking good at all!"

    Uh, gee, thanks, I guess. I haven't held too much animosity for her because her mother died a week later, and to be honest the comment was so funny I've used it several times to get a laugh.

    I did make a positive comment to my friend a week ago about her weight loss, but we're very close and we know all about each other's experiences and struggles. For other people, I usually don't say a thing unless they bring it up, then I'll say "you look good" or something very generic. I'm more comfortable talking to people about the exercise they're doing and comparing notes about shoes, gyms, etc.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07