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As a society, we seem to have gotten the impression that it’s okay to comment on something as personal as a person’s weight. No, it’s not okay.
I was at the gym the other day, walking on the treadmill, and I glanced at the girl next to me who had been running non-stop on her treadmill for the last 35 minutes.
I admired her dedication. Her name was always the first to appear in the register, every morning at 5am, and she never missed a workout, not even on a Sunday. As I was getting ready to leave, I watched a lady come up to her and ask her how many days a week she worked out. “I aim at 7”, said the girl. The lady smiled appreciatively. “Its good that you’re trying to become thinner. If you lose that belly you’ll actually be really attractive.”
At that moment, I swear the girl froze. These words had been said loudly enough for many people around to hear, and all of a sudden, her ‘belly’ became a prime focus. I tried to get away as fast as I could from the acutely uncomfortable situation, but I could see the girl’s face change completely and her eyes fill with tears.
As it happens, she has hypothyroidism, and from a very young age she’s been battling with weight issues. Now at 20, she’s probably fitter than all the other women at the gym combined, but the only thing that mattered to people – the only thing ‘keeping her from being attractive’ – was her slight paunch. The woman who said those words didn’t give it a second thought, but they were enough to bring the girl to tears. For someone who has been working so hard, so long, and with so much dedication, to stay fit and keep obesity away, those words must have felt deeply hurtful.
The sad thing is, this happens all the time. How many times have we heard these lines, often from people we barely even know?
You’d look so much better if you lost a little weight!
Hey you lost weight! Why have you become so skinny?
You really should eat more! Look how skinny you are!
Wow, looks like someone has been putting on!
You put on weight! You look so different now!
As a society, we seem to have gotten the impression that it’s okay to comment on something as personal as a person’s weight. Without thinking twice, we throw our unsolicited comments at the person concerned and walk away, stupidly unaware of the intense effect it can have on him or her.
So if you are someone who has commented on someone’s weight or is doing it regularly without a second thought, here’s something for you: STOP IT. RIGHT NOW.
If you need reasons to stop commenting on people’s weight (if ‘don’t do it’ isn’t good enough for you), here are 5 of them:
Here’s a rule of thumb. Unless it’s a member of your immediate family or a very close friend – DO NOT TALK ABOUT A PERSON’S WEIGHT.
Why not? Because it’s an incredibly intrusive topic that you have no right to poke your nose into. Do you go around asking people if their periods have gotten heavier or lighter? No? Good, because it’s intrusive and it’s absolutely none of your business. The exact same rules apply to a person’s weight. Just because weight gain or loss is visible, doesn’t mean you have the right to comment on it.
What you see about a person is just one facet of their life. You literally have no idea what they’re going through. The guy you think ‘has been getting fat lately’ might be grieving the loss of a parent and eating to keep himself going. The woman you feel ‘is too skinny’ may have an eating disorder that has plagued her since her teenage years, as a result of the constant comments she got on her weight.
The woman at the gym whom you say ‘might have been very attractive if not for her paunch’, might be fighting her hypothyroidism and trying really hard to do everything possible to get rid of the abdominal fat that builds up faster than she can get rid of.
The fact is, this person at whom you are casually throwing your comments could be struggling for years with the very thing that you are pointing your finger at, and your words can be the last straw, sending them into a breakdown.
If you are genuinely concerned about weight changes in someone whom you are close to, then talk to them one-on-one. Ask them if they’re okay, and reassure them that if there is something that they want to discuss regarding their weight then they can come to you. Unless the weight change is very drastic and they are falling sick frequently (which could signal an underlying eating disorder), don’t pester them about their weight. If they assert that their weight loss/gain is completely intentional and they’re healthy, then it’s time to back off.
Weight is an extremely sensitive topic. Show me one person who hasn’t had some form of body image issues in his or her life. And with weight, comes the topic of food. Nearly all of us have a complicated relationship with food.
We love food, but it also scares us. As we get older and our metabolism slows down, we start to notice the pounds piling on and staying on. We start getting obsessed with how we look, as opposed to how healthy we are. As a result, we try multiple diets (often without much success), put ourselves through vigorous exercise regimens and even starve ourselves, in order to look how other people think we’re supposed to look.
But the funny thing is, nothing is ever good enough. If you’re thin, people say you look skinny and malnourished. If you have a little fat on you, they say you’re flabby and chubby.
And most of us are so sick and tired of these constant unsolicited reviews and evaluations of our weight, that we’re ready to throw a brick at the next person who makes a comment.
You think you’re giving your coworker a compliment by telling her she looks much better now than she did when she was 5 kilos heavier. You think you mean well by telling your niece that she should lose some weight so that she can get marriage proposals from ‘nice boys’. You think you are a doing a selfless service when you go around throwing comments and giving advice to random people on their weight.
News flash: You’re not!
All you are doing is ruining their mood and their day, and making yourself a creep and a nuisance.
I have lost count of the number of times someone has made an extremely personal and extremely intrusive comment about my weight (when I lost weight during my exams because of stress), hair (I started greying years ago), or choice of exercise (the time I was busy with residency, thesis and exams, and resorted to climbing 8 floors to my apartment as my only form of workout), only to follow it up with ‘I’m only saying this because I’m so concerned about your health!’
Okay, first of all, you are not my health inspector and I am not answerable to you. And secondly, no you are not concerned about me, because if you were, you’d actually ask if I was alright or if I needed any help, as opposed to “Oh you have become so thin! You girls and your fad diets these days!”
Besides, you don’t look like a Greek god yourself, do you? You’re in no way perfect. Then what gives you the right to pass judgement on other people’s paunches or arm flab or cellulite? How would you feel if you were out wearing your most favourite jeans and the first thing someone pointed out was your muffin top?
The truth is, we’re all fighting our own inner battles. So let’s just do everyone a huge favour and stay away from commenting on people’s weight.
First published here.
Image is of a character in Four More Shots, a series where she is judged for her weight
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