Losing Weight in Public

[This post talks about weight loss, body image, and public reactions to weight and weight loss. Please feel free to skip if you need to!]

So this month there’s been an odd uptick in the number of people who commented on my body at the office. My direct supervisor, two of my closest colleagues, and two colleagues who work on different floors and don’t see me all that often all, unprompted, offered comments like:

“Are you still running? I can really tell!”
“Good for you!”
“You’re looking so skinny!”
“Are you wearing stockings? Your legs are so perfect! There’s no scars or smudges or anything! You’re so pale! You’re perfect!”
“Wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight.”
“What’s your secret?  You look so thin!”

And I never know how to respond (although the lady who was obsessed with my legs then took it to a VERY weird place re: my paleness, so I just gritted my teeth and said nothing). Like, first of all, why should I have to respond? Why are women expected to mercilessly dissect their own bodies, analyze their eating habits in public, and self-flagellate if their arms aren’t toned or whatever? It’s really weird you guys. Conversations about weight, diets, and eating/exercise habits never EVER bring joy to anyone (seriously, no one wins in these conversations), yet I have been around them daily for most of my life. It’s also weird that I feel weird about responding to what is, in my coworkers’ minds, a compliment. So take the most boring topic of conversation ever, add someone with insecurities and hangups about said boring topic of conversation, and then said conversation becomes awkward as hell.

When I hear comments like the ones from my co-workers, these are the thoughts that run through my head:

“They mean that as a compliment, say thank you.”
“But no, why is it a compliment, why is skinny good, and does that mean I looked bad before?”
“Just say thank you and move on.”
“WAIT, a year ago was I just blithely walking around while everyone was secretly thinking I looked terrible and they didn’t tell me?”
“Oh god, if I only look good now, I better keep hustling to keep the weight off.”
“Oh god, what if I gain it back?”
“I think I looked GREAT last year, fuck these people.”
“My appearance is not the most important part of me, goddammit.”
“If I confess I’ve been actively trying to lose weight, will someone think that I’m not body-positive anymore?”
“They’re still waiting for a response, make your face look normal and say something.”
“I’ve totally lost weight and gained it back before, and if I do it again this time, will they think I look bad again? That I’m weak and have no willpower and that I’m gross and lazy?”
“Dude, you still haven’t said anything and they are waiting for a response you are such a weirdo!”

*****

I don’t weigh myself. I can’t do it. I’ve been instructed at various points in my life to chart my body’s measurements, keep food diaries, weigh myself daily/weekly/monthly, use numbers as goals, and it always, ALWAYS makes me miserable and anxious, and it triggers unhealthy eating and exercise habits in response. So about five years ago I said “nope, I’m not doing this anymore.” I get weighed once a year at my office’s annual health screenings, because if I go to one of those I get a flu shot and a few extra bucks in my paycheck. At my annual physicals I ask the nurse and doctor not to tell me my weight, and they are, thankfully, respectful of that.

So I don’t know what I weigh today, but as of October 2014 I’d lost 29 pounds since October 2013. I might have lost a few more since then, I might have gained a few more, I’m not sure, but based on how my clothes are fitting, I suspect I’ve maintained the weight loss through the holidays and into the Spring.

Bridal Boudoir- Sweet Nothings wears Elomi Maria Basque and Brief

April 2014. Photo: Kate Ignatowski.

This weight loss was intentional. It was the result of a deliberate decision and a lot of hard, boring, hard, boring, hard work, and I am fortunate to be able-bodied and healthy enough that I could make that decision and undertake that work. In late 2013 I started having trouble finding clothes. Well, more trouble than usual– I’ve always had limited options. My shoulders and back had broadened from pole dancing, and after a couple of years of living alone for the first time in my life I’d slid into some unhealthy eating habits. Stuck between misses and plus sizes, feeling unprofessionally dressed at work, and finding my lingerie options suddenly more and more limited, I began to want to make some changes. I felt uncomfortable sitting in seats on public transit, I felt uncomfortable trying to reach certain yoga poses, and I felt uncomfortable trying to learn new pole tricks. I even felt uncomfortable trying to fall asleep at night. I practiced self-care and tried to think and speak of my body with respect and love, but I also acknowledged that, physically, I just didn’t feel good.

I also turned 30 in 2014, and both sides of my family boast some pretty not-good hereditary health issues, including heart disease. While my bloodwork, blood pressure, and health checks had always been in the healthy range (thankfully), I decided to take some measures to ensure that they stayed that way. In February of 2014 I used Lent to kick-start some healthier eating and exercise habits, but it wasn’t until I saw the pictures from the Bridal Boudoir shoot from April 2014 that I realized I wanted to make those habits permanent.

Those pictures are lovely: the gorgeous flowers, soft sunlight, elegant lingerie, and professional hair and makeup all made me so excited to have the pictures appear on the blog and on Burnett’s Boards. But the first time I saw them I was, frankly, shocked. The girl in the photos looked happy, and she looked so pretty, but she didn’t look like me. The person I saw in the photos did not match my sense of myself.

*****

So now I try to run 25 miles a week. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but that’s the goal. I do this at the Planet Fitness in my neighborhood, whose blessed Wi-Fi allows me to watch my CW superhero shows to distract me from how boring and time-consuming running is. I try to eat dessert only once a week, which I’ve been less successful with but overall have managed to stick to. I do yoga a few times a month. I know I should do more to work all the muscles in my body, especially my arms and core, but doing sets and reps makes me angry, so I don’t do them, and I’m pretty okay with that.

Sweet Nothings reviews Ewa Michalak PL Jagodzianki. Photo: Lydia Hudgens

April 2015. Photo: Lydia Hudgens.

*****

I have never had a flat stomach with rippling abs. I’ve had slim arms and legs, but my belly and breasts have always been a little full, a little soft. Even so, and even though I still wear larger sizes, if my weight loss has taught me anything, it’s that thin privilege is a very, very real thing. The first day last year when I went into a store and the size 14 zipped up comfortably I almost started crying. It was a FUCKING GIFT– there were CLOTHES IN THE STORES THAT FIT. Clothes that I liked! My god, the clothes that fit were EVERYWHERE! At every budget! I had choices! There were pants and tops and skirts and dresses and jackets and coats and they were all going to zip and the way clothes suddenly became an easy, almost thoughtless thing took my breath away (I mean, easy within reason– pants and sleeves are still too short and shoes are too small, but baby steps). I had to work incredibly, incredibly hard for over a year and take hours out of my days just to reach a size that many people would still consider fat, and I wanted to cry: with relief, sure, but also frustration. We’re told, over and over, that there’s an acceptable size range that all people are supposed to fit in. I had to work so, SO hard just to touch the edge of that size range. Was I still, fundamentally, unacceptable? All that work, and I was still shut out?

Through much of 2013 I thought about my wardrobe with a sense of panic and dread. I tried shopping from some of the great plus size retailers out there, but I struggled to find clothes that felt like “me”. I love love love seeing women wearing their vintage, rockabilly, and retro inspired plus size clothes. They look dishy and gorgeous and happy and stunning. When I tried these styles for myself, I felt like I was wearing a costume. I felt exposed and on display.

*****

I realized that I seem to use my wardrobe to blend in, or even shrink myself. I wear heels on rare occasions, because I’m well over six feet tall in them. I like creating sleek lines instead of volume. I like styles that show off my legs, because they are long and slim, and I use jewelry and other details to draw attention away from my waist. Don’t look here, I say. Look at my face! Look at my mind! Look at my red lipstick! Please don’t say anything about the rest of me please please please.

Because the things people have said about the rest of me over the years have suuucked.

Which brings me around to Plus Sized Wars, which aired in the UK in April, and while I was unable to watch it in the US, and therefore couldn’t cheer on the lovely Georgina from Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, my social feeds filled up with every single sucky thing everyone feels entitled to say to women about their bodies. More than that, people feel an OBLIGATION to say these things to women. It is of moral, life-or-death importance to them that they, as strangers, let women (and it’s always women) who wear plus size clothes and encourage body positivity know exactly why they’re disgusting, wrong, unhealthy, a bad example, unfuckable, hypocritical, drains on social welfare, destroying the country, and worse. Reading those comments reminded me that while all body snark is bad (why, WHY would anything possess you to do tell someone that something was wrong with their body? What the hell?), women who are bigger than some arbitrary standard are the recipients of truly appalling attacks. Yes, discrimination affects men too, but in all the discussion in the wake of the broadcast, I only ever saw people talking about “these girls”, “these ridiculous women”, or “these terrible role models for young girls.” The criticism had a seriously nasty misogynist streak: some people responded to a program that explores the intersection of body positivity, new retail sectors, and shifts in the fashion world with the same dismissive, silencing language women pioneers have faced since, oh, forever: the women in the documentary were called vain, stupid, slutty, greedy, and shallow. People were livid that the women featured wanted cute clothes, yet they would have been equally cruel if the women had worn sweatpants or oversized t-shirts.

I thought losing weight might protect me from similar judgment and evaluation, but apparently even when it’s a little smaller (I’m a big human being), my body is still up for discussion. Having been on the receiving end of comments about both weight loss and weight gain, I don’t for a moment consider “you look so thin” and “you need to put down the burger and exercise” to carry equal judgment: in my personal experience, the former inevitably comes as a compliment (or an expression of envy), the latter is inevitably intended to shame, to hurt, and to dismiss.

SO WHY DO WE ACTUALLY TALK ABOUT WOMEN’S WEIGHT? It’s almost like if we whip everyone up into a frenzy about women’s bodies then we won’t ever have to listen to their thoughts or honor their minds, their talents, their strengths. Why, it’s almost like if we make their weight the thing of primary importance about them, we don’t have to leave any room for those other, less-important things, like, oh, women’s souls.

20 Comments on Losing Weight in Public

  1. Laurie
    June 8, 2015 at 1:13 pm (2 years ago)

    We are all so different, with such different bodies… And each one of us has to learn to love our own unique type of beauty.

    I have always thought you were beautiful… Watching you dance was always a thing of incredible beauty to me. I still remember the way you looked in that gorgeous green corsette…wow, so shapely, feminine, and just stunning overall. And I know if I were you, I’d be wearing heels every day with those lovely long legs… I have always thought of being tall and statuesque as a really good thing!

    I know that when I see someone who has lost weight, and I compliment the way they look, it’s not because I thought they looked bad before… I’m just aware that they are trying to look and feel better, and I want them to know that their efforts are not going unnoticed. I can’t speak for everyone, but that is where I’m coming from when I give a compliment.

    And I miss you! Just saying :)

    Reply
  2. JustMe
    June 8, 2015 at 1:23 pm (2 years ago)

    Well said.

    Reply
  3. Trycia
    June 8, 2015 at 1:53 pm (2 years ago)

    No matter what others state, so long as you’re comfortable with your look, body shape & the effort you’ve put into it all, that is what matters. And for what it’s worth you are gorgeous no matter the weight, the color of the skin or other stereotyped features I think you are beautiful!

    Reply
  4. Avigayil
    June 8, 2015 at 2:40 pm (2 years ago)

    I lost a great deal of weight many years ago (gained some back) and I remember complete strangers to me, but people I would see frequently in my community, coming up to me and saying “you look so good”… and all I wondered is how crappy I looked before. So many of the things you wondered about the complements have also ran through my head. Thank you for writing this. <3

    Reply
  5. Lydia Hudgens
    June 8, 2015 at 2:42 pm (2 years ago)

    This entire conversation makes me sad. I’ve been there myself, I used to weigh 100 lbs heavier than I do now & I’ve seen both sides of the coin. I work with women of all shapes & sizes & I hear it ALL from both sides. I just wish we were all empowered, regardless of our body shape & I hope that as the future progresses, so does society.

    Love you & this. <3

    Reply
  6. Jennifer Darling
    June 8, 2015 at 3:04 pm (2 years ago)

    Thank you. This really struck a nerve with me and I have shared it on my business page on Facebook as I believe it will help some of my customers too.

    Reply
  7. DDtop
    June 8, 2015 at 3:14 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi good for you look great keep up the good work but most of all your doing it for yourself not for others
    Like me be yourself not someone else.

    Reply
  8. Lee Rivers
    June 8, 2015 at 5:20 pm (2 years ago)

    *big hug*
    Also you have killer taste in lipstick color. Always noticed that.

    Reply
  9. Momof3
    June 9, 2015 at 12:58 am (2 years ago)

    As a mom of three girls, I realized I needed to find a more positive body image so I could help my girls have positive body image as well. I’ve always been big, but after having twins, I lost my waist entirely. I turned to working out and watching my diet as a way to feel better about myself. I, too, remember shopping and realizing I could fit a size 14. I felt a mixture of elation and sheer relief! I could check out the clearance racks and have a shot of finding something nice to fit! I hope to one day have as much comfort with my body as you do!

    Reply
  10. Kate
    June 9, 2015 at 1:50 am (2 years ago)

    OMG this! I have said so many of these same things myself… You expressed it so well! Thank you

    Reply
  11. Leah H
    June 9, 2015 at 9:36 am (2 years ago)

    Ugh seriously. It’s very tiring. Why do people think it’s appropriate to comment on someone else’s body? Saying “you look nice today” or something equally complimentary WITHOUT mention of a specific body part is fine. But leave my legs/boobs/skin/whatever out of it, please.

    Reply
  12. Erica of A Sophisticated Pair
    June 9, 2015 at 12:17 pm (2 years ago)

    Really well-written post, Sweets. I think one of the reasons I have a lot of hang-ups about my current weight stem from comments like those you described. When I was at my heaviest, I was being treated for an illness which had me constantly following-up with a doctor’s office. The nurses watched me lose weight (which I needed to do for health reasons), and they complimented me a lot about how thin I was looking, etc. Then, as I got closer to goal, I started to get compliments from them and others to the effect of “You were always a pretty girl, but now you have the full package.” At the time, I kind of had that moment you describe where you start wondering what people thought of you pre-weight loss. And now that I gained some back, I keep turning over that comment. Thank you so much for writing this!

    Reply
  13. PersephoneUnderground
    June 9, 2015 at 5:22 pm (2 years ago)

    Wow- great, thoughtful post. Especially that last line- you’re a very powerful writer.

    I think the conversation fixating on appearance is definitely part of an overall lingering cultural defining of women as primarily ornamental/sexual objects and meant to fulfill that role first, and any other second. I used to think we were past that, but it’s so important in media for a woman to not “only” be smart or accomplished, but also beautiful or stylish or sexy. Even though other parts are valued as well, society has this big backlash when a woman fails in the primary responsibility to be hot. Strong, accomplished women still get described as “sexy and smart!” as if “smart” isn’t enough. The whole trope of the on-the-go woman who still manages to look great while juggling kids and work is the same thing. Why would it be so bad if she just threw on whatever fit and was clean and got stuff done? It sucks. I like pretty things, but I am more than a pretty thing, and that really shouldn’t be the primary attribute by which I am measured.

    On losing weight, I agree, it’s weird getting compliments on weight loss when you personally liked your body just as much when you weighed more. I actually miss some of my curves- I filled out a 60s cut dress much better a few months ago, but lost weight due to appetite problems with medication. I don’t own a scale either, but now weigh myself at work sometimes to make sure I’m not getting any thinner, because it was flirting with unhealthy for a bit. Also, I’m sure you know this, but lots and lots of guys find a bit of softness on a woman beautiful- not that it matters, as above, but my bf praising my softness did help me in learning to love it myself. Sometimes it’s good to remind oneself that there are people on the outside who aren’t nearly as hard on you as you can be on yourself- like a friend who won’t let you badmouth yourself to them. Body snark is real, but so is body positivity and encouragement, and people who will tell you you’re gorgeous just as you are and mean every word, and who see it even when you change because they really care most about the soul inside, not the pretty package.

    Reply
  14. Kara
    June 13, 2015 at 12:15 pm (2 years ago)

    I love this post! You are so spot on and I’m so sorry you have to experience this. In terms of privilege, I am thin, but I still struggle with being congratulated on weight loss which is almost inevitably the result of a bout of severe depression/anxiety.

    Reply
  15. Crystal
    June 17, 2015 at 5:53 pm (2 years ago)

    The comments following Plus Sized Wars was eye opening to say the least.

    I’m sorry people made you feel uncomfortable. It’s so unprofessional to talk about people’s weight at work.

    I only comment on it with friends, or random people, if they directly ask. I find that’s the safest and most helpful way to do it.

    Reply
  16. Kristy
    July 28, 2015 at 3:32 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi,

    I’ve been visiting your blog for about 2 years. I am glad you are on a healthy path because it is a good thing.

    -Kristy

    Reply
  17. Jess
    June 11, 2016 at 12:06 am (1 year ago)

    Hi Sweets! I stumbled across this post…uh, somehow, and I just want to say that I really, really appreciate it. I’m in a similar situation to the one you were in when you wrote this post–I’ve been aiming to get in healthier shape after a downhill slide in response to family health issues, and while I’ve been working at it for a while, I still get so incredibly uncomfortable when people compliment or comment on my weight loss/body change. Although there is some difference, I still struggle with it and it’s not something that I’m 100% on board with: suddenly my clothes don’t fit right anymore, and it’s just as depressing when they’re too big and you can’t replace them as when they’re too small and you can’t replace them. I run through the same “wait, did I not look good before?” cycle in my head, too. And I get especially frustrated when I respond truthfully, and the people I’m talking to manage to somehow be offended that I’m not flat out overjoyed that I weigh less. I know they’re trying to be nice, but it also bothers me that some people can’t accept that weight loss doesn’t equal automatic joy. I’d much rather talk about my new necklace or that thing in the news or that weird stain on the carpet. Literally anything else. Please.

    I know this post is a year old, but I thank you for writing it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone in feeling this way, because a lot of the people I talk to make me feel bad for not being thrilled about losing weight. You make me feel less alone, and that’s priceless. Thank you. :)

    Reply
    • Sweets
      June 11, 2016 at 11:46 am (1 year ago)

      Oh Jess, wow. Just…wow. Thank you so, so much for your kind words. I wrote the post just hoping that writing it out would help me organize my thoughts, and I too feel less alone, knowing that it resonated like this with someone else. PS– I looked at your blog and I LOVE your style. xo

      Reply

2Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Losing Weight in Public

  1. […] P.S.  Here is a comprehensive resource for PCOS as well as a great article from Sweets on losing weight in public. […]

  2. […] P.S.  Here is a comprehensive resource for PCOS as well as a great article from Sweets on losing weight in public. […]

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