Stop Using My Weight to Compliment My Weight Loss

Truth: not everyone who starts exercising wants to lose weight or change how they look.

Between the mental and physical benefits (healthy brain, heart, lungs, joints!), the social aspect of workout buddies or groups, and the variety of activities available (zumba, trampoline cardio, rock climbing, parkour, pole dancing lessons?!), there are tons of other reasons to get active that have nothing to do with appearances.

Crazier truth: sometimes compliments about weight loss can be hurtful.

Hear me out—I’m NOT saying to never give compliments to your friend who just started running, or your brother who has become a hot yoga junkie. When they’re done right, compliments are GOLD. They feel like a mighty simultaneous fist bump from the people you love AND the universe. The thing is, when they’re done WRONG, they’re half way to insults.

It’s true, many people ARE trying to get to their idea of their best physical self. Many people who lose weight start out with this motive: if you’ve read any articles about body transformations you’re probably familiar with trope of  “hitting rock bottom.” I’ve found that a really common rock bottom is someone seeing photos of themselves at a special event like a party or a wedding, and realizing they want to make a change—

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I’m saying even if the person you want to praise might really enjoy a pointed compliment about how slim they are looking, you owe them better than that. Think about what you’ve said about their value if all of your praise is purely based on how they look. What does it say about who they were before in your eyes?

A really good compliment will acknowledge their progress while empowering their further efforts. Otherwise, that’s when stuff turns into mixed signals, feels backhanded and starts to sting:
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We are not numbers on scales, or pants measurements, the calories we eat in a day, or the amount we can deadlift. Reducing someone’s lifestyle change, or whatever-the-hell-they’re-calling-it to numbers or pure physicality? Not okay. These misplaced priorities are why we have self-hating fitspo and fat shamers and eating disorders.

So you have a friend, or a family member, or a significant other who has been working their literal ass off, and you want to show that you’ve recognized their effort. What do you do?

Maybe this person thinks that the best kind of praise is focused on the physical, but you can open their mind up to their own awesomeness with one simple move: praise the work of the artisan, not the art.

We live in the era of the process. We are encouraged to know the farmers who raise our crops, we watch documentaries about how things get made, we will generally pay more for craftsmanship. We want to meet Oz behind the curtain. There’s a lot of power in showing that you acknowledge their process.

In my personal experience, comments on my size are actually kind of awkward or alienating. (Though if you are going to go for physical praise consider a positive “your butt looks great!” versus the critical ring of “oooh you’re so skinny!”) Of course, this  is not one-size-fits-all advice. No matter what, some people will be pleased, and some people might find it embarrassing and highly personal. You just. Don’t. Know.

There are always other words to show someone that you’ve noticed they are growing: tell someone that you’ve noticed the hard work they’ve been doing, and that you’re proud of them. If they’ve inspired you, TELL THEM THAT! If you have noticed they seem to be more positive, acknowledge this change in temperature.

They will appreciate the acknowledgment, and hopefully begin to see themselves as the glorious “MORE” that we all deserve.

On Finding Fat in Fit Spaces

Being fat is hard. It’s especially hard to be fat in traditionally “fit” spaces—health clubs, yoga studios, sporting goods stores, hell, even restaurants serving up healthier fare. In general, the world hasn’t realized that you can be fit and be fat simultaneously, so the very presence of someone with an so-called imperfect BMI in any of these locales automatically shoves fat people into the category of “other.” According to traditional standards, we don’t belong there.

I recently wrote about a gym employee who asked me if I had ever exercised before, and while I generally try to assume people mean no harm, the experience left me feeling like a sausage shovelled into a skintight leotard, centre stage on opening night. That is to say, the question othered me so hard that I wasn’t 100% comfortable being there. Translation: you are different. This is not your space. You don’t belong here… yet.

As though if I go to that gym enough, one day I’ll sashay through the door as in society-issued size 6, and the employee will know he made a mistake thinking I was a “them” instead of an “us.”

Such bullshit, wow.

We shouldn’t have to change to feel comfortable anywhere. These spaces should encourage, rather than alienate, the plus-sizers of the world. At best, encourage and welcome, at worst, shut up and mind your own business, right? This is such a common thing that whenever I have a positive interaction in any of these places, it’s kind of mind-blowing.

This week, I was looking at pictures of my first 5K run ever, and realized I’ve been in t[he same running shoes since 2011. My running periods have come and gone, but these shoes were my first 5K and 10K shoes. These shoes ran me around Scotland. The 20-year-old who first wore them is physically and mentally a very different person now, and besides the cartilage in my knees also probably appreciating a little break, it all translated into NEW SHOES REQUIRED. There was one hiccup—I didn’t want to go to the Running Room near my place because I was intimidated by the idea of putting myself into a space I felt I wouldn’t be welcomed.

I like to run, but I don’t call myself a runner. I am not a certified member of the the Cult of Running(tm), the gazelle-human hybrids who are constantly seen with hydration belts, compression socks, and the calves of Greek gods.

But of all the things to not order online, the shoes that will possibly run you through another 6 years of your life (lol) might be on the top of the list, so I sucked it up and went to the store, preparing to defend myself. What I got instead was a warm welcome, and it was amazing.

The woman there was so keen and kind, telling me about local running groups and classes. She talked about being part of our community. Our. She didn’t assume I was a beginner. She ordered me in my shoes from another store, and when I went in on Saturday to pick them up, the two employees working there automatically asked if I had come in to sign up for the race up the mountain on Monday. L. O.L. A RUN UP A MOUNTAIN.

It was amazing. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing or the way I was being treated. You don’t realize how hard you’ve been othered in one situation until you get to be treated like one of the “us’s” in another. I have the class lists and the brochures next to me right now. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about the prospect of fit space—that’s the way it should be.

The Secret Origin of a Fat Feminist

For this post, we’re going on a trip to Bitch Planet.

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I put to you the comic by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, gloriously recommended to me by a friend, and one of my  comic book store guys. So, fuelled by my “two separate recs” rule and feeling spend-y, I picked up it up this past weekend…and then read the whole thing in basically one sitting.

The story takes place in a not-so-far-off future in which women who cause problems are branded as “noncompliant” and sent off to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, better off known as (say it with me) Bitch Planet. The inhabitants are there for a myriad of different reasons, from infractions such as murder to being obese or anorexic. Either way, if you’re stepping outside of the status quo, you’re getting shipped off in space to lady prison.

I loved the first volume. Besides the fact that it’s intersectional as hell and has a campy 1950s sci-fi soul, BP also represents a huge range of female body types, unabashedly drawn with honesty and not a sense of voyeuristic pornography. My favourite character is the goddess-titan Penny Rolle.

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She’s a big, unapologetic, badass woman. Spoilers ahead, there’s a scene where the prison authorities hook Penny up to neurotransmitters, trying to ascertain her ideal self image—they want an end-goal for the “self improvement” they’re about to force on her.

The thing is, when that image is revealed, it’s Penny  exactly as she already is—larger than any other character in the book and happy to be that way.

So here’s what I’m getting at, the notion that reading this book clarified to me: being a body-positive feminist is hard when you’re trying to lose weight. Personally, I feel the goal doesn’t align with my values—not on the surface anyway. They are two core beliefs and desires in a wrestling conflict, and neither of them wants to give up.

I can talk forever, claiming that all I want from this journey is health until I’ve run a marathon with my mouth into a smaller dress size, but—the facts are, I dream of the day I can walk into an H&M and grab one of those size 10s easily, without hunting around for the elusive size 14.

Wanting to lose weight for non-health related reasons feels like I am holding myself to a double standard. I love the body positivity movement. I love women, and people in general, who embrace what they have, and can truly look on themselves with a warm, loving light. Some days, I even see a bit of that light in myself—it just isn’t all the time. I can admit I’m delicate on the touch and go of this—one day, I’ll find inquiries about my workout routine encouraging, the next, an off-hand comment about a jacket that will fit someday has me grinding my teeth to dust.

One of my favourite Instagram accounts, run by self-proclaimed “fat femme” Jessamyn Daniels, is proof enough to me that the body is capable of some truly astounding shit at any size. 

Yet still, I look at myself in the mirror after a sweaty yoga session, or a strong run and think that my own body is not good enough—that I’m not there yet. I know we’re our own worst critics, when we need to really be nurturing and understanding of ourselves. I try to be that, but it doesn’t always work.

Worse, my lack of self body positivity folds back on me, to make even my healthy efforts seem like awful traps. Simply put, sometimes my brain makes me feel bad for making healthy choices, because I should just be happy with how I am right? How messed up is that? And it asks me, how, how, how can you walk around, hating on societal standards, when somewhere deep down, there’s a part of you pushing to conform to those standards? I’m not asking rhetorically, I genuinely have no idea. Maybe these notions and motives make me a hypocrite.

1431897224822433426The only way I’ve almost managed to square off with myself on the subject, console that these efforts aren’t destructive, is that no matter where these beauty standards came from, this is my choice. For me, feminism is about giving all women all of the options they deserve and want. If a woman chooses to stay at home and raise her children in a traditionally feminine role, it’s still a feminist decision, because she picked that path for herself.

Similarly, I have to reason that wanting what I want for my body isn’t anti-feminist, it’s just what I want. This is my path, and I am finding the strength to walk it. If I am aware of all of the trappings of body shaming, and body standards  of society, and I’m aware that I don’t have to change—but I choose to try…

Is that feminist? Or is that compliance?