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Yesterday I attended an end of year picnic with some people from the Life Models’ Society. A person approached me:

Them: You look like you’ve lost weight.
Me: [laughing] I really haven’t.
Them: Then why do you look like you have?
Me: [awkwardly ignores the comment and goes back to my previous conversation]

Let’s break down why this conversation was fucked up.

Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com

1: Commenting on my weight is never a compliment
Regardless of how well-meaning you are, commenting on my body shape, weight loss, or gain is not a compliment. I am more than the sum of what I weigh, and whether I currently fit into Western ideals of beauty. It also implies there are people unworthy of your compliment/respect/value based on their bodies, which is not cool. All bodies are good bodies.

What can I say instead?
You look well;
You seem happy;
I’m pleased to see you;
That outfit is smashing.

2: If I correct you, accept this.
When I said I have not lost weight, and indeed I have put on a fair amount what with the injury and COVID restrictions and lock-down and stress and the like, the person in this conversation argued with me. This could be considered gaslighting, a practice where you habitually deny the reality of another person in order to undermine them. Part of my also wonders if people have a concept of what I look like that is a lot fatter than how I appear in person, given how often I get told ‘you’ve lost weight’ and the fact that I have not, in fact, lost weight.

What can you I instead?
‘What I meant was you look well/happy/great in that outfit’. Or maybe going back to the above idea of not commenting on my body in the first place don’t say anything. If I correct you, don’t ignore that correction, especially when it is about me, my body, or my life. I’m the expert in that field, and you have no right to doubt me.

Women in particular are subjected to appearance based judgement frequently and I, for one, would be happy to see it go in the bin.

This year has been particularly difficult for my relationship with my body. For a period of time it was severely broken, it is now only mildly broken. I have had a lot of intense pain, and still have ongoing mild to moderate pain and restrictions in my mobility.

I don’t consider myself permanently disabled (yet); time will tell whether my ankle injury (and the associated back pain which has become more of an issue now I’m more active) is permanent and to what extent. I have good days and bad days. I limp in the morning and when I get up from a long period of sitting.

In six weeks it will have been a year since the incident. I’m surprised, frustrated, and disheartened by the amount of work still to be done return to full functionality. Then again, I look back at the time when it was too much to walk to the coffee shop (ten minutes away) and back, and I’ve come a long way.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this experience. It’s always uncomfortable when people compliment me for the way my body looks; sometimes when I’m modelling artists will say I have a ‘real/natural’ or ‘womanly’ figure, which makes me uncomfortable not only because I’m being objectified, but because it implies an ‘unreal/unnatural’ or ‘unwomanly’ figure.

I welcome compliments on my creative posing, my stillness, my use of shadow/shape/foreshortening, my theatrics, but whether or not my body is highly consumable is not a compliment. I’m sure I do it too, it’s a cultural norm, but I’m working on it. Maybe we all need to spend some time cultivating new ways to tell people we value them.