Thursday, March 4, 2010

I have always been me

Here's a weird thing about having weight-loss surgery: the compliments.

I don't mind being complimented on my weight loss. "You look great!" or "Congratulations!" and so on... that's fine. It doesn't make me uncomfortable, I know I've lost weight, I know it's visible to others, and that's fine. Feel free to comment on it! I appreciate the kind words.

But choose your words carefully. Positive affirmations about looking good, succeeding, working hard... great. Negative comparisons to how I looked before? Not so great.

Almost nobody says this. But some people do. A sampling of comments I've heard:
  • "Gosh, you were so fat before!"
  • "I can see the bones in your face now! It used to be SO ROUND!"
  • "You really have a defined figure now... before, you were so shapeless!"
  • "That coat is too big for you! It looks like you're wearing maternity clothes post-partum!"
  • "Wow, it turns out you're really pretty!"
Is it self-explanatory why these comments bother me? Please tell me that it is. Because yeah, I'm really glad to be losing the weight. I'm thrilled about the improvement in my health and fitness, and I'm also happier with how I look. But that doesn't mean that I want to hear people say terrible things about how I used to look. I don't want to know that people were thinking things about me at the time like I was SO FAT, I was shapeless, I had a moon-face, I looked pregnant, I wasn't pretty. How are these things EVER compliments?

As far as I can see, there's only one way in which comments like this could be construed as compliments (and I can tell they are truly intended as such, and not backhanded compliments, either). It's if we totally distance ourselves from our past. It's if we act like the person we were before is a totally different person with a different mind and a different set of feelings, feelings that can't be hurt in the new, improved version of ourselves.

I was reading Holly's post about the loathing with which many of us look back at former versions of ourselves, and it really hit home because I think it's incredibly true when you lose weight. And also other times. Maybe you've become fitter. Maybe you've started dressing better. Maybe you've expanded your education, or done some other great thing to improve yourself.

That's wonderful. I'm all for constant self-improvement and growth. But why do we look back at the person we were BEFORE those improvements with such disdain, such scorn and contempt? We are all the sum of our memories and our experiences. Even if we've done great things recently, it was the person we were before, the person we're looking down on now, who made the choice to do those things. It's us, all of it.

I did a lot of great stuff when I was fatter. I graduated college. I lived on my own. I found a great job. I married a fantastic guy. I moved to the city I want to stay in forever. I got a wonderful dog. I bought an awesome house. I made fabulous friends. I went for hikes and worked out and traveled and enjoyed myself. I was a good, happy, worthwhile person. I haven't become more so just because I'm thinner now. I'm healthier now, but I never felt wildly unhealthy before. My size never made me miserable, and it didn't heavily restrict what I did. I'm very similar now to how I was then. Just a smaller size.

And you know what? The inside, underneath all the fat, or lack thereof? That's me. The same person with the same brain, the same thoughts, the same goals and memories and feelings and priorities. It's not like I lost 75 pounds and forgot who I was. It's not like there was some mythical less-fat version of myself locked up inside me, just waiting to be released. The "thin girl inside you waiting to get out" that we always hear people talking about? That's a myth, at least for me. I never bought into it, because I know you can be happy and fulfilled even if you aren't that thin girl you dream of being.

So yeah, when people make disparaging comments about what I was like a year ago? They're making disparaging comments about me. In a way, it almost feels like they're talking about me behind my back. And it doesn't feel any better to hear it now than it would have if somebody had made those comments to my face a year ago, before I lost the weight.

And what if I ever gain the weight back? Weight-loss surgery isn't some magic bullet that means you'll never have weight issues again. How awful will it be if I do regain some of the weight, to know, to have it confirmed, that people look at me and think terrible things?

I'd like it if we could respect our pasts. Skip regret, and just be glad that we had good lives then and even better lives now. Be glad that those former selves that we are so embarrassed about now had the good sense to keep growing, keep moving forward, keep making good choices. Realize that even if our former selves had different priorities, they weren't wrong priorities. And focus that energy on continuing to grow and move forward, instead of looking back with horror.

And in the meantime, let's all remember that the person you're complimenting now is also the person you were thinking cruel things about from back then. Whether that's someone else or, as is more often the case, yourself.


  1. It is DEFINITELY self-explanatory why those comments are offensive! Those are horrible things to say! I would be offended if anyone said them to me or to any of my friends. I can't imagine how anyone could think that they are complimentary.

  2. Oh my gosh, this post made me furious. I can't BELIEVE that people would say those things to you; I thought that kind of stupidity was reserved for pregnancy (ie "WOW! You're SO HUGE! I can't believe how BIG you are!" Um, thanks?) You've accomplished so much. Why would people say these things? I am SO SICK of society equating success with a pants size.

    You were pretty before, you had a fantastic smile before, you were smart and a great writer and funny as hell before. You still do, and still are, now. You're just wearing different pants.

    People who don't see that are morons.

  3. Let's face it, if we were all happy with our "former" selves, we wouldn't have been inspired to change. And we certainly wouldn't be so proud of what we've accomplished if it didn't feel like we made a big improvement.

    It's pretty astounding that people would make those comments to you. I can't believe someone could say those things thinking they're complimentary, which they are in a way (like you said), but there's a more tactful way to say such things.

    I think as long as you are happy with yourself and your progress, that's all that matters. Try not to let the less gracious compliment-givers get to you. They're most likely not even aware of what they're saying (sadly).

  4. I'm so sorry about those comments. Uff. It should go without saying that those aren't appropriate.

    To a lesser degree, the same thing happened to me a couple years ago when I got lasik and started highlighting my hair. People could NOT stop commenting on how much "better" I looked, and how "everyone was talking about it".

    First of all, YUCK, because I hate people talking about me in the first place. And second of all, WHAT YOU SAID. I am still the same person I was then, still just as smart and funny and whatever even though I no longer wear glasses and have mousy hair.

    Anyway. This is why I generally advocate NO comments, since some people just cannot seem to THINK IT THROUGH FOAH THE LOVE OF GAWD.

  5. I can't believe people said that to you and that they actually thought they were being complimentary. People say really stupid things.

  6. People are awful. They just don't think before they speak.

    Compliments that are comparisons to how you've previously looked are so tricky. I mean, we all want to hear that we look great, but when the subtext is that you didn't look great BEFORE, it's not much of a mood lifter.

    Ugh. You look great, but it doesn't make me like you any more, because, as you said, SAME PERSON. Same, likable, person.

  7. that is horrid that people say those things to you. i have had them said to me as well when i lost weight too, and i just think it's hurtful. those comments do NOTHING for you and cannot be meant in a "nice" way.

    My friend and i had this same conversation about her pregnancy the other day. people say the meanest things when you are pregnant. i was appalled that people, who my friend did not know, and the things that they would announce to her and the world about the state of her body.

    i said it was a good thing we lived so far apart because i would have hit them on the head for saying those things to her ;)

  8. Damn. Some people just can not think it through before they say something.

  9. I got a lot of those similar kinds of comments when I lost over 60s in my 20s. Instead of feeling like a compliment it felt like an insult. But I realized it was THEIR bs and not mine (even though it still stung).

    We might be thinner or fatter but that doesn't change our accomplishments or our worth. I agree!

  10. Sometimes, people don't think. Think fast, talk slow I always say. You are the same person, you just are wearing a different size.
    It always amazes me people have no knowledge of being offensive. Sorry about the dorks!

  11. I do this all the time- look back on photos of myself and either love the "past me" (if I like how I looked) or hate the "past me" (if I don't like it).

    You are so right that it's silly and unnecessary to do that, for I WAS AND AM still the same person. Yes we change, learn things, become more refined, gain/loose weight... but we are all beautifully in process. And the beauty is IN the process.

    So, thanks for this.

  12. Amen. And for the record, I think you're great. Before, during, after, whatever. You're awesome.

  13. This is SO well written and if you remember my last entry you'll know that I really needed to read this.

  14. People are so tacky - and insensitive. Truly, that's what it comes down to. Another favorite is "You look so much better". Gee, thanks.

    I'm glad that you can take it in stride and have a good sense of who you are - that's important with all the idiots we encounter daily.

    I've found that people just say stupid things - whether you're losing, gaining or growing a freaking life. My FIL compared his beer gut to my stomach the other day. Um, not really what I was looking for in the self-esteem booster. Thanks.

  15. Fabulous post, Jess. I think a lot of people don't fully think about what they're saying. We're all prone to doing so mistakenly, but there are some people who do it all the time. I hope this post serves as a reminder to all of us that what we say and how we say it really does matter.

    BTW, one thing that's always left a really good impression on me is how happy and fulfilled you've been with your life. Period. This weight loss thing is totally separate from that. It's a health thing. For a lot of people, I don't think that's the case. I think a lot of people equate happiness with losing weight. And that's too bad. Because happiness? It's gotta come from within.

  16. Standing up. Applauding. Tear running down face.

    Thank you. Awesome post.

  17. I love this. And I agree: those awful things people say aren't even as bad as a lot of things people say about their own former selves.

  18. I think it is still very hard for our society in general to comprehend that women who aren't living up to a certain arbitrarily chosen Beauty Ideal can be happy. Weight and body type especially! As someone who considers herself somewhat self aware, I definitely struggle when people compliment me for "getting closer" to this Ideal because I resent it in the first place and I know that The Ideal was not what I was trying to achieve. In that moment I want to say "But wait, no..." and explain it all to them, but usually I just say Thank you and roll my eyes.
    Losing weight is so much more than just dropping pounds. It's such an interesting psychological journey...

  19. Hmm, I almost agreed with you all the way there until you wrote "I never felt miserable before." Well, now, maybe miserable is too strong a word but there is a whole post here about the discomforts of being your larger self. Further, if you felt exactly the same now as you did then then what prompted the change? Just felt like, on a whim, you'd undergo major surgery? No. I think the direction you chose was in the theme of self-improvement, yes? Something's changed for the positive, and if we can extrapolate, you're more complete/perfect/actualized now then you were then perhaps? Then in that sense you were not always you. You are a new you in a small sense.

    But! This post is a good reminder not to beat myself up about the imperfect person I was, even those times where I thought I WAS perfect and then realized later I was not. And I like this post in that it reminds us onlookers that changes in someone else's weight do not equate to changes in other parts of that person or necessarily that person's happiness. It's a weight thing, not a total transformation thing. An excellent reminder.

  20. Penny--You're right that I didn't like being seriously overweight and that's why I did something about it. A lot of it was health-related but certainly that wasn't the only consideration. I'm definitely happier about my body and generally healthier since the surgery.

    However, what I'm saying, and what I've always tried to be clear about, is that being fat didn't make me a miserable, unhappy person in general. I was unhappy about being fat, but it didn't diminish the quality of my life in other areas. That's what I mean when I say I'm still me. This source of problems and challenges has diminished for sure, but everything else is the same.

  21. That was a very thoughtful and articulate post. Thank you for sharing.

    I'm sorry people said those comments to you. I'm sure they just weren't thinking, although that is no excuse. Congrats on all your hard work with the weight loss!

  22. After I lost a good deal of weight, someone said to me "You look so much better now"

    I know he had the best of intentions but YOWCH!

    I get it and I'm sorry people just don't think.

  23. One time, my grandmother said, "It's so much easier to love you when you're skinny." And while I shrugged it off, I felt like it hurt so bad because that's how I regard myself. Like I'd be better or more perfect or awesome if I were thinner. I'm actively working at losing weight right now and there's a huge part of me that believes that all the negativity I feel towards myself will go away when I drop the pounds. I know logically that isn't true, and I wish I felt differently...but this is such a tough journey!

  24. I can't believe the thoughtlessness (or just plain mean spiritedness) of people. Who would ever say such things?

  25. Reading that, it sounds like I don't believe what you wrote. I totally do, I don't mean that. I just sometimes forget what asshats people are and all the reasons I prefer animals over humans.

  26. I completely understand why you'd be offended by those 'compliments'. I would be really hurt as well. I would be like, ummm great good to know that's what you thought about me back then.

  27. Wow, some people just don't think before they speak.

    Case in point: Lived in NY, got married in FL (where in-laws lived). First thing my MIL said to me at the airport was "you're getting married THAT pale?" Yes, before she even said hello. I finally confronted her about it last week (2 years later), and she swears she "didn't mean it that way." Um, right.

  28. Holy crap did you slap those people? Because that is totally what I would have done! Yikes.

  29. Totally self-explanatory! Some people just don't have a filter, so every thought they have comes out. Not a good thing!

    When I was in my cousin's wedding years ago, her stepmother told me over and over, all day, how great I looked! Great! And I was less and less complimented, because what it boiled down to was that with makeup and my hair done by someone else, in a dress chosen by someone else, she thought I looked much better than usual. Thanks I don't think.

  30. Wow. I mean, I know people are thoughtless. But OMG, people are thoughtless.

  31. It's absolutely self-explanatory. I have been known, despite the best of intentions, to wedge my foot firmly in my mouth from time to time, but those comments - just not okay.

    Your attitude about you always being you and having done great things before your surgery too is just beautiful.

  32. Wait, someone said these things to you? The only one of these which I could think would even be borderline okay, is the "the coat is too big on you" because it doesn't necessarily imply to me that you looked pregnant before, not that I would ever say that, because still so freaking weird, but the others? Really? Someone said that? I would have punched someone.

  33. I usually avoid looks-related remarks about someone's weight. I'm uncomfortable when people comment on my weight at all, because it's like they think that's what I want to hear. I'd rather say something like "Wow, Jess, your hard work is really paying off, and you look great too!" rather than simply complimenting your looks. So that the value is in the effort, not in the outward appearance.