Stop Praising Me for Being Skinny

I’ve gotten more compliments over weight loss than anything else I’ve ever done in my life.

Never mind the times in my life that I’ve done things of substantive value.  Forget about graduating from college, getting promoted to a director at my job or donating my time to worthy causes.  Losing weight has garnered the most positive attention from people in my life.

I didn’t even lose that much weight, nor did I seriously have that much to lose.  I’ve never been over the “healthy” range of BMI.  For most of my life I’ve been at the higher end of the healthy range, and now after a few years of tweaking my diet and fitness, I’m at the lower end of that same healthy range.  All said, I’ve shed about 15 pounds over the last few years.  I hit my absolute lightest weight right before a beach vacation.  I was thrilled!  I was excited to finally wear a bikini on a beach, and in celebration of my 10th anniversary with my husband, I did just that.  I even took a picture of myself in the bikini and put it on Facebook. I was proud of how hard I had worked to get to that weight.  I was excited, proud and gratified that my hard work had paid off.

But that lost weight didn’t make me happier.  It didn’t make me feel fulfilled.  Just like my empty tummy, my soul was hollow and my heart was unfulfilled.

I don’t want to be admired for being skinny.  I want to be loved and appreciated for the unique person that I am and for the interesting or important things that I’ve done with my life.  I want my children to remember me as a good human being that loved them and nurtured them and added real value to the world.  I don’t want them to look back at their days with me and remember me as a skinny person.  Being skinny isn’t an accomplishment.

I’ve done some truly great things over the same time period that I’ve lost weight, and I’ve received much less attention for those things.  I chose to stop drinking alcohol.  I said “no” to a commitment I normally would have said yes to out of guilt, and therefore freed up more time to be present for my children.  I’ve had hard conversations with people that matter to me.  I’ve forgiven old hurts.  I’ve asked for forgiveness.  I’ve read at least a book a week to expand my knowledge on subjects like capitalism, quantum physics and religion.  I’ve donated time, goods and money to local and international charities.  I’ve done a lot of great things that have nothing at all to do with being skinny, yet I haven’t been praised for them.  Why not?

I admit I’m a giant hypocrite, because I am absolutely guilty of praising other people for their weight loss success, all the time.  I comment on other people’s bodies more often than I am probably comfortable with.  I write encouraging messages on Facebook and tell people in the carpool line that they look absolutely fabulous after having that baby.  I wonder aloud how they did it.

Diet is one of the main topics of conversation in many of my circles of friends.  After all the hugs and hellos are exchanged and the server asks for our drink order, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “So what are you eating these days?” or “You look great – have you been doing anything different at the gym?”  These are smart, successful, savvy modern women with families, careers, hobbies, interests and hearts, yet the first topic we gravitate toward is what we are swallowing or how we move our limbs.  Aren’t there more interesting things to talk about?

The worst part is that I like the compliments.  Quite a bit!  I like them, and I crave them.  I like to be praised and admired and told that I look good.  I want to be pretty.  I want to fit in.  I want people to like me and like looking at me.  The need that I have to look good has been engrained in me since I was born and started wearing ruffle-bottomed diaper covers.  Not much has changed in 40 years of life – I used to want to be Cinderella and now I want to be like Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge.  It’s not because of their intelligence or generosity.  It’s because they look good.

There is nothing at all wrong with being healthy.  Taking care of our bodies is essential to a good life.  We only get this one body and this one brain!  We need to nourish ourselves.  We should always strive to be at optimum health by feeding ourselves vitamin-rich foods, filling our brains with healthy images and interesting facts, and moving, stretching and caring for our arms and legs and fingers and toes.  There’s a difference between being striving for optimal health and simply wanting to be skinny, though.  There’s a world of difference between praising someone for being strong, energetic and full of vitality versus praising someone for looking good in a pair of jeans.  I want to be healthy, and I want everyone around me to be healthy, too.  I hope I never stop running and getting those endorphins, or stretching and getting the peace and calm that yoga provides.  Nutrition and fitness are nothing to scoff at.  They are essential.  But being skinny shouldn’t be the end goal.

I want a healthy, strong body so that I can live the life I want to live – not the other way around.  My body is my vehicle, not an ornament.

It may have been somewhat benign for me to seek a skinny, pretty body when I was childless, but I feel a greater sense of responsibility now that I am a mother.  I am teaching my children with every move I make.  Some people have insinuated that it isn’t that important to focus on my kids because they are boys, and boys have healthy body images – I’ve had someone even tell me I am lucky that I don’t have a daughter and therefore don’t have to worry about what I teach my kids because they aren’t going to have pressure on themselves to look a certain way.  Yet, when I complain about my body, or when I get excited because someone called me thin, what exactly am I teaching my sons?  That it is okay to judge myself based solely on my weight?  Or that it’s okay for them to do the same to their friends, girlfriends, cousins, and future wife?

There is a movement going on in which we consciously praise little girls for their intelligence rather than their looks.  We’re supposed to ask them what books they’ve read lately, not just tell them they look pretty in their dresses.  This is fantastic!  I love this movement.  I’m on board.

And I also think we can do the same for each other.  It’s not enough to only do it for our daughters.  Fellow women of America, let’s stop the skinny praising madness.

If we want a destructive pattern or cycle to stop, someone needs to stop it.  I guess that someone may as well be me.  But I need your help.  I have 40 years of brainwashing in me – I want to be skinny like I want air.  I need help getting rid of that destructive desire so I can do truly great things – and I want to help you to do the same.

I don’t want you to praise me for being skinny anymore.  I admit I like it, but I don’t want to like it.  I want to want different things.  I want to be the best version of myself, not the skinniest version of myself.

We should stop praising each other for taking meat off of our bones.  Let’s let our strong, healthy, vibrant bodies help us live the lives of our dreams, and let’s praise our courage to change the world, instead.

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